I always enjoy going up to our local park on Saturday mornings, not only for the exercise, but for the insights I seem to gain every time I’m there. A recent visit was no exception. As I came around the curve that leads from the parking lot to the path along 152nd Street, I encountered a frenzy of activity on the makeshift soccer fields next to the tennis courts that Saturday mornings always bring. Mothers were busy unloading and setting up their “too much stuff” (e.g., strollers, playpens, duffel bags, coolers, etc.) from the mini-vans/SUVs du jour, while their husbands and smartly dressed 5- and 6-year-old sons and daughters warmed up for the big game.
On the second field down, the coaches had their players running laps around the field to limber up the old muscles. My immediate thought, of course, was that those roles should have been reversed (that the kids should have had their dads running laps—a visual that amused me for a moment). One of the girls, a beautiful and obviously energetic, pigtail-wagging blonde named Brittany, was jogging along at her own pace, admittedly falling a bit behind her already way-too-intense male teammates.
Seeing this, her dad screamed out across the field: “Brittany, pick it up, everybody’s beating you!” She immediately responded, shifted into another gear and proceeded to outrun everyone on the field. But there was a price to be paid for her success that her dad completely missed. You see, before her father screamed at her, Brittany didn’t even realize, let alone care, that everybody was beating her. She didn’t even know it was a race! And she was right—it wasn’t.
Brittany was just doing her thing at precisely the pace she wanted to do it. How do I know that? I know because I saw the radiant and carefree smile on her face, the one that said “I’m glad to be alive, I love to run, I love to be at the park” and maybe even “I can’t wait for this silly game to start so that I can show these boys a thing or two about playing soccer.” I know that because I saw how dramatically that facial expression changed when her dad unknowingly expressed his disappointment in her performance.
I paused for a moment and thought of the number of times that, in spite of my best efforts, you and your brother received similar spoken and unspoken messages from me along the way—looks of incredulity, frustration or disappointment from dad, when you acted in a way that I never would have expected you to act or failed to perform at a level that I had come to expect of you, and sarcastic comments when you made mistakes and attempted to apologize that almost certainly were taken literally at times (“Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it!”). I’m also sure that there were times when I was far less subtle in my spoken and written criticisms and admonitions.
But the truth is, I’m the one who’s sorry, Ashley (and Greg) – sorry for all the times I failed to reflect the lesson that Brittany and her dad so dramatically and eloquently reminded me of on that soccer field today: Life is not about who is or isn’t beating you to the non-existent finish line. It’s about finding a pace that brings a smile to your face and learning to ignore the voices that seek to knock you off your stride.
With All My Love,
An Excerpt From “Dear Ashley . . .” – A Father’s Reflections And Letters To His Daughter On Life, Love and Hope (Brittany: Living In An “If You Ain’t First, You’re Last” World)