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Baseball + Dad Hating Himself

David Kuo barked at his four year old kid for not being good at baseball, and then at Kim, his wife — and now feels like “an absolute ass.”  Excerpt:

Moments later, he runs over and asks if he did great. Kim says yes. The coach says yes. Me? I’m half way between, “Awesome!” and “You suck!” I want to go for the former, I cannot say the latter. After the tiniest of pauses, I say no.

Nanoseconds feel like hours. He looks blankly at me.

I suddenly feel bile in the back of my throat. What did I just do?

“I”m joking, buddy! I’m joking! You did great.”

“Bad joke Daddy.” He walks away. Kim walks away. An assistant coach looks at me with sad incredulity. I AM now one of those dads.  I want to vomit. But I’m too consumed with my snowballing rage – a rage now firmly directed at me too.

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

I REALLY want to say,  ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” I want to give him a hug and tell him how much I love him and how great he is actually doing at this, his first game of any sort.  I really do want to say those things. But I don’t. I just sit there with the staggering knowledge I just told him he did badly.

Kim comes back a few moments later, barely composed. “You are being an ASSHOLE!” she says through tears.

Kim’s right, though it’s hard for me to see David, whom I know to be a sweet, generous guy, acting that way. His essay prompted me to give you an update to the situation in my eight-year-old’s summer baseball league here in town. I wrote the other day about how his team had been blown out 15-to-0 by a rival team in the season opener (the game was called because the other team was beating them so badly), leaving my son feeling angry and humiliated. As I wrote the other day:

I would have been ashamed for my son to have been on that winning team today. The little boys on my son’s team weren’t very good. They were trying to figure out what to do with the ball when it came to them, whom to throw it to (if they managed to catch it in the first place), and so forth. Basic baseball. Meanwhile, the coaches for the opposing team were waving their hitters on round and round the bases, sending them home as fast as they could, running the score up.

To be sure, there was no cheating, not in the least. The other team was just bigger, and massively better, than our team. Still, where is the honor in thrashing 7 and 8 year old boys in a summer league? Where is the sportsmanship? Where is the satisfaction, rubbing the noses of little kids in their own haplessness and defeat?

Well, tonight Lucas had his second game. When we arrived at the ballpark, there was some buzz about how the team that had delivered the thrashing to Lucas’s team had just done the same thing to another team in the league: destroyed them on the field. Parents were ticked off at this. I heard too that all the boys on Lucas’s team had been shocked and upset by the lopsided defeat the other night, and that parents had been calling around demanding to know why this one team had so many terrific players on it, and so forth. It appears now that there is more evidence that the drafting of the teams was rigged by ultra-competitive parents. The good news, if there is good news, is that the other three teams in the four-team league seem to be evenly matched. Lucas’s team won tonight by one run, but it was a fun game in which all the boys played energetically against each other, and seemed to have a lot of fun — this, as opposed to the disgusting spectacle on the field the other night.

It was a relief to learn tonight that we weren’t the only parents pissed off by the graceless and unsportsmanlike conduct of the other team and its coach(es). I spoke tonight to the head of the league, who said that there had been so much protest that they were going to have a more transparent and equitable procedure next year to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Still, we have to get through this season, and by the time it’s over, the coaches and the players for the other team will be pariahs at the ballpark. It’s unfair to those kids on the ace team, though; they should be able to play their best. But because certain absurdly competitive adults approached the season wanting to win at all costs — again, when dealing with kids who are just out of T-ball, and still learning the game — they have created a toxic situation. No parent is happy to see his kid’s team lose, but every parent is furious to see his kid crushed and humiliated.

Anyway, careful David, my friend. You don’t want to do this again to your boy. You are right to spite yourself for this outburst. Trust me on this: you can’t imagine how much this sort of thing will alienate him from you down the road. Fortunately, you caught yourself, and are repenting. Good for you. Good for Aidan. Good for Kim. We dads often need our wives to keep us right with our kids.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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