Monday, April 26, 2010

The Violence of Youth

Photo: Sukanto Debnath, Flickr Creative Commons

I've never been able to really claim my son as my own. Sure, the kid is a fountain of trivia already when he's not even three. He also shares his father's tendency to correct people when they are wrong. I can't say if he shares my motivation for the character flaw, though. I honestly don't want to make people look bad. It's just that truth seems to be innately desirable to me and I have to be very careful to not always set the record straight. I'm not trying to slam you, I'm just trying to correct an imbalance in the universe, no matter how small and trivial it may be.

Beyond that, he's never shown any sign of my DNA. He was born with a cap of red hair, something that doesn't even exist in my family. When the red fell out in infancy, it was replaced by a mass of blonde curls. Oh, and he has bright blue eyes. My wife is largely of Greek descent and my complexion is still influenced by my not-so-distant Cherokee ancestors. Actually, they could have been Creek or some other group originally native to the region, but the branch of the family that introduced their more melanistic blood into my line came from the heartland of the pre-Trail of Tears Cherokee. I stand outside all day at tennis tournament and I don't burn. My son has a face that even the Aryan Brotherhood would approve of.

Sure, he likes to lie in bed and read books in the evening, but he's also wild, barely contained. I've gone jogging with him and he'll cover nearly a mile before he tires. He's viciously competitive. He'll gleefully cut me off when we race around the fireplace at home and he practices the bump and rub when we race outside. Competition is a great motivator for him, and it's something we use to great effect when we need him to do something when he's not in the mood to cooperate. When he wins, he'll loudly crow, "I beat you! You too slow! HA ha!" Competition was never a big motivator for me. I've always been happy to cruise through life. I like to win, but when I don't I can be happy as long as I meet my personal standards. Understanding why something should be done was always a much bigger motivator for me than just winning.

Of course, I'm not above using this competitive spirit and physical energy to my advantage. In a couple of years when my son turns 5, he's going to start tennis lessons. He already has his own racquet and being the son of a coach and regular recreational player, he's used to and interested in the sport already. As long as he shows the desire, I plan on pushing him just enough to keep him motivated without losing his love for the game. When he turns 18, he'll go pro, and I'll retire to be his manager.

The only flaw with this plan is that pro tennis parents tend to be horrible people who push their children and ruin their relationships with their kids. I'm not that guy. I'm too easily distracted. I care too much about how other people feel, and the truth of the matter is that the deck is stacked in favor of assholes. That's not just in tennis. That's in life. Nice people can easily rise to the middle, but that's as far as we get. You've got to be willing to stab a few backs and stomp on a few of the weak to make it to the top in anything. Honestly, I'll probably do more to crush that primal ape inside my son than I ever would to make it rage even more strongly. It's just a matter of discouraging him when he dropkicks a younger kid to get a toy he desires and encouraging him when he goes out of his way to be brave for a fearful 1-year-old walking down the aisle at my sister's wedding.


Julie said...

There's always an argument for natue v. Nurture. Maybe his daycare providers are teaching him to be competitive.

Jacob said...

It's possible, but I think at his age, something so fundamental about him is more nature than anything else. Considering the fact that until the last few months he was the only boy who wasn't and people don't seem to teach their girls to be competitive very often, I doubt that.

He also is a lot like my sister, so it's not like that competitive nature is entirely foreign. It's just not me.

Mickey said...

Make sure you work on the angles and footwork with him: if he's not going to end up with your height he probably won't be acing his way through matches. Go with the Michael Chang model.

Michael Chang also seems like a nice guy. That's probably why he only had the lone Grand Slam victory.

Jacob said...

I'm pretty sure it was because Chang just wasn't that good. He won as much as he did through just sheer tenacity. If I remember the article I read about him a while back correctly, his mom was one of the prototypes for the horribly overbearing tennis parent that I was talking about.

Also, I never watched him play, but from what I know of his style, he was a retriever and retrievers have a relatively short window to be at their best. When you depend on your legs to win for you, you only last as long as your legs do. That's why Leyton Hewitt has fallen off since he and Roddick first became big stars back at the turn of the millennium. Hewitt still manages to compete but isn't really a contender because his legs have given out. Roddick had power (which doesn't wear out as quickly as the knees) and developed a more complete game.

It's also why I expect Federer to outlast Nadal even though Federer is older. Nadal's already having problems with his knees and Federer has about as complete of a game as there ever was.

Courtney said...

I think it might be a bit early to start declaring E's personality traits as so different from yours. I doubt many 3-year-olds display traits that carry on into adulthood. It could just be a stage.

A Free Man said...

I'm apparently inclined to be one of 'those parents'. At swimming classes, I can't restrain myself from offering instructions and the occasional shout of admonishment for lack of focus.

Jacob said...

I think there's a difference between being an instructor and guide and being an obsessive-compulsive task master of children.