The Replacement Ref

I often feel as though I’m more referee than father. 

Today I threw an unnecessary roughness penalty on my 5-year old for, well, roughing up his older brother.  This morning I whistled a delay of game penalty on my daughter after she was unable to find a suitable shirt to wear after staring at the laundry basket for 15 minutes. That’s when I step in and select a shirt for her which results in a fashion disaster only her mother can repair.

By the end of most days, I’m out of flags or just too tired to throw any more.

It’s not that I mind standing in as a replacement ref, but I assumed I’d have more time to coach my kids. I grew up as the son of a high school coach, and I watched how he encouraged and brought out the best in hundreds of young men.

And that’s how I pictured fatherhood. Yet, for the most part, it hasn’t played out that way with flags having replaced pats on the butt.

Occasionally, one of my children will approach me and ask for advice. Or help with fractions or spelling. It’s usually something very specific, but the questions could often be answered by anyone. I’m basically an extension of their school teacher or last resort when Google can’t pinpoint the answer.

Years ago when I was in high school I returned home late after a date and was surprised to find my mother still awake reading a magazine on the couch. We had a good relationship, and I knew she trusted me so I asked why she didn’t just head to bed and I’ll let myself in and tell her how my night went the next morning.

She said, “I stay up because I never know when you’ll need to talk.”

I’m beginning to understand what she meant that night.

Lincoln has been pestering me to make a YouTube video with him. So tonight I finally sat down and interviewed him about his Rubik’s Cube skills. Later Luca told me she was hungry so I made her favorite dish, pesto pasta, she she sat at the table and told me about her friends and teachers.

With both children I learned something that I didn’t know before. I doubt they learned anything about their father. But that isn’t what’s important.

Many a night I’ve turned down such requests, rationalizing they can wait till after dinner or tomorrow or the weekend.

But they don’t return. The opportunity is lost and the kids move on.

Mom was right.

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