With apologies to my friends in the Northeast and Midwest who, I understand, are suffering through a particularly brutal cold snap, I have to tell you that yesterday was an especially beautiful South Florida “winter” day. The temperature was in the mid-70’s – with a gentle breeze making it feel slightly cooler. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was cobalt blue, with only a wisp of white clouds. It was a magnificent day for the beach, a leisurely stroll, a picnic, a bike ride or, in the case of a young father and his approximately 7 year-old son at the local park where I walk, some fielding and batting practice in anticipation of the start of the little league baseball season.
In fact, the only “dark cloud” was my having to endure the conduct of that dad towards his son for the few minutes I passed within ear shot of the baseball field where they were “practicing” in each of my 10 laps around the park. I have to tell you, I have a fair amount of experience coaching little leaguers and that boy was an incredibly gifted ballplayer for such a young man, but you would never have known it from the harsh criticism that even the most improbable of catches elicited from his dad. Diving one-handed catches: “Use two hands!!!” Lunging snags of hard hit ground balls: “Get in front of those!!!” You can imagine the exchanges when he missed the ball!
Really, dad – are you seriously that clueless??? Do you not have any idea how much damage you’re doing? I can see it from the sidewalk 100 yards away. It’s written all over his face. You’re not teaching him the game, you’re teaching him to hate the game and, way more importantly, you’re teaching him to hate spending time with his dad. Do you not understand that there’s simply no healthy place for all that criticism to go? He doesn’t dare challenge your assessment of his efforts and it was fairly apparent from where I was standing that he sure as hell better not cry about it. And so he swallows it – all of it. That’s what accounts for the body language you’re not seeing. Words like that don’t taste good!
Here’s the irony: On one of my trips, “dear ol’ dad” miss-hit three balls in a row – 2 more than the number of flies and ground balls that his son missed consecutively in the entire hour they were at the park! The balls barely left the barrel of the bat. It was terribly embarrassing – I know, because I’ve hit my share of fielding practice and I’ve done the same thing lots of times. But no one yelled at me when I did it – and there was no one standing at yesterday’s dad’s elbow to yell at him either, though I fantasized about how much I would have enjoyed seeing him get a dose of his own misguided fatherly medicine. I suspect all that yelling was done years ago by his own dad, at least the expletives muttered under his breath each time he “screwed up” suggested that.
Here’s the bottom line, dad: 90% of the 7 year-olds in South Florida couldn’t have made half the catches your son did, let alone fielded those screaming ground balls with or without two hands and fewer still would’ve even considered getting in front of them. No, they’re much happier sitting in their living rooms using a joy stick to have animated figures try to make those catches – and do so as sensationally as possible. Today, you missed many opportunities to express pride in your son – but I didn’t. That’s why I took time out from my walk to jog through the open gate and help your son retrieve one of those mis-hits you sent screaming 20 feet over his head. I wanted to tell him that he “was quite a good ballplayer” for someone his age and see him smile at least once before he left the park – which he did, while you weren’t looking!