The Dad Talk

My son’s soccer coach pulled me aside after practice to tell me Tristan had a breakdown. “Or something like that,” he said. “He started crying so he sat out for a bit.”

Tristan stood next to me as the coach spoke. He looked at the ground and sheepishly kicked the grass with his cleats.

We got in the car to drive home. I sat there for a bit, knowing that I needed to say something, but not sure what. As a father of a boy, there was a part of me that wanted to tell him to toughen up. To stop this BS and play the game like a man.

I assumed that’s what the coach wanted me to do.

Every father since the history of ever has been faced with this decision.

But the thing is, that’s what I was always told when I was ten. Not by my father. He wasn’t around. I was told that by coaches and other fathers. I was already strong enough to face things without a dad, so “toughen up talk” didn’t make me feel stronger. It made me feel weaker.

It made me quit.

“I’m going to buy you an ice cream cone,” I said. Tristan looked up at me with tearful eyes. “But it’s under one condition. You have to tell me everything that happened. EVERYTHING. And you have to listen to my advice.”

He started talking as we drove. He told me that he couldn’t get the ball during some drill, and how all the other boys could get it, and they were better than him. “I’ve been playing for five years and I haven’t gotten any better,” he said. “I just want to quit soccer.”

We were at McDonald’s then, eating ice cream. I told him how I quit sports as a kid because of all that, and I wish I hadn’t. “It’s not about being the best right there and then,” I said. “It’s about growth. It’s about showing up and trying, really trying. It’s about gaining skills. Your whole life will be like this: sports, school, work, family. It’s all about showing up and trying. Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting any better at this whole dad thing. But I keep showing up and trying. Life is like that.”

He took a bite of his one dollar cone. He thought about what I said.

“Does that make sense?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.

For a moment I wondered if I’d messed this whole father chat up. Perhaps I should have taken the “man up” stance that so many fathers had used. It would have probably been easier, but it didn’t feel right.

Sometimes fatherhood is like that. I’ve been at it for 10 years, and I still don’t know what I’m doing.

“Are you going to quit soccer?” I asked.

He took another bite.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to keep trying.”

“Awesome,” I said. “So am I.”

We finished our cones and headed home.

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