My 12-year-old's cleats are still in the entryway. They've been there since last Tuesday
evening, when his little league team lost in the championship game of his in-house league's "World Series." Since he doesn't play on the travel tournament team in the summer, his season is over. We usually insist on the kids putting away shoes that they're not going to wear again soon; the entryway is too small for extra shoes. I haven't told him to put his cleats away yet, though, because it feels really different to tell him that when it's almost certainly the last time.
We started pitching to him in our tiny backyard when he was two years old. It started with a plastic bat and a big supermarket ball with Winnie the Pooh on it. Because his mother and I both love baseball, there was no question that we'd try to share that love with him. He loved hitting that ball in the yard, and he got better and better at it. We went through a sequence of bats and smaller and smaller balls until he was drilling pint sized wiffle ball home runs over the hedge into the neighbors' equally tiny back yard.
Outside an Erie Seawolves (AA) game, age 3
After one season of tee ball (which felt like a regression after batting live pitches all that time), he joined our neighborhood youth league, progressing through three levels with rules that more and more match real baseball. He's had better and worse seasons, finally settling in as a reliable fielder, mostly because he's always been a smart player who knew what to do based on the game situation. He loves playing catcher, and that's an important position because kid pitches aren't super accurate, and baserunners can steal at his current level. At the plate, he developed a fear of the ball around when he started facing kid pitchers, and it's dogged him. One season, he accommodated it by dancing in the batter's box, his skinny butt bouncing around above springy knees. This year, despite the fact that he was one of the oldest members of his team, he reverted to not swinging when he should and even diving out of the box. All of this is to say that as much as he loves and knows baseball, he ended up being in the middle of the pack on his team in terms of overall contribution. So he's decided that, unless something big changes, this is his last year playing baseball. He'll return to his school volleyball team in the fall, and he's thinking about ultimate frisbee in high school. He shoots a lot of hoops at recess. But he's officially given up one career path - professional baseball player. So his cleats are still in the entryway. When I counted up the years, I realized he's played eight spring seasons, plus almost as many fall "developmental league" seasons. He's only 12! Collectively, our family has spent a significant amount of the last eight Aprils, Mays and Junes on the sidelines of his games. When those cleats go away, it will feel like a chapter is closing. And it will be.
Before the World Series, his team had to advance out of a best-of-three semifinal series. They won the first game handily. The second game was much tighter, and it got to be tied in extra innings (the seventh, since standard games are six innings). Charlie's team - the home team - got two on with one out in the bottom of the seventh when Charlie came up to bat. His confidence issues at the plate loomed. The last thing I wanted to see was him looking at a called strike three with runners on first and second in that situation. After a few pitches, he made contact and grounded a ball toward the second baseman. It probably should have been an out, but he didn't field it cleanly, and it rolled under his glove. The runner on second was fast, and he took off. When the third base coach saw the ball behind the second-baseman, he sent the runner, and he scored. Charlie had hit the walk-off series-clinching RBI single to send his team to the World Series. There are no pictures or video of the event. When they won, I saw Charlie run back from first base to get jumped on by his teammates, and I happened to be nearby down the third base line when he emerged from that celebration. I don't need video; I will never forget the look of relief and satisfaction and excitement on his face. Big-eyed, sweaty and thrilled. He has always approached baseball from a team-first perspective - the loudest rooter-on of his teammates, playing wherever coaches told him to play, learning from his elders and encouraging younger players. When the chips were down, he came through for his team, and they won, and helping the team meant the world to him.
A few days later, walking home after the World Series loss, Charlie laid his head on my shoulder and cried. I asked him if he was sad because they lost or sad because baseball season was over. He couldn't really answer. I told him that losing is sad, and ending is sad. Later on, he said wistfully "I didn't want another stinking runner-up trophy." (His team lost in game three of last year's World Series, too.) It's not just this season that's ending. Maybe Charlie knew that and just couldn't articulate it. We can't fight it. Childhood must end. Adolescence - with its leaps and storms - must commence. Successful parenting prepares for departure. But for now, as if a brake against the inevitable, his cleats are still in the entryway.
My twenty-year college reunion is this coming Memorial Day weekend. Our family is going. When I posted this exuberant photo from our senior dinner to our class's Facebook group, I captioned it "The Fellas". A member of this august group (not pictured, unfortunately) named us that sometime sophomore year, and it stuck. But the more detailed caption I considered made me feel sheepish about what I've accomplished since college. Here's that caption:
Back Row L to R: doctor (orthopedics), doctor (sleep specialist), doctor (radiologist), applied mathematician, lawyer (partner at a big city firm) Front Row L to R: doctor (radiologist), doctor (med school professor), nonprofit consultant and at-home parent (yours truly), big church senior pastor, doctor (ophthalmologist/eye surgeon)
Various clusters of the guys in this picture roomed together, hung out together, played intramurals together, played fantasy basketball together. They were a huge part of my college social universe. The rundown of their career stations makes me feel like I have responsibilities no one understands in a field with few monetary and status rewards. And that's in my paid work! I spend an equal amount of my "work week" pursuing responsibilities few understand with zero monetary and extremely vague status rewards. It's hard to write up really elegantly-timed execution of laundry for the class notes. When I picture myself under the tent in the courtyards that meant so much to me twenty years ago, I don't know exactly how to talk about what I've done with the fine, fine education I got there. A fellow alum who attended her 20th reunion last spring told me on the little league sidelines that she said to her kids, "You guys have to look awesome because you're what I have to show for myself." I know how she feels. Six and a half years ago, probably at the moment that my career could have arced upward in authority and recognition, I took one foot out of that stream to become our household's primary parent and chief operating officer. It looks weird on a resume, and I think it will sound weird holding a cocktail in the tent. Far easier to name a specialty, a hospital, a publication or a big court win. I'm going to have to think of a way to quickly demonstrate how well-adjusted my kids are. The One Thing I Might Say Now At this juncture, this post could go off into the direction that despite all their career accomplishments, The Fellas' personal lives are a mess, and I can take some perverse satisfaction in the fact that mine is not. It would be petty of me to say that, and it's simply not true. These men are the fathers of 20 children. Nine are married (which leaves one single doctor, ladies). Two of them are married to high school sweethearts that they dated long distance while we were in school together. They're good parents. I know because on the rare occasions that we get together, their kids are a pleasure for both me and my kids to be around. The Fellas in midlife are abundantly successful both personally and professionally. How I Choose to Feel About All This I'm currently reading the December 2014 issue of The Atlantic. Working part-time also means commuting part-time, and having 40% less time on the bus makes me fall woefully behind in my magazine reading. Anyway, the cover story discusses research about the real roots of midlife crisis. Jonathan Rauch explains the u-shaped curve that researchers have found in satisfaction with life in populations all over the world. Happiness bottoms out somewhere around 46 and then rebounds, leaving people happier in their 50s. The 40s in general form the nadir of personal satisfaction and happiness. The research shows that feeling competitive about achievements and accomplishments really contributes to that unhappiness. In the 40s, we start to feel like time may actually run out on us, but we all have friends that have accomplished things that make us feel like we're spinning our wheels. The Fellas have accomplished a lot, but we have more accomplished classmates - statewide elected officials, published authors, a major league baseball general manager. Instead of looking at the accomplishments of The Fellas or of those classmates who have been asked to serve on panels at the reunion, I'm just going to reflect on my own choices. When my wife and I both worked full time and it was obvious that our kids needed more from us, I had the privilege of career flexibility and could go part-time. As I've gotten better at running our household, I've come to enjoy it more. I get to experience a lot of the pedestrian moments of my boys' lives, immediately before and after school, and we all get to enjoy more special occasions as a family because I've already done the legwork of errands and calendar management and paying bills. We love our house and our neighborhood. I get the variety of doing unique and fulfilling paid work and serving my family in a way that I also enjoy. The Proclaimers song Let's Get Married features this lyric:
"When we're old, if they ask me How do you define success? I'll say You meet a woman and you fall in love And you ask her and she says yes."
To that I'll add:
Make some babies and raise 'em up And launch them happy and capable And find a split between work and life That works for you and those you love.
Man, those Proclaimers are better with the lyrics.
The jury is still out, of course, on that launch part, but so far, so good. The split we have works for everyone now but may not always. We'll deal with that if and when. It's no small accomplishment to head off for this reunion able to say to myself and others that I have followed my calling to the work I do at the office and around the house. It suits me, and I often enjoy it. What higher achievement is there?
A fellow parent at the elementary school our kids go to/have gone to is quoted extensively in the article below, which continues the ongoing discussion of free range kids and free range parenting. I believe in free range parenting, but I have a different name for it: parenting.
Although this post is going up after the Pirates first game (a loss), we did make our predictions before the first pitch of opening day. In a split decision, the kids think the Pirates will improve this year, while the parents fear a regression.
Our boys love our finished basement. They've gotten through five winters here playing a lot of "Nerf" basketball. Although they'd had an over-the-door Nerf hoop at our smaller house, there was not a great place to use it. The basement here is pretty perfect, although the ceiling is low and Charlie can dunk while flat-footed.
Due to the ease of dunking, we had a succession of Nerf hoops of the typical sort - a cardboard backboard with a plastic rim. These tended to fail at the same weak points - a) the cardboard slot into which the hoop inserts, b) the thinner cardboard slit where the over-the-door hook inserts and more rarely c) plastic hoop itself. Not a single hoop of this variety survived its time in the basement without serious plastic packing tape repairs or reinforcements. None of them lasted more than four or five months, either.
A few Christmases ago, Santa stepped up his game and brought the boys a POOF brand Pro Gold over-the-door hoop with a shatterproof plastic backboard and a metal breakaway
rim. Unlike Nerf hoops, it comes with an inflatable ball about the same size. Our boys use that ball interchangeably with various Nerf balls.
The hoop has survived near daily winter use. The rim tilts down now, as almost all toy hoops seem too before too long. But the metal rim is much more solid than the plastic ones, which enables one to occasionally make non-swish free throws and jump shots. The backboard has taken incredible abuse (the closet door will never really be the same again) and stood up to it. Pricewise, it's about twice as much as a cardboard and plastic hoop but has lasted at least four times as long already without a single repair. Plus, it looks cooler.
As always with CompetentParent product reviews, I have received no compensation from the POOF-Slinky corporation. I'm just telling you what I like.
The name of this blog is a political statement about fatherhood. Regardless of the progress toward gender equality that has occurred over the last several decades, one stereotype persists and may be getting worse: moms are good parents and dads are incompetent boobs who sometimes babysit. Poppycock, I say. Or an excuse for dads who would like to be viewed as numskulls so that they don't have to parent their kids. Dads are parents too, and I know some who are very good at it.
I'm neither a stay-at-home dad nor do I work full time. I work part time, and I'm the primary parent for the foreseeable future. The primary competent parent, I hope it is not presumptuous to say.