In many stories of coming out, I’ve noticed a continuing thread: the fear of parent’s loss of pride. Coincidentally, L’s post today seems to be on a similar topic. It got me to thinking of an incident last summer with A.
My kids started soccer last year with their school friends. Unfortunately, we never got B on the field; fine, I want him to be a swimmer like his Pop anyway :-). My little A went up right away, though, but soon got chided by the coach for picking up the ball. He ran back, upset, and didn’t want to try again. I encouraged, and (maybe) pushed, along with R and the grandparents. “It’ll be fun,” “Look at all your friends out there”, “just try it again” and so on…
Eventually A got out there but wouldn’t chase the ball. The coach had me come out to encourage some more. Eventually the ball came near him and he kicked it hard. I was very happy he finally got past that barrier. But that emotion must have been on my face, and I fear it was too big of a change. He looked up and went to one of his biggest smiles, but I could see then his eyes had been welling up. He asked, first time ever, “Are you proud of me Papa?”
Those cloaking up muscles in the throat reacted immediately. Proud?! At 4, what does he know about proud, care about proud? Was he about to cry because he thought I was disappointed in him? I felt knocked down by his question and I picked him up, hugged him, and told him yes, I’m very proud of him, that he’s a wonderful little boy. He laughed and went on, happily playing the rest of the season from there.
At that moment I was keenly reminded again of the danger in being a parent. You always know it’s there; you know you have a lot of power, but when you let it spill out inadvertently it really hits you. I mean, was I making him cry over kicking a ball?
Kids seem to come disposed to caring deeply about what their parents think. It makes perfect sense, pragmatically; it’s a large part of how children survive to become the next generation. It’s useful.
But any person or group given such respect can too easily misuse it. You can cause everything from subtle neurosis to outright psychological abuse. Children easily become experts on what their parents think, and sometimes they hang on even vague interpretations of every odd twitch of their parent’s face, to a debilitating degree. I do hope that will not be our children; it’s something to fear.
It seems to be a tricky borderland between trying to raise happy, healthy, and moral children and abuse of the power you have to do so. But I do believe most all parents never mean to cross that line (sure, some miserable humans do). In the area of gay youth, I have seen this power cause many problems for kids, and I once would come down very angry at the parents. But I’m more inclined today to advocate for slack to be cut, and time to be given. As a first time parent of two, I know I’d hope for the same understanding to be given to me. Being a parent can tricky, and scary, along with wonderful beyond words, but I do believe near every parent means the absolute best for their children.