I think when a man finds good or bad in his children, he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.
When I was 12, my dad and I had an argument.
See, he had told me that I was likely never going to be a basketball player. I argued, with the certainty that only a 12-year-old could have, that I could train my body to do anything if I wanted. And my dad responded with something to the effect of, “You can’t train your body to be taller. And good basketball players have to be tall.”
It set me off.
It enraged me that I could be kept from doing anything I wanted— and more than that, it enraged me that my dad didn’t think I could train to make up for my natural limits. It hurt that he didn’t just say “Yes, you can be more than what you were born with.”
Natural Limits Are, Well, Limiting
Was he wrong?
No, of course not. I was never going to be great at basketball.
I don’t think he said anything wrong. I think he was, in his limited way, trying to say something important —that not everything is worth my effort because there will be some things I’ll never be great at. Maybe good, but not great.
Unfortunately, how it came out was, “Son, you’re too short and you’ll always be too short to play a tall man’s game.”
I think about that moment a lot.
If I have kids, what will I tell them? Will I be a realist, tell them that they can’t do everything, that they should focus on what they’re going to really excel at? Should I train them to be picky with their efforts, like all truly accomplished people are?
Should I keep them from pursuing something that they’ll only ever be mediocre at?
The Projector Is Broken
My dad had a habit of projecting his insecurities onto his kids. He’s probably not unique in that sense—I’d wager that more than a few of us are reflections of our parents, warts and all. For my dad, it came out in sports. For example, I once mentioned that I wanted to play football in junior high, and he told me that I was guaranteed to cry during my first year because it would be hell. No football for me.
Never mind that only a few years later, I’d take up rugby and enjoy it like mad—even when I separated my AC joint.
I think that’s the point: I may not have been great at rugby, but I got better at it than if I had never tried. More importantly, I loved it. It taught me valuable lessons that you only learn from being on a field, burning all your reserves and then some, and bleeding alongside your teammates. It made me stronger, even if I never became as skilled as the natural athletes around me.
It reminds me of a great moment from East of Eden, one of my all-time favorite novels. A new father, Adam Trask, has been abandoned by his sociopathic wife, and her betrayal makes him wary of the children she left with him. Do they have the same faults, the same streak of evil in them? Has their mother’s influence warped them irreparably?
Their neighbor, an incredibly astute man named Samuel, responds to his cynicism beautifully:
“You can’t make a racehorse of a pig.” “No,” said Samuel, “but you can make a very fast pig.”
Here’s to all of us fast pigs.