Over to You

I WANT MORE DADS’ DAYS

Here’s hoping that the family that plays together stays together

JAMES DEACON June 21 2004
Over to You

I WANT MORE DADS’ DAYS

Here’s hoping that the family that plays together stays together

JAMES DEACON June 21 2004

I WANT MORE DADS’ DAYS

Over to You

Here’s hoping that the family that plays together stays together

JAMES DEACON

I CAN’T PIN A DATE on when it started, but something has changed in my relationship with my kids, and I don’t like it. It’s bad enough that they long ago stopped holding my hand when we’d go out walking somewhere. But now, my nearly 13-year-old son no longer insists that I sit on his bed and talk when it’s time for lights out. My daughter is 11 and still likes being tucked in at night, but in her waking hours she can be cruel about my wardrobe and isn’t impressed with my failure to grasp the life-and-death importance of instant messaging. I have my uses, doling out movie money and helping with homework. And they

appreciate the rides to school events or their friends’ homes. But on those occasions, my role stops at the curb. They don’t want me getting out of the car, fearful I’ll embarrass them with a cringe-inducing public display of affection in front of their friends. A hug, for instance. Yuck.

I know I’ve done some things to make them wary. An example: during softball practice at school one recent morning, I was hitting grounders and pop flies to a group of girls on the outfield grass, and everything was going fine until some kid on an adjacent basketball court cranked up OutKast on his boom box. First one, then two and finally all five of my fielders began dancing and lip-synching and paying way more attention to the beat than to the ball.

It was hilarious for awhile, but a challenge: the volunteer coaching manual doesn’t offer any advice on how to get ballplayers to stop dancing at practice. TryO ing to regain their attention without playing the heavy, I retaliated from across the field with an exaggeratedly gawky version of the twist. It had the desired effect: they stopped dancing and started laughing at me—all of them except the rover in the allpink outfit. My daughter was not amused. By the intensity of her glare, I’d say she was mortified. Scarred for life even. Did I have to be so lame?

I am trying to be less of a parental pariah, but the fact that they’re growing older is tough to take. Part of me wants to hold them back, slow down the clock, and it doesn’t help when my wife, who handles these

matters more gracefully, reminds me they’re just growing up and we should be proud they have the self-confidence to break away a little. I am proud. Really. I do want them to become independent, get jobs and empty their own fridges one day. But that’s not the point, at least right now. I’m not yet prepared for what precedes all of that—the loss of attachment. For years they were the ones who needed their hands held, who couldn’t get to sleep without a good long snuggle. Now I’m the one who misses that closeness. The

incremental loss of it is like having to live with less oxygen, and it’s going to get worse in their imminent teens.

To make myself feel better, I’m pinning my hopes on a strategy that may not stop them from growing up, but could keep us connected down the road. We’ve always played sports as a family, whether it’s street hockey or tennis or a few holes of golf on summer evenings, and one day it occurred to me that, as a kid, I did the same with my dad. Like so many men of his generation, he worked crazy hours and trusted my mother to look after all things domestic, a

portfolio that included five children. But in whatever free time he had, dad loved to play various sports, and he’d invite us along.

That suited me fine—that’s what I liked to do, too. And as I got older, it became a fair fight: he’d give me points on the squash court, I’d give him strokes on the golf course, and we’d play tennis straight up. There were occasions when we’d get under each other’s skin, but in general, the friendly competition helped us stay friendly, even through my insufferable, know-it-all teens. Along the way we discovered other areas of mutual interest, but sport still gave us some sweet times together that we wouldn’t otherwise have had, most memorably late in his life. On the first Father’s Day after he died, I hauled his golf clubs out of the basement and played nine holes with them. Sounds corny, but it felt right, and eight years later, those old Pings are still in my bag.

It’s odd to be taking posthumous parenting tips from my father. He didn’t have a fraction of the time with us that most modern dads spend with our kids, helping with homework, volunteering at school, going to recitals, whatever. Doesn’t make us better, just luckier: the world changed, we adapted to the needs of two-career households, and we now enjoy the benefits of being more involved. But as I see the kids growing apart from us, I also see the virtue of those hours my dad spent with us on courses and courts.

I may never be comfortable with the lessis-better approach to fatherhood, but I’m hopeful that, someday, my jock strategy will pay off. With any luck, we’ll be out there 15 years from now, trading ground strokes and playing shinny together, with post-game beers on the line. That would be the best—a little friendly competition with a dad’s best friends.

James Deacon is a Maclean’s writer and editor. To comment: overtoyou@macleans.ca