She is only eight years-old and I fear I might have failed her. I am her father and though I know I am human and fallible I feel like I fell down on the job.
Those who know me well understand how seriously I take my role as father and that when I say I would take the bullet for my children it is not hyperbole.
You cannot mess with my kids without finding yourself on the wrong side of my smile. The thousand yard stare comes out, the vein on my forehead becomes more pronounced and my fingers start flexing.
They call me dad and they expect me to take care of them because it is what I do.
The moment that haunts my present happened at the season end soccer party. Our girls were called forward by their coaches and one by one they were presented with a trophy and some words that were supposed to compliment and encourage them.
Each girl walked up wearing a huge smile that only grew broader as the coaches praised them for their efforts and skill.
This was the third team party with these coaches and this team. It wasnâ€™t as they say our â€œfirst rodeoâ€ which is part of why I didnâ€™t expect the head coach to single out my girl and talk about how she is a â€œtough cookie who needs to work on her game.â€
Those werenâ€™t the exact words, but it is very close.
I couldnâ€™t believe what I was hearing and I waited for him to circle back and soften the words. I expected him to say something that would make her smile and feel goodâ€¦but he didnâ€™t.
She didnâ€™t react. She is a tough cookie and I know she is stronger in the most important ways than most of the girls she plays with.
That is not why she plays. I didnâ€™t sign her up to live vicariously through her triumphs nor to commiserate in the losses.
At eight she is supposed to learn how to play the game so that she can learn how to be part of a team and more importantly to play because she loves it.
Those last three words are huge- â€œShe loves it.â€
I wonâ€™t let anyone beat that love out of her.
She has heard me say that she is going to determine how far she goes in soccer and in life. Those arenâ€™t just words to me. I believe in them.
Her tears hurt me and I ached for her.
I took the coach aside and calmly asked him to tell me what his intentions were for her and the team.
He thanked me for my candor and shared his plans and his impression of my daughter. I listened carefully and what I heard was the voice of man whose perception of reality is far different than my own.
One of my jobs as a father is to teach my kids how to deal with adversity. They need to learn what to do if they fail because we all do. They need to figure out how to bounce back and how to survive the rough moments.
Part of me immediately saw this as a great teaching moment and an opportunity to learn. Part of my saw a chance for growth but there was another part that wondered if this is the time to do it.
Life requires us to toughen up, but is now the time. Is this really the place to push her and will she get a fair shot.
The advantage of his skewed perception is that she doesnâ€™t have to exhibit much improvement for it to look like a dramatic increase in her skill level.
But she has to want this. She has to fight for her place. They just added several new players to the team.
If she isnâ€™t willing to fight she wonâ€™t get much playing time.
I am torn.
There are few things I enjoy more than going after a challenge and destroying it. If it was me I would take great pleasure in working hard to make him eat his words so that he felt foolish for doubting me.
But that is me.
This is about her.
I want her to want it. I want her to make that decision.
But she is eight and I wonder how hard to push or not push. My gut says that if I just pull her from the team she will be furious with me and she may not see the big picture.
It might be worth letting her play through the spring season. She told me that is what she wants to do.
Maybe I let things play out. Maybe I let my girl take my hand and lead the way. Maybe I make a deal with her that if she does that we will spend more time together practicing.
Maybe that is the right balance.
The risk is that it blows up. The risk is that it doesnâ€™t work out well at all and she comes away angry and upset.
I am supposed to protect her but I canâ€™t wrap her up in bubble wrap to keep her safe from all that could hurt or harm her.
The world doesnâ€™t work that way.
My children are on vacation this entire week. Thanksgiving break has hit so they are on vacation and decisions donâ€™t have to be made yet, hard or easy.
The house is filled with laughter and there are many smiles floating around here, mine included.
But I would be lying if I said that a piece of me didnâ€™t hurt and that I didnâ€™t feel like I have fallen short.
Weâ€™ll all get through this and weâ€™ll work it out, but damn I wish it didnâ€™t have to be so freaking hard.
It is a game and games should be fun.