I was the world’s least likely sports dad, until my 7-year-old uttered the four most powerful words in the English language: "Dad, will you coach?"
I’ve always been clueless about the one thing every guy -- blue-collar or banker -- has in common. Sports. When I hear “Final Four,” I imagine a quartet of apocalyptic superheroes. I lived in New York 15 years and the only time I set foot in Yankee Stadium was for a Pink Floyd reunion concert. I won't even watch the Superbowl for the commercials. But here’s the problem with parenting: it’s not about you anymore. And sports is all my son Diego cares about.
A typical week for him is four days of baseball, three days of tennis, two days of soccer and all the driveway basketball he can squeeze in. And yes, I know that adds up to more than seven days. So when he looked up at me with those big brown eyes and asked, “Dad, will you coach?” what was I gonna say? “No, I have to clean my iPad.” “I’m too busy watching old Peter Sellers clips on YouTube?”
I had no choice. Twice a week, I had to drive over the hill to Toluca Lake and park my Prius in a lot full of pick-up trucks loaded with baseball gear and fake it. Pretend I knew what the head coach was talking about when he said, “Protect the plate!” or “Ducks on the pond!” Steal bits I’d overheard other dads putting put out there: “Nose on the ball!” “Show me your number!” And wait for someone to expose me as a fraud, a guy who was way too small for his XXXL jersey.
Then one day, little Eli or Tanner or Seamus was at bat and I heard somebody yelling, “Elbow up! Protect the plate!” and, “Dig, dig, dig!” as the kid sprinted to first.
That someone was me.
Suddenly, I wanted to be there. We had nothing in common, me and the other dads. These guys weren’t writers. One was in finance, one was a contractor. I think. I’m not sure. I never asked what they did for a living and they never asked me. Turns out the identity you work so hard to forge out there in the big world is irrelevant in this little one. Here you’re not defined by status or money, just by, Do you show up? Do you volunteer hours out of your day? Are you part of the team?
I realized this wasn’t just about coaching. It was about how you live your life.
At the end-of-season party, the parents give the coaches little thank-you’s. Starbucks gift cards, movie passes. But the gift my son was most impressed with was a game ball inscribed “Thanks, Coach.” For the first time, I didn’t mentally bracket the word “coach” in ironic quotation marks.
I can now spend hours watching ESPN with my son. I’ll take him to Dodger Stadium at the drop of a hat. And when someone shouts, “Hey, Coach!” … I turn around.
(Rick Marin is a bestselling author and TV writer. This story is adapted from his new Kindle Single, "Keep Swinging.")