Thursday, March 08, 2007

Proud of You

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.


playasinmar said...

Children are highly impressionable, I'm told. Maybe, as a youth, everything we experience shapes us in some way.

But the only things I remember anyone ever saying to me were things my parents said. Their opinions, thoughts, and philosophy were very powerful.

As for reading my parents faces: to this day I know exactaly how angry my dad is by how open his eyes are!

Gimple said...

I really enjoyed your thoughts. It is true that we as a society think that we need our parents to be proud of us.

I just got over needing my parents acceptance of me. I really glad that I was able to do this. I hated that they didn't accept me or think the same of anymore. It was really tough on me.

It also made me happy to here that you are a swimmer too!

Scot said...

Thank you for the comments playasinmar and Gimple.

Gimple, by your picture, you’re a backstroker? IM’r?

I was the 50 free guy for my high school, and loved water polo.

I do think swimming is a great sport, particularly from a parent’s perspective… very few injuries, save for the rare forgetting to count your strokes backstroking into the wall :-).

Gimple said...


I'm pretty much an all arounder. My best stroke is backstroke, but I'm good at everything. My best events were the 200 back, 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 Free, and 500 Free. I can also sprint and swim longer distances.

To correct your comment, swimming is still a dangerous sport. I have countless injuries from swimming (broken bones, concussions, etc.). The funny thing is that they were never my fault.

Scot said...

broken bones, concussions, etc.

Wow. Now how'd that happen, if you don't mind me asking? At the start?

The worst I ever saw around a pool was a diver who hit his face on the board. After that, I wrote off diving and fast, but the worst I remember swimming was the occasional arm or head slapping the wall.

Gimple said...

Well, I'll tell you a little bit now and then some later (I'm supposed to meet you sometime, according to Caspian and Josh).

A couple of years ago I broke my wrist while swimming backstroke. You are probably thinking that I hit into the wall... I didn't! I freight train hit me (actually a huge kid twice the size of me). I was swimming into the wall and he was sitting on the wall. He saw me coming and tried to get out of the way by pushing off the wall. He ended up going straight into my hand, bent it in a weird shape, and then next thing I know I had a broken hand!

I have more stories to tell you about my swimming career. A lot of them are hiliarious!