My children aren’t regular readers of my Sunday column, even though they’re frequently featured in it. Because of this, I feel comfortable in confiding in you about something: I’m not very good at a lot of things.
I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there who knows his limitations. Still, my kids are at a wonderful stage in their lives when they believe I can do no wrong. I want to encourage that belief, because I know the next stage is believing I can do nothing right except ruin their lives.
I can’t bump a volleyball correctly. My geography skills aren’t very good without Google Maps in front of me. I never learned to play a musical instrument. My dancing is so bad it makes Elaine from Seinfeld look like she’s one of the pros on “Dancing with the Stars.”
I’ve always had the same limitations, but I turned them into jokes. My kids think I dance like that because I’m trying to be funny. They assume I can play something more than the three-note version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano. I’ll throw in fake places, such as East Virginia and West Carolina, when I can’t remember what states touch each other.
As they try different things, they’re starting to see some real chinks in Dad’s armor.
My 11-year-old daughter started playing on a Catholic Youth Organization volleyball team this year. Beyond practice, she wants to work with me in the backyard, serving and bumping the volleyball over the swing set. I can get the ball to the other side, but I have relatively little control over where it goes.
At first, she thought it was funny, that Dad was playing some silly game with her. Over time, she realized that despite my best efforts, we spent more time chasing the ball than hitting it.
One day, she looked at me square in the eyes and asked, “You’re not any better at this than I am, are you, Dad?”
I sheepishly answered, “You’re probably better at it.”
Even my 5-year-old sees it. We were coloring together recently when she told me her teacher told her how important it was to color inside the lines. I agreed with her wise teacher. Then the 5-year-old stared me down and asked why I wouldn’t do it if I knew it was important.
Again, I make a joke that I should’ve listened to my kindergarten teacher better, then I could color inside the lines better. I know I should’ve heeded by second-grade teacher’s warnings to slow down and hold a pen correctly so my writing would be more legible. They’ll discover Dad’s awful penmanship in time, the same way my co-workers have when they come back to me to ask what my sloppy writing means.
Limitations offer us real life lessons. We can try to avoid those things we’re not so good at, or we can rush right into them and try to counter them. We can say “I can’t,” or we can say “I’ll try.” I hope my children never watch me avoid a challenge worth overcoming just because I know it’s a challenge for me.
I may not be very good at a lot of things, but I’m not afraid either. I hope they learn to be fearless too.