A father shares 5 reasons he and his wife won’t give in to society’s expectations.
Go to any sporting event involving boys, and you’ll see most of them laughing, playing, and having a great time. Sometimes you will also see another type of boy: one who looks like he doesn’t want to be there. He might even look scared, as if he’s afraid of making even the slightest mistake.
There’s a good chance that this type of boy was forced into playing sports by his overenthusiastic father.
I have an 11-year-old son named Ben. For several years when he was younger, my wife and I tried to get him interested in sports. We talked to him about playing T-ball, basketball, and soccer.
I knew that playing sports would be beneficial to our young son. He would get some exercise, learn about teamwork, and get some social interaction. We continually encouraged him to give it a try, but after a while it was clear that he simply didn’t like team sports, and there was nothing we could do to change it.
We decided that we were not going to force him to participate in sports, even though most of his friends were. In the years since, I have become more convinced that we made the right decision.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have anything against sports. However, I do have a serious problem with a culture that defines a boy’s masculinity by his involvement and success in sports. If your son plays sports and enjoys it, I am thrilled that he’s found an area where he can excel. But right now my son isn’t interested in sports, and I’m not forcing him to participate. Here are five reasons why:
- I want him to know I accept him unconditionally. I don’t ever want Ben to feel that I will love him only if he behaves a certain way or takes part in certain activities. Whether he succeeds or fails, he will always be my son, and that will never change. My love for him doesn’t depend on him filling some kind of role or being a certain type of person.
- I want him to forge his own path in life. My son needs to develop his own interests within the context of our support and encouragement. His path won’t necessarily look like my path. In fact, I hope it doesn’t because he must become his own person. We both have similar interests in several areas like music, computers, and Star Wars, but we’re also different in many ways. Ben needs to be free to go his own direction according to his interests and passion.
- I don’t want him to live for other people’s approval or to make me feel like I fit in. Everyone feels a pressure to conform to society’s expectations. That’s not always a bad thing, but in suburbia it’s often carried to an extreme. If your wife isn’t a stay-at-home mom, you don’t drive an expensive SUV, you don’t have 2.4 kids and they don’t play soccer, it’s easy to feel like a social outsider. I know I have felt that way at times.
- I want him to know that I don’t measure my worth by his accomplishments. Every good father wants his son to succeed in life. But we must always check our motives. Do we want our sons to succeed for their sake, or for our sake? We’ve all seen fathers who are living vicariously through their sons, trying to recapture the glory days of their youth through their sons’ achievements. We must make sure we are not compensating for our own insecurities by pushing our sons to climb higher and go further than we did.
- I don’t want him to buy into the stereotype that being a man equals being an athlete. Masculinity is about many things, and sports are certainly one area where we can demonstrate manhood. But being a man is about more than showing your athletic prowess. Being a man is about having the confidence, self-acceptance, and understanding to follow your unique path in life. A real man is comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t need to conform to superficial cultural expectations about who he is and who he is not.
Let me be clear: I do not have anything against sports. In fact, any of the five points listed above could apply to a variety of interests such as art, science, music, hunting, and others. It just so happens that in our family, sports is an area where we felt a bit of social pressure to conform, but chose not to because it doesn’t match our son’s interests.
Our job as fathers is not to force our sons into a predetermined mold. Instead, we must support, equip, and encourage our sons in the areas where they are naturally gifted. Sports are certainly one way to help our sons test the waters and develop their character, but it’s certainly not the only way.
It would appear in this post that my son hates sports. That is actually not true. Just yesterday, we spent about half an hour in the yard playing wiffleball. We set up a lawn chair for the backstop and home base, and used scrap wood for the bases. I pitched and he scored several “home runs.” There was no pressure to perform or impress, just a son playing ball with his dad.
So what changed? Why is Ben suddenly interested in wiffleball? It’s because I didn’t force him. I invited him. When we reach out to our sons with acceptance and unconditional love, it changes everything. It’s not about the activity, it’s about the relationship.
When we focus on relationship, not performance or appearance, beautiful things start to happen. We invite our sons into our world, they invite us into theirs, and we help set them up for lasting success in every area.
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Photo: Getty Images