Back when I was a young father with my first little boy, one of the strongest messages ingrained on me as a parent from other parents both in the Church and without was that A GOOD PARENT MUST ATTEND EVERY SPORTS EVENT YOUR CHILD IS IN. For example, everyone knows that when your child is in Little League Baseball, it is vital that you show support by being there for every moment of every game, even when your child might play for only a few minutes. Same for soccer and every other sport under the sun (a major source of cancer-causing radiation).
My youngest son is now in forensics and debate. He’s done really well, making it to nationals in forensics in his freshman year last year. I’ve attended the parents’ meeting for debate and forensics students, talked with other parents, and with students, including my son, and have had quite the opposite lesson ingrained on me: “PLEASE DON’T SHOW UP. YOU WOULD BE A WEIRD PARENT IF YOU DID.” That’s not what the coaches said – they are very happy to have parents involved – but somehow it was clear that it would be a bit out of the ordinary, which I could relate to from my own experience. I was very active in high-school debate back in Utah, and can’t recall any parent ever showing up to watch their kids debate, and would have been surprised if mine had. But why? Good parents stay away and don’t cramp their kids’ style when they are competing in these more academic events, but a pox on them if they don’t sit through all nine innings of baseball, even when little Zordak is sitting on the bench. Any style cramping there? “Swing higher! No, not like that. Keep your eye on the ball, watch it, get your feet apart, get your elbow up, ready, ready, AARGH!”
Can someone explain all this to me? I’m about to head to Milwaukee where I may have an opportunity to violate the sacred Code of Parental Behavior by attending a round of a debate tournament near the end of the tournament (good excuse: I need to pick him up instead of letting him ride the bus back so he can attend a Church dance in the area). My son has been warned that I might be present if he makes it to a final round and he’s OK with it, but I may have to put a paper bag on my head to protect what’s left of my reputation as a decent parent.
Aftermath, 11 p.m.: What a great day! As I arrived at Milwaukee’s Marquette University High School, a student from our high school recognized me and told me to hustle to Room 416, where my son was about to begin the semi-final round. I walked in, sat nonchalantly at a desk behind my son, said hi, received a kind smile, and then pulled out my book on Open Business Models, trying not to look too attentive. The debate (public forum style) was really quite interesting. Dealt with the Fairness Doctrine. Really enjoyed listening to my son take a position I know he actually opposes. He and his very talented partner won that round and went on to win the final round, which was cool (nice trophy for Appleton East). It was a great relief to see that I didn’t need to wear the paper bag on my head, even though I was the only parent there. Other students mistook me for an adult – perhaps a judge or something. And between the rounds, my son and his partner seemed to enjoy discussing with me some details of the debate (my ancient experience in the area actually was a bit helpful). Their response, in fact, was a request for me to be more involved, not less. What a pleasant surprise! Much more enjoyable than the old experience of endlessly watching a crowd of little kids stand around a soccer ball while all of us parents shout encouraging words such as, “The ball, go for the ball! Kick it! Kick it! With your foot! Toward the goal. The goal! No, the other way.”