One of the joys of being an adult is the ability to make your own decisions. To decide what you want to do, how you want to spend your time, and who you want to spend it with.
And then you have kids, and pretty much all of your autonomy goes out the window.
Thankfully, and startlingly, one of the side-effects of becoming a parent is that you change – you don’t have to change everything, not if you don’t want to, but you will inevitably change, at least a little. Your lifestyle will shift and your priorities will be re-ordered and, suddenly, the people you most want to spend your time with are your kids, and the things you want to do are what they want to do.
Most of the time.
I hate soccer. I hate watching it. I hate playing it. I hate soccer.
I know I’m just playing into the typical xenophobic, Freedom Fries, ugly American stereotype, but I can’t help it. I’ve just never liked the sport. I find it boring to watch and I found it boring to play, back when I was forced to play it. Some of my distaste for futbol may or may not have to do with having had a psychopathic coach for a couple of years or parks and rec games, but it goes beyond that. I’m just not into it.
Unfortunately, my son seems to love it. He loves baseball and football and basketball too, but when it comes to playing, soccer is starting to take over. It’s just so easy for him. You don’t need anything but a ball and a swath of grass, and all you have to do is kick. It’s also basically just running nonstop, which is pretty much my son’s favorite thing on earth.
He never wants to stop running OR playing, so much so that I might have to sit the little slave-driver down and explain the concept of heart attacks, just to scare him straight. But how do you resist that tiny hand tugging you to go with, or that little voice pleading “again, Daddy!” or asking to be thrown up into the air “so many more times!” You don’t. I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!
And so, just as I’ve been roped into running with him and going up and down stairs with him and sticking my arms out to fly like Superman with him and throwing him up in the air over and over until my arms are killing me, merely because I love him so much and it makes him so happy, I now find myself playing soccer with him.
I went into this parenting thing dreaming of how I was going to indoctrinate my son into my interests. He was going to like the music I like, and follow the teams I follow, and love the books I love, and watch the movies I watch. And that may yet prove true. But thus far I’m the one being indoctrinated into things, like playing with trains and watching Mike the Knight and listening to the Frozen soundtrack. My three-year-old is in total control. He even has me eating his sandwich crusts! And now I’m playing a sport I hate.
And loving it!
How could I not? It’s impossible not to catch some of his enthusiasm as we pass the ball back and forth in the backyard, or he figures out how to dribble down the field with a big grin on his face, or finally catches a little air and lifts the ball further than he has before and chases happily after it. It quickly stops being about playing a sport I’ve never liked and becomes about making my favorite person on earth happy.
Of course I play with him.
I don’t yet know that my son’s soccer fetish will last (is it appropriate to use the word fetish in reference to a toddler? I’m gonna say no but oh well) – the sport has never had a stronger foothold in this country and it’s always been a standard school offering – but it doesn’t matter. Because whether it’s soccer or lacrosse (ugh) or dancing or listening to country music (UGH) or writing poetry or even liking the Jets (OH HELL NO), I’ll join in. It’s not my job to force him into a collection of interests that please me. But it is in my best interest to find common ground with him, both as a parent and as a friend.
I want to be a part of his life, and that means always supporting him in the things he loves, even if they are things I hate or don’t understand. Even if it means that next Halloween I’ll be forced to dress like Anna.
I know I won’t always be the most interesting man in the world to my son, but, when it comes to him, I’ll always be the most interested man in the world.