My son will be the Tiger Woods of tennis. No, even better, he will be the Michael Jordan of tennis. Wait, wait, my son will be the next John McEnroe of uhh….well, tennis.
At least that’s my fantasy.
There comes a point in fatherhood where most Dads, foist all his hopes, dreams, and aspirations on his kid. In my case, I have my ten-year-old son, Tyler.
I think this generational rite of passage starts from a biological urge for fathers to transfer every ounce of ambition and unfulfilled aspiration into their son so that we can live vicariously through them. It’s bred into us. We can’t help ourselves. I believe the clinical term for the condition is “Needtopassthebuckology”.
I see signs of it every time I get together with my friends. “My son just got an all-star award delivered to our home for baseball!” said one. My other friend called up to tell me that he’s started coaching his two boys in junior tennis and that one of his boys was characterized as being especially gifted.
In fact, now that I think of it, every one of my friends who has a son who is at least eight years old has told me that their son is especially gifted in one sport or another. I have yet to meet a father who has an average or “gift-less” child.
All of this, of course, only intensifies my obsession to discover the super human-like talent that must lie somewhere within Tyler. If all these other so-called gifted boys are that good, then surely Tyler must possess the kind of Schwarzenegger-like strength and cheetah-like reflexes to excel in any sport.
I figured, once we discovered Tyler’s athletic gifts, in short order we could expect opponents to fall to their knees in dejection once they saw the phenomenon that is Tyler and realize that any attempt to compete against him was basically a futile delay of the inevitability of his unstoppable awesomeness.
Perhaps my expectations were a tad high.
I’ve taken him out to the tennis court, since I’m a pretty good player and I figured it was a good place to start. I taught him the basics, and he gets excited when he hits the ball and gets a little frustrated when he misses. He is fine when we are on the court, but you distinctly get the feeling he would be just as happy riding his bike or goofing off with his friends.
He has no obsession for the game, and based on my experience with him, the same goes for soccer, baseball, or any other organized sport. As a dad who loves his son, I’ve come to realize that whatever he does, as long as he tries, is fine with me.
So, after a few weeks of coming to this conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday that Tyler wanted me to take him out to the tennis court and hit some balls.
Of course, with my outlandish expectations once again quickly re-established, I readily obliged and we headed to the courts.
On the court, Tyler ran around, trying to hit every shot, including ones he couldn’t realistically reach. He kept at it, and only took a break just to get some water. We played for 90 minutes and for the first time, he seemed to revel in the game.
Time to work on those sponsorship deals again.
Once we were done, we came home and he wanted to get some more water. He opened up the refrigerator, and all at once, one of the side drawers fell off and a number of glass jars burst on the floor. Tyler looked a bit stunned, and I told him to step away from the broken glass but that it was OK and that these things happen sometimes. Yet, he looked dejected.
I told him, “It’s OK, Tyler. It’s just an accident. I’m not mad at you.” He said, “I just wanted this to be a perfect day, and now you have to clean up this mess.”
Not quite understanding what he meant, I asked him, “What do you mean you wanted this to be a perfect day?” He said, “You know, the card I gave you this morning, you and I spending time together today.”
Then I realized what my ten year old meant. That morning, he gave me a card. For the last few years on that day, he’s given me a card. A father’s day card. And now I realized, he played his heart out on the tennis court on that day…for me.
At least for me, it was the best father’s day a father could ask for.
It’s amazing where life’s lessons can unexpectedly come from. In this case, my nine-year-old son taught me a lesson on the dangers of vanity.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a vain person. In fact, anyone who saw me walk into the International House of Pancakes last weekend wearing my standard issue tattered sweater, oversized sweatpants, and four day old stubble will back me up on that one.
The only exception to my own lack of vanity comes with the pride I have in my hair. No, I’m not talking about spending a lot of money sporting the latest hairstyle (I believe you’d call my latest style “Roll out of bed crapshoot”), or combing in a sleek hair gel.
The source of my pride comes from the fact that unlike myself, the hair on most of my friends (and even my younger brother) are well on their way to turning gray if not falling out altogether. I, on the other hand, continue to have a full head of hair, still as dark as when I was a kid.
I don’t know why my lack of gray is so important to me. Maybe it’s a way of clinging to my youth. Maybe the contrast of my hair compared to my friends allows me the enjoyment of saying, “Hey, you’re an old man!” without actually having to say anything.
The problem with this kind of vanity, of course, is that it is fleeting. Time inexorably marches on, and sooner or later you have to face reality (or a good hair dye).
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It creeps up on you. The first gray hair I saw in the mirror a few months ago, I easily dismissed as a “genetic anomaly”. It’s a one-off. An imperfection in a sea of black, youthful goodness. Besides, I kept thinking, it’s just one gray hair.
Then a few weeks go by, and alongside that one gray hair sprouts up a few new gray haired residents in what was before a perfectly youthful head of hair. The truth is that these new sprouts of grey were virtually unnoticeable by any uninformed passersby, but due to my already established vanity and the fact that I’ve painstakingly categorized each follicle of hair, each withered strand was an assault on my already fragile ego.
Staring at the mirror, observing the gradual and inevitable mark of time, you discover an opportunity, a crossroads in your life where you can set aside petty notions of vanity, and truly value the life you have with all your lifelong friends and loved ones. You can spend your days accepting the wisdom that comes with getting older, and realizing that the color of your hair is meaningless in the greater scheme of life.
Or, you can do what I did and frantically start pulling out those noxious strands of gray hair.
Which leads me to my hard earned lesson.
You quickly realize that staring at the mirror only allows you to pull out a few conveniently placed strands of hair growing towards the front of your head. After that, the hairs toward the back of your head are nearly impossible to pluck by yourself. A second mirror, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a complex series of ropes and pulleys…at some point you realize that you can’t pull them all out on your own.
Just as I’m about to give up, my son Tyler walks over and asks for some help on his homework. As a responsible father, understanding completely the importance of homework, I tell Tyler to put his books down and help me pull out the remaining gray hairs so that we can quickly get to his homework.
Tyler, always the helpful one, is exceedingly eager to help me out. He stands behind me as I’m seated, and peers into the back of my head, literally digging through my hair, trying to identify each lonely strand of gray hair.
He doesn’t want to hurt me, and thinks that by pulling each hair out slowly it will hurt less. I quickly correct him after the first pull by threatening to withhold his allowance for the rest of the year if he pulled another hair out slowly.
He quickly gets the hang of things. A quick pluck here, a short yank there. He’s pulled out four or five gray hairs in a matter of seconds. At one point, Tyler says, “Hey, I’m your own personal monkey!”
So we come to the last gray hair, and it’s right on the back of my head, and it’s too short for Tyler to get a good hold of it. So, he suggests, that he guide my hand to the back of my head, help me grasp that single strand, and let my stronger hands do the trick.
Once it’s ready, Tyler tells me to pull. He says, “Now, Dad!” I yank.
It was like getting your hair caught in the trunk of someone’s car as they were speeding away. I had pulled out about 20 hairs, and as it turns out, not one of them was gray.
My son had inadvertently gotten me to voluntarily yank a big clump of hair out of my own head.
Tomorrow I’m spending his allowance on hair dye.
What one word best describes the experience? Well, let’s see.
According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the following is the definition for the word, “burnout”.
Burnout (pronounced, “bern’out’”): A state of emotional exhaustion caused by the stresses of one’s work or responsibilities.
A state of emotional exhaustion. Umm, yes, that would be me. That’s not quite concise enough, though. I’ve come up with the perfect phrase to sum up how I feel as well as identify what I went through yesterday.
Disneyland Burnout (pronounced, “Augghh!!!”): A state of emotional exhaustion caused by interminably long lines, exorbitantly priced food, and the inexplicable and sudden appearance of clothes wearing, human-sized rodents.
Now don’t get me wrong. This is the same Disneyland I grew up cherishing as a kid. It’s the same Disneyland I would have gladly traded my younger brother for to get a chance to ride on the latest ride. And it’s the same Disneyland that I would beg my parents to take me to year after year after year.
Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. It’s one thing when you are the beggar. It’s a whole other thing when you are the begg-ee.
For those of you who think I’m exaggerating, let me give you an idea of how our little family outing went.
Let’s start with the afore-mentioned pleading. My eight-year-old son Tyler, who is usually a bright, unassuming delight to be with, was great fun to be with when we were actually on one of the rides itself. Unfortunately, each ride usually lasts for about three minutes, which is then followed by about 40 minutes of us waiting in line for to go on another three-minute ride. It’s during each of these little interludes that we were subjected to my son’s version of “closing the deal.”
His sales pitch usually goes something like this:
Can we go on Space Mountain one more time? Please? I always love going on Space Mountain. Oh please! PLEASE??? JUST…PLEASE?!? I just want to go on Space Mountain one more time! PLEASE? PLEAASE??? PLEAAAAASE???
Bear in mind that it’s during the second round of this that he’s clasping his hands in a tight grip, shaking his hands urgently with his eyes closed and slightly bent at the knees.
Apparently, he seems to believe that this elevated level of groveling has a chance at succeeding. Anyone watching this scene from a distance might think that this was a starving boy begging for sustenance.
Speaking of food, being thrown side to side on some of the faster rides can leave you hungry, tired, and thirsty. No problem there, because we can take a quick break and as a convenience, food and refreshments are all around. A nice, cold, bottled water and some tasty french fries would hit the spot.
How much? Eleven dollars.
Eleven dollars? Eleven dollars for some water and half a potato? Ah well, at least the french fries weren’t in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
For some reason, anything in the park that even remotely resembles a circle, like a balloon, waffles, and especially hats, must be re-designed to include two round ears protruding from the top of it. I think it’s mandated in one of Disney’s bylaws.
Why, even the week before, as I was in Asia traveling from the Hong Kong airport into the city via their express train, I saw, out the window, another train with a big Mickey Mouse emblem stamped on it’s side. This reminded me that, of course, this was the train to take some happy tourists to Disney’s newest Disneyworld, this one located in Hong Kong.
And if you looked closely enough at the train, you could see some parents, many of them wearing “Mickey” hats, seated on the train. Right below them, no doubt, would be their kids, hands clasped, in the Disney “crouch position.”