Friday, December 24, 2010

Left The Car Running......Again

I'm not usually the kind of guy who blames others or finds excuses when I make mistakes. I mean, one of my favorite words is "accountability."

But this time, it is excuse-city. Everyone else's fault. I'm not taking the hit on this one.

Now, it is true that I'm the one who left the car running in the driveway, polluting the air throughout the Western suburbs of Philadelphia and wasting three hours of engine-idling gas, actions contrary to my avowed commitment to "being green."

And, yes, it's true that it has happened a couple of times previously. And I never blamed anyone else then, accepting my wife Kathi's explanation that at those inopportune moments I had been residing in my own little, distraction-laden location she calls "StevieLand." "StevieLand," she says, is a place where my excitement about going to or arriving at one of my son Mike's basketball games leaves me disinclined to be paying attention to details like turning off the engine in the car.

This time, though, there was plenty of blame to go around, me EXcluded. Let's itemize:

- Mike carries his basketball career into high school, earning the freshman team starting point guard position, making it critical for me to go to every game and be seated right behind the bench in time for the opening tip.

- His high school schedules all games for 3:30 on weekday afternoons, challenging hard-working me to unceremoniously make the pressure-filled, guilt-charged choice between work and family.

- Kathi wants to take one car to the game (something about that "green" thing), meaning that I have to pick her up on my way to the gym.

- Inconsiderate residents of greater Philadelphia, who rudely congested the roads, holding me up, oblivious to the pre-emptive importance of me getting to Mike's game on time.

- Demanding clients and colleagues, who had me scrambling to get so much done during early afternoon that I couldn't leave the office before 3 p.m.

So, when I pulled into our driveway to switch cars, yeah, I left the Chrysler running. Excuse me for living. I put it into Park, didn't I?

I mean, Kathi was in the driver's seat of the other car, ready to go and we were late, so I jumped out quickly and didn't turn the engine off. Hey, I probably saved 1.5 seconds, right?

Remember, I need to see every minute of every game. I mean, how else will I be able to share with Mike all of my wisdom and expertise in our post-game analysis if I don't see every single sequence. And, if we don't do the post-game analysis, how will Mike ever know what to do in the next game. Also, Mike and I absolutely need to make eye contact before the game starts. You know how that is. And if I'm not there, who will inspire him to perform at his best. His Mom? Sister? Teammates? Coaches? Personal pride? C'mon.........not like ol' Dad. We all know that, right?

So, now we're well into the 16-minute drive to school and it becomes apparent that we are not going to make it by 3:30, but 3:35 was not out of the question.

Anxiety barely under control, I frantically started calling other parents I knew would be at the game and the first two had the audacity to have their phones going straight to voicemail. Are you kidding me? How dare they not be standing by? I mean, it's not that unusual for me to be calling them around game time. They know that. Their sons have been Mike's teammates for years. And they're always talking to (and, for some reason, laughing with) Kathi about my doing that.

When I finally got through on the cell to the third person, I was hoping to hear that the game, like many, would be starting just a few minutes late.

Instead, I'm told that the contest, in fact, started five minutes EARLY and was well underway with Mike on the floor and me in a car 2.5 miles and three red lights away. Unbelievable. "Poor Mike," I thought. "Hopefully, he'll be okay."

Turns out Mike played pretty well even though we never did make eye contact until the start of the second half.

And Mike and I never did get to do the post-game analysis because, well, you know how busy things are around Christmastime.

My cellphone friend told me that Mike's play wasn't necessarily any more inspired after I arrived than before.

And, he played well in the next game, so apparently, somehow, he did know what to do.

And, you know that 1.5 seconds that I saved?

When we finally arrived, it was during a timeout.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gotta Love Those Refs

It's not real hard to shut me up. Just threaten to throw me out of the building when my son and his team are playing a basketball game.

For a regular guy like me, the above episode was a shock to the system, since I'm usually just trying to get through the day. On this day, though, I may have been a bit more focused on my new coaching agenda.

You see, I'm the #3 coach for my son Mike's team in our regional fall rec basketball league. So, I'm kind of a third wheel. The head coach organizes and executes the substitution pattern and the assistant delivers the strategies and tactics during huddles and halftimes. But, since I can't help myself (and am told that I am welcome), there I am, just another dad, hanging around the bench, trying to figure out what else I can do, beyond re-filling water bottles and making sure to keep track of our basketballs.

So, for this particular size-challenged team, I have assumed the self-appointed task of reinforcing the importance of boxing out, that simple activity that makes players' lives so much easier if they would just do it.

Having spent our one pre-season practice and the pre-game warm-up personally reminding Mike and his friends that boxing out this night was a key to our success, I had an idea.

You know that joke about the guy who had three ideas -- one's terrible, one's pretty good and the third one is ticking?

Wacky Youth Sports Dad that I am, I acted on my brilliant idea and approached the refs in the moments before the game to pursue that new coaching agenda I mentioned earlier. Figured I'd plant a seed that might get us a couple of calls and possibly neutralize our height disadvantage. Introduced myself to the officials and tried to mask the following as small talk, thinking that I might actually implant a subliminal message and create a tangible, surreptitious advantage for my team:

"Yea, we're kind of a vertically-challenged team," I said to the disinterested duo, as if they really cared. "So we emphasize boxing out. When kids are boxing out, you guys are more inclined to call those over-the-back fouls, right?"

My attempt at delivering this subliminal message might have been more effective if I had been wearing a three-dimensional, boom box-equipped sandwich board.

One guy turned away, smirking and shaking his head. The other asserted loudly, "A foul is a foul and if we see it, we'll call it" in a tone that added this unspoken sentiment, "and we don't need some wise-guy Dad-coach who thinks he knows the rules telling us how to call the game."

Realizing at that moment that my little idea had no Plan B, I took my place at the end of the bench and promptly forgot about the league rule that only one, designated coach is allowed to stand up at any time during play.

In the first minute, Mike raced an opposing player to a loose ball in the corner of the court where I was seated. He got there first but was forced to contend with an aggressive double team that I, of course, interpreted as a foul. My outspoken, stripe-shirted buddy didn't agree and play went on, but I stood up and did the palms-up shoulder-shrug thing, looking directly at him. Our eyes met and he immediately launched into a diatribe during which I was twice threatened with expulsion from the building if I stood up again, citing the league rule about coaches on the sideline.

It was now clear. My idea had officially backfired. The subliminal message I was trying to implant with strategic finesse had exploded in my face.

What to do? Can't risk a T that could impact our chance of winning a game that figured to be close. Can't leave the bench - not going to let him chase me away from my commitment to help. But, wait. I can't even stand up. What about during time outs? Can I refill the water bottles at halftime? That overly-sensitive, self-important ogre. Jeez.

So, I sat down, shut up and laughed at my peculiar ability to outsmart myself in another new way.

I also learned a valuable lesson:

You just can't count on those darn refs to understand the tortured, emotional, high-strung mentality of that calculating, indispensable junior assistant dad coach sitting at the end of the bench.


Please comment.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Mean To Get Down on Dads, But...

The thing about youth sports Dad Coaches is that they have the same insecurities as their wives and the other women they laugh at all the time.

Believe me. Men are always yukking it up with one another about the way the women are wired. The joke is that the girls worry so much about being judged by other moms that their behavior is calculated to avoid the potential negative comments that could come with the (imagined?) scrutiny of their peers.

Men will deny it, but we are the same way. The Dad Coaches agonize about gaining the respect of the other coaches and, most importantly, the Dads of his players, aka the Dad Coach Critics. The Coach agonizes about the other Dads questioning whether or not he has any idea what he's doing. And well he should. Because they are.

I'm laughing to (at) myself right now, because I've been on both sides of that equation.

Here's the big question - Did we win?

  • Coach - "We've got to try to win, right? My kids and their parents all want to go home happy with the W, right? Me, too. But, the other coach and players are trying to take our heads off. Kids on the other team have been together since second grade and the coach played in college. If we don't win, the other Dads are going to have a field day criticizing my substitution pattern. Hey, wait a minute! That other coach is talking to the ref/ump. Man, it's probably his neighbor. How'm I supposed to compete with that? Is that kid gonna tell his Dad that my timeout huddle was disorganized? Oh, no - I'm outta timeouts. This is embarrassing. I know. If we lose, I'll tell the kids it was my fault because we ran out of timeouts. That'll be noble and then the Dads won't criticize me. Whew!"

  • Dad Coach Critics - "Does this guy know anything about (baseball/softball/soccer/football/basketball/hockey/other)? Does he know anything about anything? Doesn't he realize Billy/Johnny/Julie/Katie needs to play (insert position) to be effective? His kid stinks - let's get that straight. Hey, I'm not sure if my kid's playing as much as his kid. My Billy had better be in at the end of the game. If we lose, I'm gonna say something. There's no reason for us to lose this game. Hey, the other coach is talking to the ref/ump. We've got to do that, too. I mean, that's the coach's job. You've gotta work the officials, right? Even my wife knows that. Why'd he volunteer if he didn't want to do what it takes? We paid $90 to be on this team. I'd like to win a couple of games. That too much to ask? Oh, no! Tell me he didn't just run out of timeouts. Yep. He did. And I'm supposed to not say anything. I hope he doesn't think taking the blame for the loss gets him off the hook."
Thank God for the kids and the games. Otherwise, what would we do with ourselves?


Please comment.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Breaking News: A Retirement With No Regrets

Now that we are approaching Labor Day and the Fall rec basketball season is upon us, it is starting to sink in that I have officially retired from my youth basketball head coaching career.

OMG! Here come the second thoughts!

Will I regret this momentous decision? Am I walking away too soon? Do I have another year left in me? What if I start attending coaching clinics and maybe volunteer at a camp or two? Would I then be able to squeeze out another couple of seasons?

The ramifications of this are imponderable!

Wait? What about Mike?

Uh oh! The designated starting point guard for the last five years, now 14, no longer has the ear of the team owner, general manager, coach, water boy, cell phone holder, apologist, sponsor, traveling secretary and communications/PR guy.

I'm not worried about whether he'll get his equal share of minutes, but who's going to:
  • remind him to take the cell phone out of his pocket;
  • get him a second water in the middle of the game because he inhaled the entire, original, oversized bottle in the first half;
  • tell him to stop fooling around with his teammates and get properly warmed up before the opening tap.
But, now, I'll be able to:
  • keep his mother under control if he DOESN'T get his fair share of minutes;
  • offer some Ex-Dad Coach wisdom that he won't listen to while he's trapped against a fullcourt press on the side of the gym where I'm standing with the other Fathers;
  • get him a second water during the game without having to abandon the bench seconds before the start of the second half;
  • And remind him about his cell phone, proper warm up and every other little thing.
You didn't think I was going to stop going to the games, did you?


Please comment below.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

If I Were King Of The World

With 13 years (and counting) of youth sports dad coaching, it is so clear, with hindsight, that I've been just as guilty as anyone of taking too seriously whether or not my team won the game.

But, I would not have won my share if I didn't take it seriously, because, as we all know, the other guy is almost always - with maximum gravitas - trying to send us home as losers. And since winning is more fun than losing and it's supposed to be about the kids having fun, coming out on top is a reasonable objective.

It is when winning takes precedence over fairness, equal opportunity, sportsmanship and logic that youth sports becomes warped.

I get -- and respect -- the youth sports culture of working to be successful with wins as the primary barometer of such success. And this is not about travel teams and top-tier select squads whose members (and their parents) are well aware of the pre-ordained, win-first culture.

This is for all those other coaches whose teams are populated by kids who just want to learn the sport, interact with friends, get exercise, please their parents, experience competition and practice sportsmanship.

So, I've got a couple of pet peeves (with solutions), though I know only too well that I'm dreaming. Unfortunately, human nature does not allow for such logic to prevail. Most coaches will do whatever they think they can get away with to influence the outcome of the game.

But, if I were King of the World:

1. The "meaningful experience" promise that coaches make to the parents of less talented kids would be replaced by the coach's commitment to absolute equal playing time.

  • The"meaningful experience" line from the coach is code for the the following: The less talented kids are not going to play as much as the stars and never at the end of a close game because we want to win, baby.
  • Let's see. Everyone pays the same registration fee. Why, exactly, should some kids play less than others? No one's ever explained that to me.
  • It's just not that difficult to manage substitutions in a way that gets everyone an equal or near-equal number of minutes, snaps, innings, quarters, shifts, at bats or whatever. It can be done. We've all seen and (hopefully) admired those who do it. Many find a way to do it and still get plenty of Ws.

2. The conservative philosophy of encouraging baseball and softball players to take a strike and wait out a pitcher in hopes of a walk would be replaced by an aggressive, free-swinging coach-approach that encourages batters to confidently take their cuts.

  • Some coaches order players to take a strike before swinging at a pitch. Others teach that a walk is the easiest way to get on base and encourage NOT swinging the bat. In this way, they seek an advantage through the potential failings of young, vulnerable pitchers who must avoid putting runners on base via walks.
  • There is almost nothing positive that can result from this approach. The batter is tentative and the opposing pitcher is subject to embarrassment, if he cannot find the plate.
  • Alternatively, if the batters are free-swinging and aggressive, they will be less nervous and more confident. Most importantly, they will also eventually become better hitters, instead of carrying a tentative mindset to the next level of competition.
  • The most embarrassing thing that can happen to a batter is a called third strike. Such occurrences would decrease dramatically if coaches would let the kids be hitters, rather than hostages to a hoped-for base on balls.
  • If a kid swings the bat, he or she has to take responsibility for the result. If he or she gets called out on strikes, he or she can blame the ump. Not a good thing.
It's supposed to be about the kids, right? Not the coaches, right?

Please let me know.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What's My Leverage With Mike? His Cell Phone

This fatherhood thing is tough.

Actually, it's not so tough with Meggie, who just graduated from the University of Richmond, Summa Cum Laude, and has already started her business career.

With high school freshman-to-be Mike, though, it's different. There's that male macho thing going on. It's kind of funny. He actually thinks he might be able to kick my ass.

Of course, there's no way, and we'll never know, but I can't legislate what he thinks, right? In fact, unless you're a law-and-order dad, you kind of lose control at this point as they enter high school. You can't legislate much anymore. You're kind of already cutting the cord.

You see, I'm too easy-going to start grounding him for mischief that is mostly manageable. (At the same time, I'm petrified because we're less than two years away from Mike and his friends driving cars. OMG!) Still, you have to maintain some kind of leverage. That's what makes it tough.

This "Letting go so they can fly" thing is weird. Like every father, I'll never forget the day I took him to the neighborhood sleighriding location, populated by kids his age but many older boys too, and leaving because he and I both knew it was time for him to operate on his own.

Thanks to 21st century technology, though, I do have an ace in the hole on the legislation/discipline/consequences front. His cell phone.

I first began to realize how indispensible it is back when he was 11 and his mother told me he needed one so he could always call to let us know he was okay. I was hitting fly balls to him in preparation for little league season that spring when every now and then I'd look up and see him in the distance turned away from me looking down - I thought - at his glove.

After about three such episodes that day (I'm a real quick study, right?), I realized that he wasn't adjusting his glove or tending to a bruise on his hand. He was texting his friends! Excuse me? I couldn't even grasp the concept of him having the phone in his pocket while chasing outfield flies, never mind making me wait while he prattled on with his pals about meeting later at the mall.

Last year, while coaching our team in rec basketball, I reached to give him a congratulatory pat on the backside as he came to the huddle for a time out after scoring on a fast break. Off target, my hand caught him on the hip -- you know, near where the pocket would be if your basketball shorts had pockets -- and collided with a rectangular piece of metal/plastic alloy or whatever those Godforsaken things are made of.

Astoundingly, he was playing the basketball game with his cell phone in his pocket. Here was my son, in a game I was coaching, competing against older, taller players with a mini-computer in his pocket, buzzing distractingly and weighing him down, no small matter, since he is, after all, white.

I outlawed that practice but we had another little issue this year at a rec game being played at Cabrini College in suburban Philly, the gym location furthest from our home (but not far from my office). Of course, Mike brought his phone but forgot to give it to me or put it in his bag by the time the game was about to start. So, he pulled it out of his pocket and placed it under a chair on the sideline, next to all the other bottled drinks and articles of clothing that clutter the floor around the bench.

Through four quarters, it got kicked around and was not readily noticeable as we left the area at the end of the game but that didn't even matter, because Mr. Absent-minded didn't remember to look for it anyway. Then, when we were almost home, he realized he had left it behind. He begged me to go back, but I said no, promising to call the next day to see if it was recoverable.

That following morning, he made me promise again to check on his phone and then he called me at work from the home phone later in the day - anxiety in his voice -- to see if I had any news.

I did get ahold of the wonderful people at Cabrini by mid-afternoon and we confirmed that the lost-and-found cell phone from the previous night indeed belonged to the 14 year-old kid with the long hair. (So that's why they have their pictures on the LCD screen - to validate ownership!)

Empathetic guy that I am, I immediately called Mike that Tuesday afternoon to say that they had found his phone. I heard a sigh of relief on the other end of the line and Mike was about to hang up when I added, "So I'll head over there and pick it up at the end of the week."

Biting my tongue to avoid audible laughter, I waited through a long, quizzical (I'm sure) pause before hearing that half-pleading/half incredulous intonation of "Daaaaad. You're kidding me, riiiiiiight?"

Though it didn't last long, I had had my fun and promised Mike that I'd go to Cabrini and bring it home that night so that he could recapture his life.

Thus, I remain in control because I know that if he pulls any wiseguy antics, I don't have to take away his basketball or his baseball or his XBox or his social life.

I know - and he knows I know - what truly matters.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

We're Back! The Eating Machine and I

As my transition to fulltime blogging (say, two posts per week) nears completion, I'm back in the saddle with tales, viewpoints and the wacky things that either entertain or astound in and around the landscape of youth sports.

One of the most amazing things you see on a day-to-day basis is how carefree these kids are. My 14 year-old Mike has morphed - in the space of about 18 months - into an eating machine who is especially dangerous during the summer months. Kind of like a species of prehistoric animal, one with a latin name. Let's see...the Devoursfastfoodasaurus.

Thank God he's playing in two summer basketball leagues and dabbling in jump rope and skills drills, because the calorie burn is critical. And oh can he sleep. Sometimes, like 12 hours at a time. I'm sorry. Did I forget to mention that before that one half-day slumber session he had participated in consecutive XBox-dominated sleepovers during which the boys stubbornly tried to outlast one another until about 3 a.m., before giving in to abject exhaustion?

I mean, like, totally carefree.

The other night, I was on pickup duty for Mike and his friends, who had gone to the regional township fair. Scheduled was a sleepover at our house with two of his friends plus I had to bring home a couple of girls.

I'm an easygoing guy, so I was okay with six, total, in the car. Problem is, Mike showed up with eight, so now it's a total of nine, which would be so clearly against the law that I sought another solution. Since all these kids have cellphones, I figured it should be possible to find another parent who could take a couple of kids off my hands.

But when one of the girls called another whose mom we knew was coming, the calls and texts were ignored. We found out later that that was because the two girls were having "drama." The callee was mad at the caller and not answering.

End result was that I had to make two trips on a Tuesday night following a workday of 10 hours with a call scheduled for 8 a.m. the following morning. Still thinking that cellphone technology would allow for time efficiency, I good-naturedly went about the task of dropping the girls off at their sleepover and making my way back to the fair.

But, when I called Mike to establish the pickup point for the second trip - of course he and his friends who couldn't fit in the car went back into the fair to see what the "drama" queen was mad about - my calls went straight to voice mail because Mike's phone battery was dead. Not sure why I was surprised, since his cell ends up incapacitated in that way about twice per week.

Another month of carefree and then, high school. Think there'll be less "drama," or more?

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Starting Off 2010 With Vicodin

In launching this blog last year, I harkened back to my days as a sportswriter, when I drove editors crazy with articles too long and involved.

Taking myself too seriously - a twinkle-in-the-eye problem for me over the years - I thought that every blog post had to be a masterpiece, always telling a story, trying for humor, poignancy or pathos and delivering prose that I would be proud of longterm.

Problem is, I didn't really have time to produce the columns that I once penned as part of my sportswriting job with the (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post. And then -- without high school and college games to cover like back in the day -- I ran out of quality subject matter. Check that -- I ran out of interesting things to write about that wouldn't offend anyone.

I also missed the point of blogging, which requires frequency, provocative subject matter, photos, video, links galore, current events relevance and memorable coolness. All of that takes work--and time.

I absolutely admire bloggers like Mike Hayes (, Bob Cook ( Greg Wiley ( They get it and have for years now. I'm still trying.

Still, the subject of youth sports is as fertile an area as there is for provocative material, stuff you couldn't make up, juvenile adults, astoundingly mature children and the games, which make all the time and expense worthwhile.

So, I'm back in the saddle with shorter, more frequent posts on that subject and others related to the day-to-day adventures of a guy who goes to the games, likes to laugh -- and thinks he's funny (a few people agree).

Didn't think it was funny, though, when I had to finally resolve a longstanding kidney stone that was killing me for days at a time every couple of months or so from summer 2009 into the new year.

X-Rays and urologist appointments indicated a sizeable stone and I chose the pulverization route instead of the other option, which is the ultimate last resort, if you know what I mean. Got the doc to acknowledge that while I'd be out of commission for the day, I should be able to make a meeting that night - though no promises.

I planned accordingly, including the unpleasant 24-hour system cleansing process, and wife Kathi brought me in at 8:30 am for an 11:30 am procedure (don't you love our health care system?). Did the no-dignity robe thing and went under anesthesia on time, looking forward to putting this latest kidney stone ordeal behind me.

Problem was, the stone pulverization machine broke down and, out cold, I was unavailable to consider whether I really wanted them to "go in."

"Aha," they thought. "The wife can authorize the alternative and we wouldn't want this poor guy to have to drink another bottle of magnesium citrate to powerwash his system again, now would we?"

So, they went to Kathi, explained the situation and asked if she wanted to exercise her power of attorney. Aware of my trials of the past several months, she apprehensively gave the go-ahead, knowing that I needed it all to be over.

The end in sight, they "went in," but upon arriving at the location of the stone, there was nothing to dislodge. The stone had passed (thanks, Flomax) and what was showing up on the X-Rays was a calcification of residue in that exact location.

Oh, okay. I guess. One issue, though.

Problem with "going in" is that it is, well, INVASIVE SURGERY! Wait. I'm sorry. It was UNNECESSARY INVASIVE SURGERY!!

Necessary or not, the result of INVASIVE SURGERY is PAIN!

So, I missed my meeting that night, almost became addicted to Vicodin and spent the next week dehydrated (and off Flomax) so as to minimize the number of episodes of pain.


In the year 2010, medical technology still cannot definitively confirm the existence of a kidney stone.

Kathi did apologize, even though it wasn't her fault.

Flomax is a good thing. So is Vicodin.


Please post a comment.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

One Outlandish Aspiration

This Holiday blog post morphs into one that would fall under the alternate title of “Wacky Dad of a College-Age Daughter.”

Worry not. It has some of the same elements as youth sports – competition, boys, parental pride, stuff you couldn’t make up and, as usual, wackiness.


With Hilary Clinton ensconced comfortably as Secretary of State and now of an age that probably precludes a White House run.......... and with Sarah Palin, apparently, saying, “No Mas”........ it is once again wide open as to who will be the first woman to ascend to our nation’s highest office.

Now, I’ve been known to get a wee bit carried away when it comes to my children. So, to me, what the above means is that my daughter still has a shot. That’s right, a shot at being the first woman President.

Why am I caught up in such an outlandish aspiration? Well, I’m looking for the ultimate assurance that Meaghan will never be reliant on some laughably unworthy male from her generation for the things that will make her happy in this life. Thus, I choose to harbor the hope and belief that she can become the first woman President.

Hey, it’s not so far-fetched. She’s rolling along with a 3.89 at the University of Richmond (the State of Virginia has produced more Presidents than any other, right?), majoring in business and leadership. She is a precocious, Type A personality with scores of friends and extracurricular activities, including monthly performances with an improv troupe that plays to capacity crowds at the student activities center. She just experienced her sixth trip overseas, this time for a semester of business school in Normandy. She’s in Washington D.C. this summer, interning for the Altria Group and is already being recruited for jobs that would begin one year from now, following graduation. How’s all of that for tracking toward the Presidency?

Thus, even if she does marry some “Whatshisname,” my scenario with Meaghan as President of the United States works pretty well.

I mean, who do you think will wear the pants in that family? Don’t imagine she’ll be doing much cooking for him, do you? Wonder if he would ever have the nerve to ask her where his socks are? And, guess who will be keeping his mouth shut if she happens to be a few minutes late?

It’s an issue. All Dads of college-age daughters will agree. For reasons still unknown to me -- reasons, I'm sure, that you couldn’t make up -- our perfectly-capable, high-achieving daughters are attracted to these irresponsible louts who have zero earning power and priorities that boggle the mind. What do they bring to the table that I do not?

I’m funny. I’m cute. I have a Facebook page – though I’ve kind of plateaued at 41 friends.

So, here I am, hundreds of miles away, playing second fiddle to a bunch of twerps, time with my daughter supply-and-demand precious, even when she's home for a week or so a couple of times a year. And these clowns just keep hanging around, little else to do, semester after semester, for years at a time.

Bottom line, I am her father, yet I am powerless to guarantee the thing that is most important of all - her happiness. But there is hope. The Presidency.

So, sayonara Sarah.

Hasta la vista, Hilary.

Nice try.

With your dual demise, it remains eminently possible for me to envision my history-making daughter in the White House, appropriately in charge, of many things, including her husband, who will have no leverage in the relationship and no influence over her happiness.

What if she loves him, you say? Wouldn’t he then have some influence over her happiness?

Nah. She has already professed her love for me.


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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Dad-Coach With No Kid on the Team

We are constantly amazed at my peculiar ability to somehow end up in situations that seemingly never happen to anyone else.

I mean, who else could wait seven long years for the opportunity to coach his first youth sports team and then find himself without a son or daughter on the squad.

Only me.

Now, when the inevitable bumps and bruises occur on the field of play, I’m a typical male. With my 13 year-old son, Mike, I play the Mr. Macho Tough Guy role, operating on the basic philosophy that if you’re not bleeding, you’re fine. (Actually, that’s just what I say to get a rise out of my wife, Kathi, and a laugh out of fellow Tough Guy Macho Male dads). “Be tough, shake it off and get back into the game,” is my mantra with Mike.

I was not nearly so harsh years earlier with my daughter, Meaghan, and the girls on our Under 8 soccer team.

After waiting almost a decade, Meaghan turned seven and I finally had my shot at coaching my first youth sports team. (You might not think seven years is almost a decade, but don’t forget the nine months that I had to wait for her to be born). We had just moved to Pennsylvania from Connecticut and Meggie was a spry, little second-grader who was as active as the next kid though not necessarily athletically inclined.

The luck of the draw had me with a roster that included Meggie and a bunch of her friends from school, three of whom ended up as high school soccer stars.

So, we had a clear edge in speed and athleticism in every game (won the league title at 7-1 -- our loss was my fault; poor substitution pattern that had girls not well-suited for defense in those positions at the end of the game).

After the first couple of practices – forgive the predictable cliché, but girls that age are unspeakably cute -- Kathi and I were informed by our doctor that Meaghan’s consistent string of strep throats required a blood workup. The result was a definitive diagnosis of Mononucleosis.

Of course, Mr. Macho Tough Guy has always believed that -- at least to some extent -- these invisible, so-called ailments, like Mononucleosis have more to do with lack of discipline and will rather than any real physical malady.

“Epstein-Barr Syndrome?,” I would say to myself skeptically. “I’ve got an idea. Get a good night’s sleep and then man-up.”

“Attention Deficit Disorder? Please,” I would mutter to myself. “I know a treatment. Discipline and consequences. Try that.”

In my admittedly neanderthal world, Mononucleosis fell into the same general category, except that this one was close to home.

So, the practical, pragmatic guy that I am, I accepted the diagnosis and then was told that Meaghan would miss most – if not all – of the season. Limited general activity and no sports were the doctor's orders. She had an enlarged spleen and physical contact could result in the kind of injury that I would be able to see – like my daughter doubled over in pain with internal bleeding. As with most of these things, Kathi was in charge of Meaghan’s availability and since I had plenty of bodies and plenty of talent, I never even brought it up.

So, fully committed to the team and excited about our athleticism, I marshaled on without a child on the active roster. It was easy because I was inspired by these girls (who I called guys – I asked permission; they said OK) who tried to do everything I said. And by Meggie, who came to most of the games and rooted for her friends from the sideline.

Toward the end of the season (as with most youth sports teams), the girls actually started to get it, combining spacing on the field with their speed and strength. Also, some became good dribblers, enabling me to take partial (ok, miniscule) twinkle-in-the-eye credit for their success in high school. Thus, when Kathi gave the green light for Meggie to come back for the last game of the year, I was pumped to get her out there even though she was way behind all the other kids on the team.

So, she didn’t start that final game (and could not have cared less). A few minutes of playing time would be just fine with Meaghan.

The magic, Kathi told me, was that she was finally wearing the same uniform as her friends and that we were all going out for ice cream after the game.

Still, I was excited to finally, actually realize the objective that had motivated me to take on the coaching commitment in the first place. I wanted to be directly involved in my daughter experiencing the fun of organized youth sports activity.

A short while later, I subbed her for one of our midfielders and about two minutes into my utopian moment, a kicked ball nailed her right in the stomach. She stopped in her tracks but was uninjured. Still, Kathi told me to take her out of the game.

But, wait. As the coach, I was in charge, not Kathi, right? Once I saw she was okay, shouldn’t she have shaken it off and stayed in the game? Especially since she had missed the entire season?

Nah. I pulled her out and she never got any more playing time.

And that was just fine with me, too.


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guilt-Ridden Dad Happy to Clean Up the Kitchen

When Mike was 10 years old and having fun playing all the sports, I took a job in New York City. It was a dynamic opportunity with a highly-respected company, but it would require me to live up there during the work week and travel home to suburban Philly on the weekends.

On the list that we all make of pros and cons surrounding the decision, the downsides mostly involved my not being there day-to-day for Mike as he approached maturity, manhood and – come on now, let’s get to the important stuff -- increasing levels of competitiveness on the fields of youth sports play.

As it is with most headstrong males who think there’s nothing they can’t handle, I convinced myself that my terrific relationship with Mike would overcome the most serious misgivings I had. We would communicate effectively over the phone during the week and I would be there for all of Mike’s games on the weekends, including Friday nights, when I would catch the Amtrak train as early as needed to make kick-off, first pitch or opening tip.

What I didn’t realize was that I was terribly guilt-ridden as an away-all-the-time Dad (there was plenty of weekend travel with this job, too). I couldn’t be a coach because there was no way to make that time commitment. Thus, there was nothing that I wouldn’t do to be involved with the coaches, contribute as a volunteer, socialize with the other parents and otherwise ease my uneasy feelings about whether or not I was doing the right thing.

I learned two things:

1. Parental involvement in youth sports can include a lot more than just showing up
2. Guilt is a powerful thing.

Basketball scoreboard operator – All season long, moms told me that their husbands would wait in the car until just before gametime so that they wouldn’t be recruited to be the volunteer scoreboard operator. Not me. The fact that nobody else wanted to do it was a badge of honor for guilt-ridden me.

Only problem was that for most of the season, I was a work in progress. You see, when Mike would get the ball after a timeout, I was so intent on watching him in action that I would forget to start the clock. A complicating factor – Mike was the point guard.

Invariably, parents from the opposing team would start yelling at me and at the refs about me. If we were winning I would just sheepishly start the clock. If we were losing, I would have to run off some time on the clock, completely embarrassed, in front of the entire gathering of players, coaches and parents.

Worse still, my wife, Kathi would tell everyone in the stands why I hadn’t started the clock and all had a good ‘ol time at my innocent expense.

Pop Warner Football play-counter – Possibly the most difficult job in all of youth sports. Because football coaches , especially, get carried away with their desire to win these games, they are unfortunately prone to keeping the best players on the field in pursuit of the desired outcome. So, there must be checks and balances to ensure that all players have a fair opportunity and the rule in Mike’s league was that each kid had to be in the game for a minimum of 12 scrimmage plays.

My job – and I salute the hundreds of thousands of others who have fulfilled this role – was to stand on the opposing team sideline and monitor the substitutions to ensure that the coaches were doing the right thing. The role is adversarial, you are surrounded by strangers who want to send your kid home a loser and reliable information is not easy to come by.

It’s sad to say – and scary too – that there are youth football coaches who actually make this difficult by strategically inserting lesser players into the games at the end of the first half or on hopeless third and fourth downs in working their way toward the minimums. I’m not talking about having the best players in at the end of a game, which is acceptable coaching behavior. I’m talking about a genuine effort to manage the substitution of lesser players so that they would not “hurt” the team in the minds of those coaches. This, at the expense of a meaningful experience – like the continuity of several consecutive series – for those usually younger, smaller players.

Forgive the serious interlude. There is nothing cute or funny about it. And those coaches are the ones who should be guilt-ridden.

Baseball scorebook keeper – Baseball is a complicated game and keeping score in the book is a pain in the neck. The coaches don’t want to do it because it takes constant focus and concentration and they have enough just reminding the kids what to do and getting everyone his or her fair amount of playing time.

So, I loved to keep the book, because it made me an indispensable part of the operation and had me right there on the bench with Mike and his friends during the entire contest. Problem was, I didn’t know the local rules and when I pointed out to one of Mike’s coaches that the other team had substituted for their best players in the second inning but was putting them back in in the fourth, he started asking for more detail, saying that he might protest the game.

Talk about “Sorry I brought it up.” There was no way I was going to be able to track back exactly when players were substituted for. So, I used my power of persuasion to talk him out of such confrontational thinking. After all, I had to catch a train back to New York in less than 14 hours.

What was funny? When Mike and I arrived, I was so excited to be there with him and to be involved in the game that I put the car in park, hopped out, closed the door and wandered over to the field without ever turning off the engine. Three and one-half hours and 1/8th of a tank of gas later, we returned to the car and everyone in the immediate area had another laugh at my expense.

Snack bar cleanup – There is a chance that I am the only Dad ever to have engaged in the culminating job associated with those wonderful snack bars that populate youth sports fields across our great country – clean up.

The snack bar is typically the domain of the moms. They take control because of their food preparation knowledge and experience and these dedicated women invariably step forward when teams are assigned shifts to keep the forces hydrated and fed and to keep those fundraising dollars flowing.

Guilt-ridden and trying to do more than my part, I volunteered for a closing shift at the Little League field, where greasy cheese fries, grilled hot dogs and hot pretzels are the order of the day. After a long Saturday of non-stop games on three different fields in the complex, I found myself alone with the boss – a paid high school kid nicknamed "Hitler" by the moms because of his authoritarian approach to maximizing the use of the volunteers until the last counter was clean.

While "Hitler" was counting the money, I was on cleanup duty – alone. Now, when I clean up the kitchen at home, I always have Mike or my daughter, Meaghan, to help. But they weren’t there. They were gone. Everyone was gone. The other mom on the closing shift had to go home with her husband and kid because they only had one car. It was getting dark.

Did you ever feel sorry for yourself?

Since a job worth doing is worth doing well. I scrubbed, scraped, scoured and wiped, getting it all done-with a smile on my face.

Guilt – to be sure – is a powerful thing.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Importance of Having the Right Equipment

One Saturday morning during those too few seasons after tee ball and before the double digit-age years when kids and parents start taking Little League Baseball far too seriously, my wife, Kathi, asked me a question out of the blue about Mike’s batting glove.

Mike was probably about eight and I’m pretty sure it was early in the season, so his lifetime number of at bats against a pitcher other than somebody’s dad probably numbered less than 20, including the entire previous season. He didn’t have any blisters that I was aware of – never had -- and I couldn’t figure out why she would care even a little bit about whether or not he had a batting glove.

Now I’m the kind of guy who always wants to be at the game early to demonstrate our commitment to the coach (when I coached my daughter’s under eight year-old soccer team, I always started the first six kids who showed up). So, Mike and I would always leave for the field early without Kathi. She would then come later with her mother, Mimi, or our daughter, Meaghan.

The game was already underway and I was coaching first base, so her question interrupted my concentration. I can’t remember whether that first inning interruption affected the outcome of the game (kidding), but I couldn’t imagine what could be so important.

“Steve, does Michael have his batting glove?”

“What ?” I answered hurriedly, turning my head only partly in her direction so I wouldn’t lose track of the count. “Why do you care about his batting glove? Does he even have a batting glove? What does he need a batting glove for?”

Kathi apparently felt it was a legit question because I was in charge of Mike’s equipment and we left, with Mike in uniform, before she did. Rest assured that the only glove I was worried about was his fielding glove, which he actually did need, because he was playing third base.

Curiously, she didn’t really answer and left me to my critical first base (kidding again)coaching duties. “Kids this age don’t need batting gloves,” I muttered to myself while turning fully back toward the field.

The next day, Sunday, we had another game and this time she came early with us. I had forgotten the previous day’s conversation until I saw Mike wander over to grab a bat and a helmet in preparation for his first at bat of the game. Then, I watched him reach into his back pocket and pull out a little blue batting glove. It had to be the smallest size that they make and I noticed that it matched our hat and uniform color blue.

Then, I looked over at Kathi and saw her smiling and pointing at Mike while commiserating with another mother. At that moment I realized that it wasn’t about comfort or gripping the bat, about which Kathi knows little. It wasn’t even about preventing blisters, about which she knows a lot.

It was about cuteness. The little boy putting the little batting glove on the little hand was just too cute for words and Kathi had to get her fix.

Then I began to notice that most of these kids, some not even 100 months old, had batting gloves. And they handled them much the same way that Major League Baseball players do, sticking them in the back pocket, putting them on as part of the on-deck ritual and peeling them off after the at bat.

It was a mom-concocted conspiracy of cuteness.

Sporting goods companies were selling hundreds of thousands of these triple small size batting gloves. Millions of dollars were being spent on these thin shapes of fabric that serve no purpose whatsoever. And they were manufactured in different colors so that moms can match them up to their kids’ uniform hue.

Whether these style-conscious moms know anything about the meaningful tools their sons actually do need on the field – a broken-in fielding glove, the right size bat, cups for the catchers – doesn’t matter. Their kids will have a batting glove and it will be the right color! ###

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Friday, May 29, 2009


What a trip it was when I started looking around the internet for youth basketball information when Mike started to show some promise as a player. He spent an entire spring playing for two hours per day in the driveway until he pretty much willed himself, with repetition, into becoming a good ball handler. I was having a blast and patting myself on the back for being the wonderful, well-adjusted father of a standout youth athlete.

There were more leagues than I ever knew about. Mike’s AAU coach told me about and I could not believe how many tournaments there were. In addition, there were day camps, shooting camps run by the famed Herb Magee, overnight camps at Villanova, Knights of Columbus Free Throw Shooting Contests and skills challenges.

We were doing everything we could find just for the action. The most fun were the games, because, of course, they kept score. And, after the games, we always had to talk about what had happened, whether I was coaching or not. Sometimes, it wasn’t easy and Mike wasn’t really interested, especially if he didn’t play well. But I always believed that my approach was perfectly appropriate – never overbearing, accentuating the positive, forgetting the turnovers and reinforcing the learning-by-experience process.

Still, we always talked about it right after the game; what else were we going to do on the ride home?

Then one day I went to and started looking around for whatever programs they had for kids. I was certain that there had to be something since I had observed the league marketing machine as a fan of the sport over the years. I figured I’d see if there were any competitions that we could enter regionally so Mike could experience doing something associated directly with the NBA.

It was very cool to find a microsite called Jr. NBA where there was all kinds of great stuff. The NBA had put real resources into the youth brand development component of its long-term marketing plan and the elaborate nature of the website was evidence of that. A letter to parents from Bill Walton. Pre-game meal suggestions for young players from Ray Allen. Just cool, fun, instructive content.

Then, I came upon a section with suggestions for young players called Relating to Your Parents. Another click and I saw the subhead: Dealing with the Dreaded P.G.A. The thought of golf flashed into my head and was quickly dismissed as I asked myself, “What the heck is P.G.A.” Reading on, I was informed that P.G.A. stands for Post Game Analysis. Getting defensive, I thought to myself, “What do they mean, ‘Dreaded.’”

“If you become the victim of a P.G.A. from your Mom or Dad..." was part of the copy that followed. What? Now I was really getting defensive. Dreaded? Victim? How dare they?

Then, again, there are all those news reports of over-the-top dads and I’ve witnessed a few unfortunately intense parking lot lectures myself. I guess it’s a legitimate point. There are certainly dads who get carried away.

“But that’s not the way it is with Mike and me,” I internalized. “Our conversations are constructive,” I continued, convincing myself beyond the slightest doubt. “Mike likes our post-game exchanges. And he appreciates their value.”

My wife, Kathi, will validate this for me.

“Steve, dreaded is the perfect word to describe it,” she lectured with a knowing half smile that put me on notice. “The kid doesn’t want it to happen and the father is desperate to share his insights. And everyone knows that the kid is not going to absorb much of it anyway.”

Dreaded? Victim? Now, desperate? But it’s different with Mike and me, right?

“Please,” she responded with a patronizing shake of the head.


“Sorry, Dad. I just don’t look forward to it.” Mike offered candidly, not quite breaking my heart. “I just think it’s annoying. Dreaded is a good description.”

Okay, I’ll give you dreaded then, but victim? Come on now.

“Steve, a victim is somebody who is forced to do something they don’t want to do that could be painful. Something over which they have no control,” Kathi stated unflinchingly. “Isn’t that exactly what it is?”

C’mon, Mike. Help me out here. Victim is a little much, right?

“No, Dad. Sorry, again.” Mike said sympathetically. “You would, like, interrogate me about why I didn’t do something during the game. Victim is accurate.”

Ahhhh. Those two. They’re always ganging up on me for fun. And they're so cute when they exaggerate.


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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Ring Dance Story

My daughter Meaghan is totally put off by the fact that this blog centers around her brother Mike and the youth sports pursuits that he and I engage in together. Of course, this 20 year-old still holds a grudge from the day ten years ago when I used his birthday numbers as a password for one of my internet accounts instead of hers.

She’s also a 3.89 at the University of Richmond, something of a high achiever across the board, and one of her most endearing traits is that though she might sometimes be wrong, she is never in doubt. Once when she was in a particularly princessy frame of mind as a senior in high school who was somehow in charge of the world, I addressed her. My objective was to hand her a bit of humility with a strategically constructed question.

“Tell me, Meaghan,” I asked in a mock serious tone for effect. “What is it like to know everything about everything?”

With just a very brief pause enabling her to revel in her recognition of my attempt at putting her in her place, she responded, “Feels pretty good, actually.”

Of course, she forgot to mention that just a few months earlier she had failed her first driver’s test (rolled right through a stop sign). Similarly, she neglected to recall this observation that she made about Greek life at the University of Richmond: “I’m not sure I like this. If 45 per cent of the boys are in fraternities and 45 per cent of the girls are in sororities, that means 90 per cent of the students are Greek.” She recognized the gaffe immediately but that was too late and we will forever have that arrow in our quiver.

So this young lady is the star of the weekend as Richmond’s junior year Ring Dance takes center stage this past February. It is a wonderful event born of a longstanding tradition of women’s pride at one of America’s great educational institutions in one of our country’s great southern cities.

The men wear tuxedoes, the girls wear gowns for a blockbuster Saturday night party at the famed Jefferson Hotel. The highlight of the evening is the father escorting the daughter down this magnificent staircase with the young lady receiving her class ring from the Dean of the school on the bottom step.

You can imagine the amount of cost and effort during the preceding months as the three women in my household went about finding that gown. It was “Father of the Bride,” cubed. Since I was paying, I didn’t want to have to do anything but show up. Who was I kidding? I had to get measured for a tux. Then I had to go pick up the tuxes (Mike had to wear one, too). As usual, I tried to maintain my sanity by just going with the flow and we rolled into the weekend in pretty good shape. Drove down to Richmond on Friday and with all our formal wear dominating the back seat of the car I was glad that my wife, Kathi, had insisted the gown go back to Richmond when Meaghan returned to school in January.

Because we were four people (mother, grandmother, Mike and me), we had a suite at the hotel while Meaghan was staying with other girls in a room on another floor. The plan was for Meaghan to get dressed in our suite, where the mom and grandmom could primp and pamper her in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

Saturday morning comes and Mike and I are pretty juiced. The deal is that the girls are going to be gone for hours beginning at noon and we could do whatever we wanted. Just had to be back by 4 p.m. A quick check of the neighborhood turned up a YMCA right across the street. When we asked at the front desk we got more good news. The hotel had an arrangement with the Y and we could come and go as we pleased all day. Even we couldn’t play hoops for more than four hours at a time.

Great basketball with some of the Richmond hoops cognoscenti who congregate at the gym on a Saturday morning. We learned some new drills and did our thing for hours, went to lunch and were obediently back at the hotel by 4 p.m.

At that exact time, a call comes in from the Princess, who was undeniably in charge this particular day. And she was acting like it.

“Dad,” she stated dictatorially. “The girls are behind schedule. You and Michael have to both be in and out of the bathroom by 4:30 p.m. Got it?”

She had no real interest in any response, but I dutifully acknowledged the order and hung up the phone. I then told Mike that we’d have to hurry and that I would go first, thinking that I’d then be available to take additional orders upon their return.

So, in a rush, I walk into the bathroom and take off all my clothes. Somewhat uncomfortable in these unfamiliar surroundings and naked to boot, I hurriedly reached in and turned on the shower. I then wheeled around toward the sink to locate my toiletries before continuing the clockwise rotation toward the shower.

At that moment, my eyes fell upon the sight of Meaghan’s gown hanging on the shower curtain rack, far wider than the tub itself, undoubtedly being hit by the stream of water from the showerhead.

I let out a noise that Michael describes as a dinosaur in labor, some sort of heaving utterance that was somehow both loud and breathless. I lunged to turn off the water and paused to ask myself if what seemed to have happened had actually happened. Was it possible that on this weekend that we had been talking about for the past three years, on a day when I was willing to just do what I was told so that Meaghan’s experience could be as perfect as possible....was it possible that I had ruined her pristine, white, more-expensive-than-I-ever-want-to-know Ring Dance gown?

Anxiety under control, I gingerly peeled back the adjacent shower curtain and reluctantly surveyed the damage. About one-third of the gown was hit and it appeared to be a rear corner. The water seemed to be beading up a little bit and I began to think that I might not die during the next half hour.

I carefully removed the dress from the bathroom while asking myself what, exactly, was it doing there in the first place. I quickly dismissed the thought that anyone of the female gender would assume even the slightest amount of blame. They surely would have some justification – however inane -- for hanging a ridiculously expensive gown in a bathroom, on the shower curtain rack, well within reach of the water stream, when we had a huge suite with all kinds of unused closet space.

I dabbed it with a towel, said a prayer and plotted the explanation:

• Because they were late, I had to hurry. It was their fault.
• I was uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. It could have happened to anyone.
• Everything in the bathroom was white and blended together. Yeah!

The moment of truth came about 25 minutes later, when Kathi and her mother returned to the room.

Upon seeing the look on my face, Kathi said, indelicately, “What did you do?” Instead of defending myself, I took the high road, relayed the facts and said, “It may not be that bad.”

It wasn’t and we figured that with some strategic logistical maneuvering, Meaghan wouldn’t have to know. Mike managed to keep his mouth shut during the dress up phase and the staircase scene, along with the entire evening, was saved. About six hours and a few underage glasses of wine later, I told a giddy Meaghan the story in the company of several classmates. Her jaw dropped only to her bellybutton instead of the floor, primarily because the day was mostly done.

For the record, here’s what they said about why they hung the dress up on the shower curtain rod:

After three weeks hanging in the dorm, Kathi’s mom thought it would probably be crushed so she went out and bought a steamer. To have access to water in a place where it could hang freely, they decided to place it on the shower curtain rod.

Oh. Okay. I guess.

When I tell the story now, the most amazing thing is the reaction of women when I approach and tell the gown-meets-water part. Some grab my arm, others gasp as if witnessing a murder and others fall into my arms with a hug of empathy when it becomes clear that disaster was avoided.

The men laugh knowingly. Mike just shakes his head.

And we still do those Richmond basketball drills (suicides while dribbling with a between-the-legs bounce on each shift of direction).

And I just count my blessings, remembering that, sometimes, whatever can go wrong, doesn’t.


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Sunday, May 17, 2009


One of the most consistently hysterical things about youth recreation sports is the way that the moms are in charge of just about everything. I’m not talking about just the snack bar and the volunteer fundraisers and the “Team Mom” communications.

I’m talking about the very essence of youth sports recreation – whether or not the kids are even there.


“How ya doing,” the photographer who took pictures at the basketball tournament Easter weekend said to me this week.

“I’m aggravated right now,” I offered candidly. “My wife won’t let my son go to his basketball game tonight because he’s overloaded with homework. I made a commitment to the coach and now he may be short of players, but there’s nothing I can do.”

“Oh, Lordy!” He exclaimed. “I’ve been there. Just do what they say. They’re in charge. You don’t know nothin’. Biggest thing is, if you do what they say, you won’t have to hear about it later.”

The previous week, I was asking another Dad if his son could play in an AAU basketball game the next weekend. This is a man’s man, a guy who coaches three sports with an appropriate authoritarian approach, who, you would guess, wears the pants in his family.

My question about his son’s availability drew a blank, uncomfortable, vulnerable stare. My first impression was that some outside force had rendered him speechless for some reason. Then, he blurted. “Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I have no idea. You’ll have to talk to my wife.”

His tone made it clear that he wanted me to take that last sentence literally. This guy, who may be a captain of industry at the office, was not going to be making any executive decisions here. He did not want to be in the middle of this one. He was clearly out of political capital with the real boss. He knew that I knew his wife and that was enough of an opening to get him out of this deal. He didn’t say “she’s in charge,” but he didn’t have to. He knew and I knew, because most dads are in the same boat, including me.

So this past fall, Mike wanted to play three sports. Football for his new middle school, fall baseball in the town league and rec league basketball for a team that I was coaching. With school underway and Mike engaging the challenging 7th grade curriculum, we knew it would be a tight squeeze schedule-wise, but the opening was there:

• Football practice and games were all after school on weekdays
• Basketball had no practices and games only on late Sunday afternoons or evenings
• Baseball was during daylight on the weekends

So we got started and the inevitable happened. Homework and tests were incessant and increasing and there were elaborate projects that required kids to work together outside of the classroom. The concept of learning a foreign language -- Spanish -- was something Mike did not take well to.

Something had to give and my wife, Kathi, was adamant. Our perfect attendance record at Mike’s games and practices was in serious jeopardy.

Wacky Youth Sports Dad that I am, I started doing whatever I could to make it work. Studying with Mike in the early mornings, going to the game sites 15 minutes before the start time instead of 45, taking over Mike’s responsibilities around the house – that was my new MO. I actually believed that I had stabilized the situation.

One week or so later, I get an email from Kathi around 4 p.m., after Mike arrived home from school and the daily ritual of reviewing homework and upcoming tests was complete.


Mike will not be able to go to football practice tomorrow and the Sunday basketball game is out. We’ll see if he can play baseball on Saturday. He has a project due on Monday and midterms are next week.

Of course, my answer to all of this is that proper time management would make everything doable, but that would mean no chatting or texting, no video games, no downtime in his room and no cuddle time with Mom. Knowing only too well that that wasn’t going to happen, my warped mind turned to another solution.

So I replied to Kathi’s email with deadpan matter-of-factness.


This academic stuff is really starting to get in the way of Mike’s sports schedule. Do you think we could drop a couple of classes?


About 90 seconds later, my cell phone rang and there was Kathi. And she was not laughing.

“How old are you? You’re supposed to support me in all of this. And it’s not funny.”

Of course, I was kidding. But it is a bit scary that the thought even entered my head.

I’ve been trying -- unsuccessfully --to force it out ever since. ###


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