When I was young, my parents signed me up for city league softball. We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games. My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had a strong right arm and decent hand-eye coordination.
My base running, however, was painfully slow. Hits that may be home runs for others turned into singles for me due to my lack-of-speed.
My teammates teased that I was like a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. One game when I was on second base, "cleanup Lori" sailed a hit over the right fielder's head. She literally walked the bases while I put my head down and willed my legs to go faster. She reached home plate inches behind me.
When I was twelve, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and travel to tournaments on the weekend to play teams from all over the country.
My dad was one of the coaches and generally led practices. He insisted that we arrive early to set out gear, run bases and get warmed up. When my teammates arrived, he would drill us on the fundamentals and push us to run until we nearly puked. He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. He would scream at us and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.
For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad didn't allow me to swim or bike on the days we had practice. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties with my school friends because I was too busy traveling with my team. My parents put other activities on hold during the summer so I could concentrate on softball.
At tournaments, my father would argue with the umps and yell at us from his third base post. If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.
I resented the strict schedule and was embarrassed by my dad’s temper. I could see parent’s reactions and my teammates aggravation with my father infected my relationships with them. I began to lose focus and cared less and less about being on the team. I wasn’t having fun or giving the game my everything and it showed up on the field.
Recognizing the decline in my performance, my father did what every logical father would do – drill me with more practice.
One evening in the alley behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove without making him move an inch to catch it.
If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we started over at one. My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite. I tasted the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the angrier I became. We were out there for hours. When the streetlights flickered on, I realized the only way to end this misery was to get ten in a row without error.
In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand. Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless. In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.
The next summer, I refused to play softball. I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.
Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach. I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled my son from the team. Instead, I took the opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.
As his season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and volunteered to help with practices. I learned what fired him up. Turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, however misguided. My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways.
I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my own childhood. With some help, I began to examine the experiences of my youth. I learned to re-shape my stories.
I was able to move from anger to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in mine and my son's life. I could look past the intensity and see the heart of a parent who wanted to succeed.
Most importantly, I forgave my father and came to appreciate his drive and perfectionism -- attributes he passed to his children. The same intensity that drove him to coach was the same intensity that drove me to quit.
Time and perspective have mellowed us and I’ve come to embrace our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and our drive pushes us beyond where we are today -- including a drive to understand.
I've learned intense energy can drive us in ways that either serve us or deter us. It's up to us to make that choice. My dad did his best with what he had and I’ve done the best I can with my son.
My son's version of this story may be different, but that's the beauty of story - it can be meaningful in many ways.
Stories help us explain everything in our experience from relationships and feelings to memories -- from questions to objections. With every story we hear, read, or listen, our mind makes cognitive and emotional connections that shape our perspective of the world.
What stories are you telling yourself about your childhood?
Do those stories serve or deter?
What questions could you ask about the story that may help change the meaning of the story?
Forgiveness and Acceptance are Powerful Perspectives -- qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.
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