Sunday evening I was beaten by my 13 year old boy at ping pong. He has never beaten me at ping pong. He beat me four games in a row. The bloody aftermath was a lesson in humility and parenthood.
As a dad there is an unwritten rule, an obligation and a genetic directive that drives us to win when playing our sons at a variety of endeavors. These include age-honored events such as ‘Around the World’, ‘Pea-knuckles’, ‘H-O-R-S-E’, ‘Paper-rock-scissors’, ‘backyard football’, and anything thing that involves rock-throwing, wrestling, or sports-based trivia. The intense drive to win at these endeavors involves a great deal of pride and some misguided goals at building manhood and toughness visa loss. In other words, if they are going to pass into manhood, they must first get there through the ‘old man’. It’s archaic I know, but stay with me.
As a child, my dad loved to play me in basketball. Granted, he was a skilled athlete in his own right, but I practiced every day honing my own basketball prowess, constantly focused on the goal of finally beating him and claiming heir to Valhala. He would toy with me at times, allowing me to close in on a prospective win, lifting my hopes only to lay waste to me, crushing my spirits in utter defeat. The day I finally won at basketball was a small but significant benchmark.
As a parent, one of our ultimate goals should always be to raise our kids to be better than us. Not just in games and sports but more importantly in life. I think for me, the idea of competition with my son just provides a platform where he learns how to practice, strive and ultimately win against his dad. My hope is that the same determination and spirit he brings to the ping pong table will be brought in the ‘real world’. My hope is that he values striving for integrity, character and being a good person as much as he values the games. There is always a balancing act we play with our kids. We need to make it challenging for them to succeed, but not diminish their spirit in the quest.
In the coming months it is apparent that my son will be chalking up more and more wins against his father who is watching his son grow from a child to a young man. Ping pong and basketball are fun, but my hope is that his greatest success in life will be those that define who he is and provide for a better place for those around him.
In the meantime, I will be sneaking up into the game room for some late night training sessions. I’m certain I am going to have to play the kid again.
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