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“Dad, when can I sign up to play football?”
Henry’s big brown eyes are slamming into mine in the rear view mirror, and I can tell he’s not messing around. It’s early in the morning, and we’re making our bus stop/day care rounds, same as we always do, but now everything is messed up. I’m not ready. I don’t have my big speech prepared yet. My nerves rise up in my throat and I hesitate for a long minute, my older son’s face hanging off the silence in my mirror.
It’s awkward. I’d been dreading that question since the moment years ago when we first knew we were having a son, but I thought I had a few more years left to come up with my whole spiel about why football was out of the question.
I won’t let him play.
I know I won’t.
But why? And what the heck does that really say about me? Sure I can justify it by saying I don’t want my children exposed to big head trauma or the type of violence that the game is born from, but still. I bite my lip for a second there as Henry’s question pings around in my head.
And even though I know I’m about to give him the big “Play soccer, dude!” pep talk, there remains a big part of me that can’t help but wonder if I’m being unreasonable.
Am I being unfair? Or worse yet, am I being wildly selfish?
Plus, there’s one other little thing I need to mention: I played football when I was a kid. Practically everyone in my neighborhood did. And none of us got hurt or died.
That’s where I end up feeling like a hypocrite. In my heart, I want to persuade Henry and his big sister Violet, 7, and his little brother Charlie, who’s almost 2, to follow all their dreams. I want them to participate in any sports or activities that intrigue them, dropping the ones they don’t really care for, and sticking with the ones that make them happy and excited and inspired.
But despite my genuine good intentions with all of that, there’s still this raging voice in my head that screams out “Noooooooo!” whenever I think of them riding dirt bikes someday. Or trying their hand at rock climbing. Or playing one of the most popular sports in the USA — football.
Why? Why do I claim to want to support them in whatever they wish to experience in this world and yet turn around and promise myself that I will talk them out of ever signing up for football? Or if that fails, just flat out refuse to let them play. What’s my point? What’s behind it all?
The answer is simple: I’m afraid. I’m their dad and I’m afraid. Very few kids ever collapse and die on the football field. Very few ever suffer from paralyzing tackles or massive head smashes that scramble their brains forever. I know all that. I played the game. Yet my fear remains and it’s quite real, and I cannot just dismiss it and get on with things. I don’t want my kids to get hurt if I can help it. That’s the bottom line.
And so even though I understand completely that the odds are very low that any of them would ever walk away from their own football years with anything but memories (and maybe a bruise or 3), I still find myself unable to give in to that distant pin dot of possibility that something could happen to them.
There is probably more of a chance of seeing one of them seriously injured from playing football than from playing almost any other sport. Soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming, the list is long of competitive sports that kids play where they don’t get hurt as often. Am I wrong then to feel in my gut that they need to stick to those? Am I wrong to say, “Look, I love you a lot and I believe in your dreams … but you can pick something else because you’re never playing football, bud.”
I want to be the cool dad, the dad who supported them in anything they ever wanted to try or do. But I’m not sure that I can ever be cool with some things, no matter how much they beg me. No matter how much they might resent me for refusing to give in.
Hardcore protection is such a strange and mysterious animal. Especially if you’re a mom or dad.
There are no limits to what you want to do to protect your own children, but there are a trillion limits to what you actually can.
Sometimes the only way you can deal with it all is to block out the other noise in the world; just block everyone else out and listen to the only voice you’ve been listening to since way back when. Since way back to the days when your son was 4 going on 5, sitting in the backseat asking about football, his eyes fixed on yours in the rear view as you tried to come up with some gentle way to tell him “No, no, no,” all in the name of love.
Serge is a 43-year-old father of three kids, Violet, Henry and Charlie. He writes about both Parenting and Relationships for Babble. Read more from Babble here: