Wrestling with Fatherhood

How one dad became the parent he wanted his child to have.



by Jeanne Seagle

In the eighth grade, I signed up for wrestling. I was ecstatic. My mother, on the other hand, felt I was too small for contact sports. In her defense, I was a beanpole of a kid. I’m sure I looked too frail for a sport that required picking someone up and hurling them to the ground. My first day on the wrestling team, I was scared to death of my chiseled teammates, but I felt ready to become the alpha male I knew lurked beneath my scrawny frame. I was determined to show my athleticism and dominance over every other 92-pound eighth-grader in the tri-county area.

As we practiced, I quickly reconsidered my decision. We ran. We ran before, after, and during practice. And while we didn’t lift weights, the push-ups made my muscles scream. We did push-ups on our fingertips, push-ups on closed fists. We did one-armed push-ups. We even did slow motion push-ups that hurt so badly I’d forget to breathe.  

While I was convinced being on the team would kill me, I continued going for two reasons. One was that I understood that if I could take the pain the other wrestlers put themselves through, then, I could look like they did. How I longed for their Charles Atlas physiques.

The other reason was to prove my mother wrong. I wanted her to know I wasn’t a frail kid, that I was tough enough to take the hard knocks. And there were plenty. There was one kid in particular who, despite being my weight, could destroy me with ease on the mat. I’m convinced it was often just to let me know he could do so. He was the A team guy, and I was the B team guy, but I knew next year, he’d move on to high school and I’d be the A team guy. 

Then, one day later in the season, I just didn’t go. I skipped out, not on a practice but on a match. My coach was livid. The previous day, the A team guy who could beat me so handily had been suspended from school. The match I skipped ended up being a forfeited loss for our squad, and it would have been my A team debut, a year earlier than I had expected.

The coach called my father, and asked that my sweats and singlet be returned to the school. I was off the team. I’d never be the A guy. I wouldn’t have any trophies to show off. I would forfeit, too, the chiseled physique.

It took me years to understand why I skipped out on that wrestling match, but when I finally understood, much of my life began to make sense. I was afraid of losing. What happens if you truly fail? I don’t mean not showing up for a match. I mean, trying your best and not making the cut. I could shrug off getting kicked off the squad. It was losing after I had made a complete effort — it was being the A team guy — that scared me.

Attempting things only to back out before achieving success became a pattern in my life. I had always dreamed of writing, but after college that dream, too, was abandoned for a more secure nine-to-five gig. I would still write on occasion, but I always abandoned the work somewhere in the middle of a revision.

Then, in my mid-thirties, something amazing happened. I became a dad. When I held that tiny bundle in my arms for the first time, I was overwhelmed. It was the fear of being on the A team all over again. Only this time, I couldn’t turn in my uniform.  

The challenge had to be accepted, but the challenge wasn’t just providing for my son’s physical needs. It was just as much about pride. No, not mine. His pride. I wanted, above all else, for my boy to be proud of his pop. But first, I realized I had to take pride myself. To be the father I wanted to be meant picking up the old dream of writing. I began putting words on the computer screen, and, before long, articles, essays, and poems became published works. Now, every night, my computer is on and I write until bedtime.  

Success is far easier than I could have ever imagined. What I’ve discovered is that you must simply find something to be successful for. Now, I call myself a writer, and all because I want to be a good dad. The best part is when my son sets his desk up next to mine, using my old, broken computer and a stack of books so he can write like daddy. It is then that I’m reminded that I’ve finally made it on the A team.

 

In the eighth grade, I signed up for wrestling. I was ecstatic. My mother, on the other hand, felt I was too small for contact sports. In her defense, I was a beanpole of a kid. I’m sure I looked too frail for a sport that required picking someone up and hurling them to the ground. My first day on the wrestling team, I was scared to death of my chiseled teammates, but I felt ready to become the alpha male I knew lurked beneath my scrawny frame. I was determined to show my athleticism and dominance over every other 92-pound eighth-grader in the tri-county area.

As we practiced, I quickly reconsidered my decision. We ran. We ran before, after, and during practice. And while we didn’t lift weights, the push-ups made my muscles scream. We did push-ups on our fingertips, push-ups on closed fists. We did one-armed push-ups. We even did slow motion push-ups that hurt so badly I’d forget to breathe.  

While I was convinced being on the team would kill me, I continued going for two reasons. One was that I understood that if I could take the pain the other wrestlers put themselves through, then, I could look like they did. How I longed for their Charles Atlas physiques.

The other reason was to prove my mother wrong. I wanted her to know I wasn’t a frail kid, that I was tough enough to take the hard knocks. And there were plenty. There was one kid in particular who, despite being my weight, could destroy me with ease on the mat. I’m convinced it was often just to let me know he could do so. He was the A team guy, and I was the B team guy, but I knew next year, he’d move on to high school and I’d be the A team guy. 

Then, one day later in the season, I just didn’t go. I skipped out, not on a practice but on a match. My coach was livid. The previous day, the A team guy who could beat me so handily had been suspended from school. The match I skipped ended up being a forfeited loss for our squad, and it would have been my A team debut, a year earlier than I had expected.

The coach called my father, and asked that my sweats and singlet be returned to the school. I was off the team. I’d never be the A guy. I wouldn’t have any trophies to show off. I would forfeit, too, the chiseled physique.

It took me years to understand why I skipped out on that wrestling match, but when I finally understood, much of my life began to make sense. I was afraid of losing. What happens if you truly fail? I don’t mean not showing up for a match. I mean, trying your best and not making the cut. I could shrug off getting kicked off the squad. It was losing after I had made a complete effort — it was being the A team guy — that scared me.

Attempting things only to back out before achieving success became a pattern in my life. I had always dreamed of writing, but after college that dream, too, was abandoned for a more secure nine-to-five gig. I would still write on occasion, but I always abandoned the work somewhere in the middle of a revision.

Then, in my mid-thirties, something amazing happened. I became a dad. When I held that tiny bundle in my arms for the first time, I was overwhelmed. It was the fear of being on the A team all over again. Only this time, I couldn’t turn in my uniform.  

The challenge had to be accepted, but the challenge wasn’t just providing for my son’s physical needs. It was just as much about pride. No, not mine. His pride. I wanted, above all else, for my boy to be proud of his pop. But first, I realized I had to take pride myself. To be the father I wanted to be meant picking up the old dream of writing. I began putting words on the computer screen, and, before long, articles, essays, and poems became published works. Now, every night, my computer is on and I write until bedtime.  

Success is far easier than I could have ever imagined. What I’ve discovered is that you must simply find something to be successful for. Now, I call myself a writer, and all because I want to be a good dad. The best part is when my son sets his desk up next to mine, using my old, broken computer and a stack of books so he can write like daddy. It is then that I’m reminded that I’ve finally made it on the A team.

 

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