It took a long time to raise an athlete, but I got there in the end…
THERE’S A VIDEO from the weekend that I can’t stop looking at – because it shows the fulfilment of a 19-year dream.
It shows the moment my son became… a Player.
In the clip, his blue-shirted figure piles into a rugby ruck and bumps the opposition off the ball. Seconds later, his team-mates pick it up and drive over the line for a try.
There’s commentary on the clip, too. Very poor, shouted commentary, which is not impartial or informed in the slightest.
In it, I am roaring: ‘Up again (Name Withheld)! Up again!
“Yes, drive it! YES!!!!”
There follows a cry of almost orgasmic satisfaction from behind the camera.
I very much doubt that I have bellowed louder, or with greater joy – maybe not even at the very moment in late 2002 that his Mum and I created little Name Withheld.
I very much doubt that I have bellowed louder, or with greater joy – maybe not even at the very moment in late 2002 that his Mum and I created little Name Withheld.My roar was also an exclamation of sheer fulfilment and pride because, after many years of slogging – and then, admittedly, more years of giving up – I was finally Living My Dream of having sporty kids.
Growing up, I’d played everything, so when I had Dustbins with a wife whose childhood had been just as active, I assumed that they would grow up sporty, too.
When they were little, they learned to swim, to trampoline and – again, like us – went to multi-sports camps in the summer.
On Sports Days, my daughter jumped hurdles easily – in a way that made me think of a springy, smiling, lamb – and podiumed, as we sportier parents liked to put it.
But her interest in exercise tailed off at Secondary School, so I focused on the younger Name Withheld for a while – taking him to Sunday morning Minis football with a friend and his boy.
But it all went badly wrong: I watched, humiliated, as my friend’s skinny-legged spawn did a passable Ryan Giggs impression, while my athletically gifted boy sat mid-pitch in his yellow bib, dreamily rolling clods of mud into balls as the game seethed around him.
Maybe he’s not ready, I reasoned. Maybe we shouldn’t push them. And so, we didn’t.
I got on with my own stuff – Veterans’ Football, Cycling, Half-Marathons – while the kids turned increasingly to the Wii, The PlayStation, The X-Box.
My wife joined in with them but, haughtily, I didn’t. What a waste of fucking time, I thought, as I headed out for another solo run and they settled into a Wii Sports marathon.
By the time they were teenagers, neither of them did anything much. We forced them to come Ice Skating with us for a while, and they moved smoothly through the grades with resentful skill.
There was talk of The Lad training with an Ice Hockey team, but it never really happened.
He did Karate for a while – but only for a short while – leaving us with a pile of newly-bought uniform to take down to the charity shop.
Then, years later, he got into trouble at school.
There had long been vague talk about him doing “Something positive”, or a hobby that got him outdoors.
Now, however, he was in the doghouse and had to do what we wanted, so I racked my brains for an activity that he might like, and stick at.
And then they came to me: the conversations we’d had all the way from Year Five to Year Eleven.
When I’d asked how his day had gone, he would almost invariably reply: “****ing clapped!”*
“Every time me and my mates do Bundles at break – you know, when we jump on each other – the Yellow Ladies** tell us to stop.”
Click. Click. Click. Went my brain. And I tried to remember how I’d felt at his age
As a big, football playing, lad, I’d sometimes yearned for a bit more contact than the occasional flattening of a willowy footballer could provide.
Maybe My Boy might appreciate a bit of adult-sanctioned violence, too…?
So we tried rugby: turning up for training at the club where his sister’s ex-boyfriend played – and finding a little paradise of community.
While he got stuck into training drills for the first time, I joined some other Dads trying to fork standing water off a pitch for a game that afternoon.
The wind howled and water seeped into my ill-chosen shoes, but I didn’t care.
Because every time I looked up, I saw him hurling himself into tackles and chasing down runners.
The longer he played and the muddier he got, the broader and more hench his shoulders and arms seemed to get. He carried himself like a rugby player, moved like a rugby player.
At one point, the ex-boyfriend came over to shake hands and they smiled at each other with such mutual liking and recognition that I nearly melted into the sodden pitch.
Ask The Lad now what he most likes about rugby, he says without hesitation: “The contact.”
And – after completing a dozen training sessions and his first competitive 40 minutes, he says: “I’ve found a sport I really like, at last.”
Play-ah! Job. Done! Living The Dream…
*Vexing; deficient; rubbish.
**Playground supervisors, in Safeguarding-mandated Hi-Vis tabards.