My son is devoted to his football team. He loves playing football, he even turned down a trip to Disneyland with me so he wouldn’t miss a practice, he wouldn’t let his team down. He has spent the past 3 1/2 years playing quarterback and loves to be in the middle of all the action. His team took 2nd place two years ago and are the defending champions from last year. Sports have helped keep my dear boy on stable ground during all the tumult of his short little life. In spite of all his mothers moves, we have been able to keep him on the same teams throughout these years which has allowed him to develop some deep friendships on the team, many of the boys play on the same competitive football, basketball and lacrosse teams.
One week ago today after practice Bridger called me, which is extremely rare and NEVER happens so I knew something was up. I could hear the sorrow in his voice as he fought back the emotion coming from his broken heart. I quietly listened to my son through his cracking voice as he told me that the coaches had decided to bench him because he missed a block in Saturdays game. Immediately my mind raced back to Saturdays game and I could recall the block he missed, I couldn’t forget it as I vividly remember the assistant coaches tirade directed toward my son from the sidelines. As a parent, it is often difficult to hold my tongue when a coach goes off on the 11 year old boys. I choose instead to discuss privately with the coaches that my opinion is that the yelling is overboard and that they can be more effective and get better play from the boys with a calm criticism instead of the ranting and raving.
My heart ached for my son. I knew how deeply important this is to him. I know all too well that this is what has helped my son cope with the heartaches he feels and the sorrow at not being able to see me when he wants. Sports, especially football have been a lifeline for him, he has devoted himself to his team and being there for them. His example of commitment and what that includes has been inspiring to me. His focus and dedication to practice and game time has been exemplar. My immediate thought as a loving father was how can they do this to him for one play? Wisely I kept my tongue and asked first how he was doing with the change. His voice broke now, with tears as he told me he understood and wanted what was best for his team.
Now it was my turn to fight back the emotion and the tears as my heart broke for my son. I cleared my throat and asked him what now. He informed me that the coaches said he could play on special teams and fill in at safety. I asked him who the new quarterback was going to be and if he would still be the backup. He quietly told me that it was the coaches son who would take his place and that he wouldn’t even be backing him up. Never in my life had I had to deal with the politics of little league sports in this manner. How can I explain to my son that it is ok that after 3 1/2 years in his position and being very successful in it that he was now taken out so that the coaches son, who had never even taken a snap could be the star player?
Then as I was fighting the building frustration at the incredulous politics of little league football, my son said, “it’s OK dad, it will be best for the team. i just want our team to do well.” My son reinforced in me at that moment that all the long conversations over the years we had shared, about being a leader, about teamwork, about lifting those around you and making them better, about how leaders lead from example, that these conversations had sunk in. My boy understood more about life, more about people, more about leadership, more about compassion than most adults do.
Sadly, the call had to end as I could hear his mother telling him he had to get off the phone now. I expressed my deep love and admiration for my boy as he quietly whispered, “I love you Dad” as he hung up the phone.
My heart was breaking for more reasons than my sons sorrow. It was full of love and gratitude with the knowledge that although our time is extremely limited and our moments to talk rare, my son had learned the important things in life that I have tried so hard to teach him. My efforts have not been in vain and those small moments of time when we are together have impacted my sons life. I had made a difference in his life that I never thought possible given the circumstances we were forced into. I ached to hold my son in my arms and comfort him, yet I knew he could feel my arms around him without me being next to him to hold him.
Saturdays game came. The team suffered their worst loss of the year. I watched him as he awkwardly paced the sidelines while his offensive teammates were on the field. I watched as he cheered for his friends and congratulated the new quarterback when he made a good play, i could see his heartache and longing to be in the game written in his eyes, yet he hid that from his team. I took tremendous pride as I watched as my son stepped in on defense and prevented 2 touchdowns. Yet during all this, he made a contribution to his team that I am not certain even the other boys realize, my son showed by tremendous courage and true leadership on Saturday. Although he wasn’t the one leading the offense, he led the team from the sidelines with his quiet courage and strength as he accepted willingly the decisions others had made, while cheering on his teammates in a futile loss. My son has learned that choices of others impact everyone, even his own.