One of the great surprises of my adult life is that I have become a breeder of jocks. I blame their mother.
I can’t even attribute this turn of events to the fulfillment of my unrealized dreams. If I were that kind of father, I’d be waking the kids at 6 a.m. to sketch out comic strip ideas before breakfast.
“Jim Unger is what?”
“Promise squandered!” they’d chant.
“Bloom County in its day was…”
“A Breathed of fresh air!”
“Excellent. Now drop and give me three New Yorker panels and a Walt Kelly!”
For a soft-shelled artsy type like me to end up with children who not only love but excel at sports has been a great joy. Sure, getting my son to read is like pulling teeth, and those teeth are really pointy and spitting venom and dull with the brownish-yellow coat of neglect, but I sit in the bleachers amazed by the grace of my children’s coordination, their ability to hit the basket from outside or the way they can make that perfect pass through traffic to the post and – hey, look at me knowing about sports and stuff!
My two middle children in particular have thrived in high school thanks in large part to their involvement in sports – soccer, basketball, rugby. My wife and I have been involved and encouraging. Sports have kept them healthy, motivated and, most important, out of trouble.
But both children are thinking, well, what now?
In high school I was good at drama and music, so I chose those over sports – aw, who am I kidding? I sucked at sports, but go with this for a moment.
I had no idea what I was going to do after high school, or after my BA for that matter. But with a solid liberal arts education and a lot of extracurricular involvement in drama and campus journalism, I picked up enough skills, knowledge and the ability to pad a resumé to BS my way into the work force. And here I am: still faking it after all these years.
My eldest daughter is taking the broad road as well and, though she appears to be majoring in Fun, looks like she will land on her hennaed bare feet.
My middle children, on the other hand, chose athletics, and, because they were good at it, sports became virtually their sole extracurricular pursuit. They’ve done fairly well academically but nothing – not science, math, English, history, debating, film, politics, not even cars or sex – has sparked their passion the way athletics have.
So what’s a jock to do?
Again, this isn’t some kind of wish fulfillment for all the jocks in my past who got the girl and may or may not have inflicted ritual humiliations upon me. I worry about my children and those like them – solid, likeable, non-douchey kids who actually want a career they’ll care about but who have picked up few practical skills other than the importance of teamwork, self-discipline and not keeping your uneaten lunch in your locker over spring break.
“I think I’ll study sports management,” they say. Oh dear. We’ll soon be flooding the market with sports management graduates and kinesiology majors – a generation of gym teachers.
On the plus side, they’ll be the healthiest unemployed generation ever.
Help me out. Have we gone too far in emphasizing sports for kids? Is my artsy knee jerking? Or am I simply overreacting in this uncharted parental territory?