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I tried to turn my kids into sports fans. I really did. Before children, my visions of parenthood were filled with mental images of me at a ballgame, my kids in tow wearing oversized New York Yankees caps and smiling as they cheered while eating hot dogs with mustard dripping down their hands.
And I took the obligation to pass on my love for the games and my teams (the Yankees and Jets) seriously. Within days after they were born, I got to work. I filled our small New York City apartment with memorabilia, driving my wife to the brink of decor-deprived insanity. I dressed my befuddled infants in pinstripes, although upon reflection, they looked more like baby convicts than baseball players. In a true momentary lapse of reasoning, I even had to be talked out of naming them Winfield and Mattingly.
As they got older, we began to watch games together, first on television and then at the local minor and major league stadiums. I’d talk them through the rules of the game, the players’ stories, the meaning of statistics, etc. I reveled in the sharing of my passion with my impressionable young children. And truth be told, I loved every minute of it. But, had I looked a little closer, I might have realized that my kids didn’t.
My daughter dropped out first. She would always feign interest, but eventually, it became clear she was in it more for the popcorn and ice cream than the game. She loved her Yankees cap (pink, her choice), but it soon fell by the wayside, replaced by Disney Princess gowns and ballet shoes.
I thought I had a better shot with my son. Even though he didn’t play baseball, he always showed interest in how my teams were doing and would shout with me during big moments in front of the TV, etc. But my son, always a compassionate and empathetic sort, came home from school one day with an unusual question: “Dad, is it ok if I’m a Yankees fan AND a Red Sox fan?” Uh oh. Trouble brewing. (I said no, of course. Bad parenting, perhaps, but there are some principles you’ve got to stand up for ⏤ even more so when you’re talking about the Red Sox. Good Lord, no, no, no.)
He soon began drifting away from sports, preferring video games and other typical pre-teen diversions. He’d still show occasional interest, perhaps to indulge his father, but it became clear that he didn’t share the passion I had for baseball and football. But I wasn’t finished trying.
One spring, I came across tickets to an afternoon Yankees game in the Bronx. It was Bat Day, an annual promotional event when kids attending the game would be given a replica (but fairly hefty) baseball bat signed by a current player. I remember attending one of these as a kid, and I treasured the Reggie Jackson bat that was handed to me. If Bat Day didn’t convert my son, I don’t know what else could.
I got the tickets, and we headed out to the Stadium. It was an absolutely beautiful spring day, the sun shining down on us but with a cool breeze. And the game couldn’t have been better. Our seats were fantastic, with a full and unobstructed view of the entire field. We wore our caps and cheered every big hit. We ate piles of stadium food, including enough Nathan’s cheese fries to permanently clog our arteries. I even taught my son how to keep score, which kept him involved in the game even during the slow parts (and as it is baseball, there are always slow parts). It was, by any measure, a perfect day at the ballpark.
After the game, as we left our seats and headed back out of the stadium, my son turned to me. “Dad,” he said, “I had a fantastic time with you today.” I smiled, satisfied in the knowledge that I’d built this great day for us. “But I think you should know, I’m still not a sports fan.” Ouch. It was a gut punch. I had given him the ideal sports experience, at least in my mind, and it didn’t change his mind at all. And I was out of options.
My son isn’t a sports fan. And in the end, I’m OK with that.
If there’s one thing you learn as a parent, it’s that you can’t always turn your kids into mini clones of ourselves ⏤ no matter how hard you try. Despite the fantasies that we concoct in our heads, it is more likely than not that our children will find their own passions and interests. And it’s our jobs as fathers to follow them there. This may not be at the (perhaps figurative) ballpark we had hoped, but it’s not really about the game itself; it’s about helping them find themselves and trying to become a part of whatever pursuit they choose.
Later, my son became fascinated by fencing. It’s not a sport I played or even fully understand, but I’m learning. And I enjoy watching him fence. It may not be baseball, but he found it all on his own and loves it. To me, that’s as big a win as anything. And, at least, he’s still not a Red Sox fan. That’s my boy.