Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fathers believe in your dreams -- even the crazy dreams

This column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on

My son Cooper announced recently, in a sort of informal kitchen-table press conference, that he is going to be a professional baseball player. I figured a dose of reality was in order, but with Father’s Day approaching, I didn’t want my latest parenting achievement to be the destruction of a 7-year-old’s dream.

So I tried to be gentle.

Keep practicing your baseball, I told him. But remember that even some really, really good players don’t get to be pros.

“Well, if I’m not a pro baseball player,” Cooper said, “I could be in Star Wars movies.”

Smart boy. He’s got a backup plan.

My other sons are also making contingency plans. Ryan, 10, wants to be a famous artist but will settle for testing video games. Nathan, 5, has his heart set on being a professional backyard trampolinist, but given the complication that there really is no such thing, he’s open to becoming a race-car driver. Or maybe a guy who does back flips on dance shows.

Hearing those rock-solid plans, I’m preparing for a future that includes picking up the pieces of shattered dreams. And by that I mean my shattered dreams, because I’d really like to have a pro baseball player and famous artist in the family. It would mean a lot less worrying about my retirement accounts, as well as the lack of medical benefits for competitive trampolining.

Once upon a time I was just as innocently, blissfully unaware of what was to come. I thought I would be a pro basketball player and never lose my hair. But as a parent, I need to be realistic. I can’t leap into delusion when my child brings home an art project or makes a diving catch.

The logical part of my brain tells me that, but parents have a portion of brain that is routinely short-circuited by love. That’s how a third grader’s report card can indicate genius and a swimming ribbon can be compared to Olympic gold. Maybe you’ve seen some of those parents’ posts on Facebook, scattered among the befuddling photos of what people are having for lunch. (Hey, thanks for the update!)

Parents want the best for their kids, and it’s natural that we see the best in our children. But our glasses can be blindingly rose-colored, and I think of that when I think of Father’s Day – and my father.

My dad was, and is, a great role model in many ways. But he was a borderline Hall of Famer as an over-the-top sports dad.

He yelled encouragement to me, and that was fine. But he also yelled at the officials and the coaches. During one basketball game, I turned around and found him being escorted out of the gym. My dad got into such a heated argument with one of my coaches that he quit.

All this came from a pretty laid-back guy. My dad listened to Gordon Lightfoot and George Burns albums and fell asleep in recliners.

So what made him snap?

It was the part of the parent’s brain that views the offspring in a skewed, ultra-flattering way – like a reflection in a “skinny mirror” at a department store. My dad thought I could be a pro athlete, which was about as likely as Kermit the Frog being elected President, and without an unbiased perspective, my dad supported and defended me in ridiculous ways.

All parents are susceptible to that.

As I watch Cooper snag a hard-hit ground ball, and then turn and throw it to first base, I know I need to take a deep breath. He might never even play high school baseball. He might not want to. Ryan might not want to be an artist, either, and Nathan might find something more exciting than a career in backyard trampolining.

Whatever my sons want to do, I’ll support them. And hopefully I won’t do it in ridiculous ways. I just need to remember to add a few pounds when watching them grow up in the skinny mirrors.

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