Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dad cheers for daughter to be a quitter

Here's something worth cheering: Me after sinking a birdie putt at Whistling Straits, 10-3-2008. Now, onto to today's cheerleader post . . .

When my daughter told me she didn’t want to go to cheerleader practice tonight because she “just didn’t feel like it,” I had to restrain myself from picking up her blue & silver pompons and shouting:

“Yea! Yea! No cheerleader practice tonight! Yea! Quit! Quit! Quit! Go kid! Leeettttt’s quit!”

I don’t know when cheerleading became a sport unto itself, but if I’d have been paying attention when it was happening I would have done everything I could to stop it.

Now parents go to the games to cheer the cheerleaders who are cheering the midget football games about which they know absolutely nothing. When one father asked his cheerleader daughter what she thought about the game, the perky 8 year old replied, “What game?”

The cheerleaders of my youth still shimmer in my hormonal memories. They were teenage girls on the bubble of womanhood. They were voluptuous. They had lucious hair. They wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.

Yet, they always lurked in my mind. I’d stare at them in biology class. I’d be thinking about them and their tight sweaters when unbidden thoughts began distracting me in algebra. I’d be delivering newspapers on my route and scheming about how I could get even one of them to notice me.

In short, as a boy in the rocky throes of puberty, I thought about them much the same way middle-aged actor Charlie Sheen apparently still does.

Now my daughter’s play acting at being one and the whole thing’s sort of disquieting. They suggestively prance around like little Jon Benet Ramseys and do provocative cheers that nearly shock the ears off my sweet white-haired mother.

The father in me is bothered by any adult-supervised activity that seems to promote any acceleration in the decline of innocence. Do they really need meddling parents monitoring their practices, careful to note any slights or taunts? And, yes, the adolescent in me is appalled that girls who are years away from their first training bras are allowed on the primal pedestals once reserved for the fair girls who were the first objects of my dawning desires.

There’s a low-grade sort of insanity involved in any school activity in which parents become engaged. We try to teach them our rules, imbue them with our ambitions and impose our rigid structures on naturally playful children who get distracted by things like frogs and bursting dandelions.

That’s why if Josie came up to me and said, “Daddy, I want to quit,” I wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. That’s the antithesis of everything they teach you in Fatherhood 101. You’re supposed to teach your children to never quit. Stick it out. Put your shoulders to the grindstone and press on.

Such teachings would be utterly hypocritical of me. Every time I’ve ever quit anything -- a tepid relationship, a boring job, a movie that got dull -- my life got immediately better.

Whenever the going got tough, I got golfing. And, surprisingly, it’s all worked out rather well.

Val says Josie enjoys cheerleading and she clearly does. And she is adorable. And unlike the cool, aloof cheerleaders of my youth, she loves me unabashedly. We hold hands as we walk to practice. We laugh and joke and just have a splendid time.

She’s given me many of the most joyful moments of my entire life.

Maybe my problem is that I finally have a cheerleader and I just can’t stand the thought that she’s out there cheering for anyone but me, as pathetic a fatherly thought as could be considered and one that provokes a raft of psychological pitfalls.

It could give a deep thinker an opportunity to wrestle for hours with big questions about lost youth, advancing mortality and the bittersweet residue of lusts unfulfilled.

What’s it mean to a guy like me?

Time to quit!

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