A Lesson From My Dad
The grass has been freshly cut and the sun is doing it’s very best to peek through the grey clouds that always seem to be looming over BC’s west coast, threatening rain at any given moment. There is a dew that settles on the field in the early morning. I focus on the light reflecting off the water on the grass as I swing my bat - warming up and practicing in the on-deck circle. My mind shifts from all of the distractions and settles squarely on the task at hand. I focus on the mechanics of my swing; zoning in on what I need to do. It is my turn to step up to the plate both literally and figuratively. My cleats make the familiar clicking sound as a jog across the burnt red dirt of the softball field. The buzz of parents talking and shouting words of encouragement, along with the cheers from my fellow teammates, becomes background noise as I slow my movements and let muscle memory take over. I step into the box, swaying my hips to stay loose and gently bending into my knees in preparation for the pitch. From here, the outcome varies widely. Sometimes I get on base by walking or by connecting beautifully and hitting the perfect ball. But the majority of the time I get out. Sometimes it’s by hitting and getting thrown out. Sometimes it’s by hitting a fly ball that is caught. Sometimes, worst of all, I strike out.
Here’s the thing about softball though: It is an unrelenting sport that doesn’t allow for your ego to be bigger than the game. Softball says that getting on base one-third of the time is a respectable average. Softball sees to it that you have slumps and I was no stranger to them. There were times where I would go games without getting on base. It was debilitating having to step up to bat when you were in a slump. Your heart is in your throat, your muscles tense up, and your mind tries to wander to “what-if” possibilities: What if I strike out again? What if I never hit again? What if I lose the game for my team? What if I finally get on base? Only the mentally strong athletes survive these intense times. As another at-bat would end in failure, I would look to my dad whose face I could read easily. He too was disappointed. Not in me, but in the outcome. The difference, at the time, I may not have fully appreciated.
My dad never let my own self-doubt become reality. I would think to myself that I wasn’t good enough and that I would never bounce back from a slump. But, if there’s one thing my dad never did, it was validate any of these negative feelings. Instead, he did the opposite. He provided me with opportunities to work harder. He took me to the batting cage and had me hit hundreds of balls, he tossed balls to me in our backyard, he offered support using his knowledge of the game that he studied on my behalf - “lead with your elbow, throw your hands to the ball, and follow through.” With his dedication I realized my own potential, found my own passion for the game, and always made my way out of the slump.
Through these hard moments my dad was teaching me more than just a lesson in softball, but a lesson that I would carry through life and to my own parenting career. He taught me that in order to find my way out of a slump, I had to want it. I had to become resilient when my back was up against a wall and I was at my very weakest. Whether it was a slump in softball, facing a bad call by a referee in hockey, or tackling the stresses of life that would inevitably knock me down, my dad stood unwavering in his belief that I could overcome anything. Any urge he had to do it for me was laid to rest and he instead chose to lean in, let go of control, and let me know what he already knew: that it was possible if I wanted it for myself and put the work in to make it happen.
While this parenting technique can come across as distant and cold, I see it quite differently. Coming to my rescue would have indicated that he thought I needed saving; that I myself wasn’t able. Instead, his actions were proof that someone always believed in me. Watching me struggle through difficult challenges didn’t indicate that he was a hard-ass, but instead was proof of his steadfast belief that I was capable of overcoming any and every challenge. As a mom, I now understand the magnitude of the worry and stress he felt every time I went to bat or faced any challenge in life for that matter. But, you can bet that when I stepped up to the plate he thought I would get on base every single time, no matter how long I had been in a slump.
Now, I apply the same techniques with my kids. I watch my children struggle. Whether it’s Maelle attempting to figure out how to spell a word or fighting to get into a bridge position correctly, or Linden learning how to get his coat off without his arms getting stuck or working out how to walk across a balance beam without falling off. I allow them the space to fight through arduous tasks giving them the chance to feel personal satisfaction with their accomplishments. I am hoping that they find it within themselves to be gritty, resilient, and ultimately prevail. Just because I’m not jumping in to help them every time the going gets tough doesn’t mean every fibre of my mom being doesn’t want to. Instead, it means that I am standing firm, choosing to believe in the capabilities of my children. Letting them learn their own limitations and hopefully teaching them that the only one who can set parameters on what is achievable is themselves. I believe in them and if they ever truly cannot, I will be there too.