Society puts a whole lot of harsh expectations on young children. Sometimes there’s an especially large amount of pressure for small boys to be “manly” and “tough,” but this can dehumanize them, and it ignores the very real feelings that every person, regardless of gender, experiences.
When one father heard his son had some trouble during soccer practice, telling him to “man-up” just didn’t feel right.
Instead, the touching advice he gave his son was far more genuine, heartwarming, and useful.
Last week, Clint Edwards was picking up his son from soccer practice when the coach approached him.
“My son’s soccer coach pulled me aside after practice to tell me Tristan had a breakdown,” Edwards wrote in a Facebook post. “‘Or something like that,’ he said. ‘He started crying so he sat out for a bit.’”
His son’s eyes never left the ground during this conversation. The 10-year-old boy was clearly ashamed at his own behavior and perceived weakness.
The two went back to the car in silence as Edwards contemplated how he should approach this issue.
“As a father of a boy, there was a part of me that wanted to tell him to toughen up,” Edwards wrote in a Facebook post. “To stop this BS and play the game like a man. I assumed that’s what the coach wanted me to do.”
But Edwards, whose own father had left him when he was only 9, had heard that sort of advice all his life.
“‘Toughen up talk’ didn’t make me feel stronger,” Edwards wrote in a Facebook post. “It made me feel weaker. It made me quit.”
Instead, he offered to take his son to get some ice cream on one condition: His son had to tell him exactly what happened and then listen to his advice.
As they drove, his son relayed the story of what made him feel so sad—he had been playing soccer for five years, but the other kids were better than him. He did not feel like he was improving, and he wanted to quit.
Edwards thought long and hard about what he said next, but when they got to McDonalds to have their ice cream, he tried to give his son the words of advice he needed.
Edwards said sometimes winning isn’t the most important thing—‘it’s about showing up and trying.’
“It’s not about being the best right there and then,” Edwards wrote in a Facebook post. “It’s about growth. It’s about showing up and trying, really trying. It’s about gaining skills. Your whole life will be like this: sports, school, work, family. It’s all about showing up and trying. Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting any better at this whole dad thing. But I keep showing up and trying. Life is like that.”
His son seemed to be listening.
“Does that make sense?” Edwards said.
“‘Not really,’ he said.”
Edwards wasn’t sure if his advice had sunk in. But then he asked one more question.
“‘Are you going to quit soccer?’ I asked.
He took another bite.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m going to keep trying.’
‘Awesome,’ I said. ‘So am I.'”
Sometimes the best advice comes from a place of understanding rather than callousness.