A Dad's Case for Living Vicariously
The basketball is launched cleanly from the three-point line, a shot not a heave. I lean slightly toward the ball’s arc, hoping that my will and my words can guide it into the basket. Bang! Nothing but net. Cue the Hallelujah chorus. Score the basket and add another assist toward my awakening from a hoop bad dream. Yes the karmic satisfaction is mine, but the nifty three-pointer was made by my son, Matt, in a middle school travel league game.
Other team parents surround me in the bleachers to root on their gene pool. Their presence helps me feel normal. In fact, maybe we are braver than other parents, as we risk the possibility of seeing our offspring turn an easy layup into a stumbling “agony-of-defeat” moment – a moment that popped up too often in my own hoop experiences.
The travel team schedule is a challenge for parents who want to live vicariously. Most of the games start at 6:45 p.m. on Saturdays, the hour for suburban couples to haunt movie theaters and reasonably authentic Italian restaurants. This choice upsets my wife, as she clearly doesn’t understand that I only have 20 or 30 more games left to obsess over.
So, wife-less and seated in the bleachers, I watch as Matt steals the ball and dribbles full-throttle toward the basket all alone and makes a spectacular miss. I cringe. I only know of my body language no-nos because a team parent delicately noted that I really get physically involved with Matt’s play. This observation does not sit well with me. You probably shouldn’t contort yourself like a third-rate Jim Carrey in reaction to your son’s basketball performance.
Sometimes I wish I had the more normal obsession of reliving an academic career through one’s kids. True, I have done the elite-college-or-bust stuff, like ignoring modest placement recommendations for my older son. But I am still more excited by 90 percent foul shooting than a 90 percent grade. After all, I can’t sit in a classroom and watch him perform. At least not until I get a notice to attend “weekly E block events where your child might just get called on.” I can’t imagine giving Matt a standing ovation for his scintillating defense of the First Amendment.
Maybe I could muster up a little more energy if Matt was in that hot house of competitive academics known as the math team. If Matt could solve a geometric theorem, I’m sure I would issue a few fist-thrusting cheers of, “Way to go, Einstein!”
My holy grail is more modest. It is only to see my son’s name in a basketball game box score in the newspaper. I made the box score once in junior high when I scored nine points in a championship game (3-3-9 was the line entry), but that was unfortunately my career highlight. Basketball during my indelible high school years (to reuse a bad movie phrase) “completed me” or would have if I was better at it. My high school hoop heroics were performed before a small crowd – my dog – on my driveway court.
Conventional wisdom of parenthood states that four years from now I should be more proud of seeing Matt’s name on a fat envelope from a semi-elite college than seeing his name as a line entry in a box score. Both would generate much parental gratification. But his stat line in the newspaper would give me the thrill of a game-winning swish, my hoop dreams finally coming true.
Bill Levine is a freelance writer and father in Belmont.
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