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In My Opinion

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The well-meaning, delusional dad

Peter St. Onge
Peter St. Onge is The Observer's associate editor.

On this Father’s Day weekend, I have a confession to make:

I’m a delusional dad.

There are a lot of us out there, the prematurely proud, imagining great things for our children. But nowhere is the delusion-per-capita higher than the place I’ll be spending much of today and Sunday – on youth recreational baseball fields.

I have two sons who play youth baseball, and both have the misfortune to be good enough to play on their league’s all-star teams. This, they are learning, means not only facing a higher level of athletic competition, but exponentially higher levels of parental angst. Even worse for one son, my 10-year-old: I’m on his All-Star coaching staff.

There will be few, if any, future pros on the fields he and I step on today, but there will be plenty of parents and coaches who act as if they believe otherwise. They’re the ones offering endless mechanical tinkers, taking instructional smartphone video and groaning as if a muffed grounder was just broadcast nationally instead of seen by two dozen moms and dads on one of thousands of baseball diamonds this day.

Ahem. Yes, that’s me out there, with my smartphone.

But let’s be charitable for a moment. Delusional dads aren’t usually the cliche that you think. Most aren’t trying to re-live athletic glory through their children, and most don’t really believe that a future major-leaguer is riding in their backseat. For most, the coaching and cajoling is about wanting their children at their best, wanting them to realize the benefits of achieving.

That’s part of what parenting is, on or off the athletic fields. This weekend, high schoolers across Charlotte will march across a graduation stage, many with stories of achievement that came thanks to moms and dads who helped them believe they were capable of more. Some of our job as parents is to help our children find their limits. Sometimes that means reaching beyond them.

Which brings us back to baseball and this delusional dad. A scouting report, if I may, on the 10-year-old: He’s a good athlete with a strong glove. He makes consistent contact at the plate, but without much power. Of course, he’d like to increase that power, which has provided a good teaching opportunity about working and improving. It hasn’t always gone smoothly, for either of us.

Sports are full of those teachable moments. We talk often as coaches about being a good teammate, about learning to deal with failure, about choosing to be successful. We also talk a lot about “having fun out there,” but that’s often followed by a reminder of how winning is more fun than losing, right?

But at some point, sports does become more about enjoyment than achievement. Eventually, most of our athletic children will get cut from a competitive athletic team – or they’ll no longer care to try. What will they be left with then?

I thought about that this week at a Charlotte Knights game. Our boys were both there, and a Knights hitter, Marcus Semien, came up to the plate a couple innings after launching an impressive home run. The 10-year-old remembered this, and he ooohed when Semien took another big swing. “Did you see how he took that big stride?” I said, ever the coach. My son sagged.

Today, we’re back at the youth ballfields for two games, maybe a few hard hits and maybe, if I’m a better coach, some fun out there. Sunday is Father’s Day, and my wish for all is that your delusions are not delusional. But if they are, my wish is that we have the wisdom to not be that dad, but a father instead.

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