My son has recently become obsessed with playing baseball, waking up every morning and immediately demanding to take some cuts with his plastic bat (and Red Sox ball. REPRESENT!).
I think it’s great that he’s into the sport; it’s a hell of a lot safer than football and I’m glad he’s showing more interest in it than in something like soccer. But it’s gonna hurt when I crush his dreams. Or, more to the point, when his body does.
Sorry, kid. You don’t have the genes for sports.
I’m not going to pretend my son’s current affinity for ball and bat has any real bearing on his future (nor would I deign to try to steer him in any particular direction before he’s had a chance to decide for himself). The odds are he’ll be over – and potentially back under – baseball a dozen times before he’s five. He changes his mind more frequently than I have to change his shorts, and we’re in the middle of potty training!
And – despite the sad reality of the genes he’s inherited being less than Roy Hobbs-ish – I’m not about to limit my son’s imagination by telling him, at the tender age of two, that there is anything he can’t do. Especially when there are kids are making millions opening toys on YouTube. The world is a surprising, ever-evolving place, and the capacity for new generations to drive that evolution cannot be underestimated.
Just a few weeks ago I wondered how a parent reconciles their child’s dream of succeeding in an unconventional field (like rock music) with a reluctance to let that child put all his/her eggs in such a fragile basket; there’s no easy solution. But the flip side to that coin – knowing that your youngster’s dreams are likely going to be limited by forces beyond his control, like his genetic pedigree – is no easier for a parent to navigate.
I realize that I can’t know the future, and that despite my short-ish father I grew up to be the tallest person in my family, and despite my artistic mother I can’t draw a straight line; that nothing is for certain and the future is what we make it; that crushing my son’s dreams under the guise of protecting him from disappointment is exactly what I worried about in the post I referenced above (Dream Cheater).
But let’s be real here.
We never know how our kids will surprise and confound us, or what they’re truly capable of when we give them every opportunity to succeed and we don’t stifle their ambitions and we do pump their genetically modified food full of hormones and chemicals. But the sad fact is, while I was a good athlete as a kid, it was mostly before puberty, and while I did letter in high school, it was in marching band.
I loved playing little league baseball, and getting muddied up during backyard football games, and playing tennis and going swimming every summer. But physically matching up with other athletes at any level beyond high school just wasn’t an option for me. Based on that history, I’d imagine it won’t be much of one for my son either.
I guess the best thing I can do is keep my mouth shut. What is the point of laying out some half-assed prophecy before my son has a chance to live his life and find some things out for himself? By the time he’s ten, he’ll probably realize he can’t win Miss America, by sixteen he’ll probably figure out that he’s better at driving cars than repairing them, and by twenty he’ll probably have come to terms with some other harsh realities and have shed some boyhood dreams.
This isn’t just about sports; it’s about recognizing your strengths, accepting your limitations, and doing your best to maximize your potential.
As a parent, it’s your job to give your kid every possible opportunity to figure himself out, and then encourage him to keep plugging away at his dreams. But it’s also important to help him recognize when it’s time to cut bait and move on to something else. You don’t want your son to become Willy Loman and waste his life chasing the wrong dreams. You just have to be careful you don’t betray and alienate him in the process.
The good news is, if my son does want to stick with baseball, hustle and dedication can mask a lot of things. And drugs can handle the rest.