Of course I expected tears. I waited for them like someone on a storm-wracked strand, watching the horizon for the big one.
Instead she lunged forward, grabbed the ball and whizzed it over my head.
“Get the runner,” she shouted, “Get the runner. He’s almost to first!”
This is what it’s like to play catch with my 5-year-old daughter: Her world is alive with ghost runners, with imaginary fields of opponents, with so much joy that I begin to see this world anew myself and remember what it was once like — to inhabit a moment so pregnant with imagination. (This is also why it’s so fun to play dress up or make-believe.)
Usually our playing time isn’t so dramatic. After tagging the ghost runner, I check in with the kid, who rubbed her jaw and said it hurt. We stopped for a bit and she took up batting instead. I launched unpopped popcorn kernels at her and listened to the ding of them on the bat until she said she was ready. Then when I threw the T-ball, she was so dialed in she knocked it over the fence.
It wouldn’t occur to me not to do all this stuff with her. And yet, dads do. All the time.
Now, I’m not some crazed sporty dad who wants his daughter to reach all the levels of competition I never did as a kid. But I do enjoy sports. So does my wife. We like to play catch, we like to play soccer, and we like to just run around from time to time and play tag or whatever crazy game we can think of. Not including our daughter in all this would seem not only silly but almost irrational.
I was reading this great post from Jeanne Sager over at The Stir about dads and daughters and the desire, among some, to have sons to play “boy things” with, such as sports. Jeanne puts a really interesting spin on this, wondering if this desire — which frankly, I have heard over and over again from dads — does more harm than ever intended.
“When I tell people my daughter is going to be an only child, without fail, I get the same response. “Oh no, you need to try for a boy … for your husband.” As if somehow the whip-smart, quirky, hilarious, gorgeous human being standing in front of them just ain’t good enough because there isn’t something dangling between their legs.
“Of course when I point that out (because yes, she got that whip-smart, quirkiness from somewhere y’all), they start backpedaling like crazy and throw out stuff like “oh, but, well, he needs someone to go to baseball games with him.” America, I want to thank y’all for being so concerned about what’s going on between my daughter’s legs. Now do me a favor, would you stop telling her it means she doesn’t matter?”
Now, to be fair, this isn’t a dad saying he needs a boy to go play sports with. This is from outsiders, friends, who have the brainlessness to bring up this notion in front of a little girl. And I agree with Jeanne: This send an awful message to the little girl that she’s not good enough.
Who would do that?
But what really drives me crazy is the idea that girls can’t even try sports. Look, we don’t do sports all the time. It’s just a small part of our day. We play kitchen, play dress up, color, paint, sing songs do homework, clean up, watch musicals (aw yeah!), have Nerf gun battles and playdates and 5,000 other things every day. From time to time, we play catch or kick a ball or maybe watch some baseball on TV. We both are anxious for April, so we can hit the ballpark for this first time this year.
I could go on and on. I hear dads all the time say they wished they had a boy to go play sports with. And now I keep thinking of Jeanne’s remark and wonder how much damage this sort of longing can do — be it from dads or friends.
I suppose saying it out of earshot of the daughter wouldn’t actually do harm, but woe to the person who brings this up in front of her.
Do people really do that?
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out!