I think we’ve already established that I’m a pretty teary guy. The littlest things will set me off. At the end of last school year, I made a bid on a fundraising photo collage from my son’s 3rd grade classroom. It showed all of the students holding up chalkboards of who they wanted to be when they “grew up”. It was adorable and represented the hopes and dreams of 8-9 year olds. I made ever increasing bids until I won that collage. I look at it every day.
Here’s the list
Engineer – Civil Engineer – Athlete/Spy – Coder – Artist – Horseback Rider – Freshwater Fisherman – 49er Football Player – MLB Baseball Player – Chef at Sweet Tomatoes – Lego Creator – Nurse – Olympic Sprinting Champion (Fastest Man on Earth) – Scientist – Singer/Songwriter – Teacher – Spy – Veterinarian – Giants Baseball Player – Hockey Player – Athlete – Actress.
Adorable, right? And as parents, our job is to help them get there. But what happens when these hopes and dreams change, or when real life gets in the way. I guess if we’ve done our jobs competently, they’ll end up skillfully navigating those life events on their own.
I was reminded of this last week, after reading an article about Chris Borland, former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. Borland retired after one NFL season. He was a promising talent and a rising star but still decided to retire from the game he played since childhood. The article, “Why former 49er Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football“, explained how Borland gave up millions because of the risk of traumatic brain injury, and also because, even as a former player, he felt the game was dehumanizing and, ultimately meaningless.
“People make the analogy to war a lot, and I have two brothers in the Army,” Borland says. “Getting a TBI [traumatic brain injury] and having post-traumatic stress from war, well, that’s a more important cause. Football is an elective. It’s a game. It’s make-believe. And to think that people have brain damage from some made-up game. The meaninglessness of it, you draw the line at brain damage.”
What was hinted at in the article, but never explicitly mentioned was that Borland has options. He’s a bright individual from a well established close-knit family who probably have less financial worries that the many other players’ families. But even more important, the Borland family was completely supportive of any decision Chris made. They knew he would consider factors and make a rational and reasonable decision. Says his father Jeff, “I think maybe it’s one of those affirming things as a parent, you know, that maybe somewhere along the line you accidentally did something right.”
I always struggle with whether I’m doing anything right. Am I helping or hurting by suggesting software engineering after school programs instead of basketball or soccer? Am I squashing the dreams of a future baseball player or pushing too hard towards STEM based activities. But right when I’m about to drive myself into an anxiety attack, I tell myself that it’s my job to provide as many options as possible to my children and give them the tools to decide what’s right and wrong for them. Maybe one day, when I grow up, I’ll be a half-way okay dad.