Of all the many things I swore I’d never be (republican, suburban, corporate drone) and yet – surprise! – became, I’m most at peace with my suburban dad-ness. Every Saturday morning, I get to get the boys geared up for community soccer at the local school, their small cleats cleaned the night before, shirts dirty from last week and water bottles filled and ready to go. I load them up into the mini-van, put some good music in the cd player to get them amped and ready, and off we head.
It doesn’t matter that they’ve inherited my poor athletic genes. Cooper loves to run around, just not on the soccer field when the game is being played. He’ll chase his teammates around and tackle them when they’re not ready. But, as soon as the whistle blows, he collapses on the sidelines and complains of fatigue, as though watching Jimmy Neutron on Tivo is crushingly hard. Eli, at 2, does a better job of dribbling the ball than Coop does at 5. They both love the treats after the game more than the game itself.
The coaches are great, and they’ll get him into the game eventually. He’ll trot around the edges of the action, getting kind of close, but not too close, to the scrum of 5 year-olds who sort of push the ball around the field. When we started this summer, he would actually run away from the ball when it came to him, falling back to take a position in front of his goal, protecting it I suppose, but also avoiding actual ball to foot contact. Slowly, he’s gotten more engaged in the game. Sure, he still wrestles his teammates when they’re supposed to be playing and yes, that was my son who got admonished two weeks ago for kissing the forward on the cheek.
All the boys have gotten progressively better over the summer and last Saturday it all came together for Coop. He actually went for the ball, paid attention to his coach, started seeing how to pass the ball across the field to his teammates, understood how to get in position to get a pass. More importantly, he got his first goal! The ball was cleared out of a scrum at about midfield, and went towards Coop who was, amazingly, pretty much alone. He let the ball get in front of him, saw the open goal at the end of the field, turned and headed down, dribbling with both feet. A kid from the other team started closing in on Coop, but he didn’t stop, turned toward his right a bit and, from about 10 yards out, stuck the ball into the right side of the goal. At first he didn’t quite react, but then, he pulled up, turned towards his coach who was screaming at him, smiled and put his arms in the air. I don’t care if he did scream “touchdown”, he got the damn goal.
All season long, I had been preparing myself in case the season closed without Coop getting a goal. I had kind of built it up too much, worrying about what it might mean if he couldn’t do it on the field. We all know that sports aren’t that important, but we also secretly know that kids that can at least play the games reasonably well have an easier time making friends and all that stuff, as unfair as that might be. So even though I really wanted it to happen, I didn’t expect much, I was at peace with the likelihood he’d be goal-less at the end of the year. But then, when I saw him get the ball, saw the open goal and the open field, I got so excited! When he kicked it in, I was screaming too, not at all self-consciously. I was surprised at how happy I was for him, surprised at how it brought back so many memories for me of being on the football field when my team scored a touchdown, all in an instant. But I felt, more than anything, the sweet purity of complete relief that he wouldn’t be the only kid on the team who hadn’t scored a goal. The weight had been lifted, my son wouldn’t be a paste-eating, chess-winning, loser. My son scores goals. And, for better or worse, he’s got one of those dad’s now that screams at him from the sidelines.