And how fathers leave an indelible mark on them
"I wonder if my success was part of his identity too. Or, more specifically, I wonder if my lack of success threatened his identity as a successful man and father." If you wonder if if it did, it probably did. I bet it did. And—I bet he was also stressed, or hungry, or both. Regardless, it's just so remarkable how that little "C'mon Lyle" echoes so deeply. For me the echo is, or was, or still is, but much less than it was—anxiety. Usually it's a small anxious moment about forgetting something, but, as a I wrote about in this piece on "Anxious Masculinity," that spilled drop of water grows and grows until... the ship is sinking.
I love the image of your "fingerprints" as artifacts.
Great piece Lyle.
A very thoughtful piece, Lyle. I always think it's amazing that parents get even SOME of it right! Have you read Gibran's view on parenthood and children? "You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."
When I became a parent I recalled the very random things I remembered hearing my own parents say. As is human nature, my memories were the negative ones.
It's a scary prospect for a parent, never knowing which comment of yours will become one of the ones that take hold of your child's memory and stay there permanently. It makes you careful, but perfection is unrealistic.
I've had my share of unwise parental comments, but they were mutually recognized as such and they've become stories of self-deprecating humor among my own adult children and me. I suppose that's the best we can hope for. Acknowledge our inevitable parental miscues and make fun of ourselves for making them.
Wow. So deep. So universal. I sent this post to my brother, who adored baseball too, in his Little League team and as a Washington Senators fan in the ‘60s. My brother wrote back extolling what an excellent writer you are! The post reminded me of a time my dad too harshly criticized my brother as a way of defending me after a sibling spat, and I worried at the time about how our dad’s words made my brother feel. And this post made me rethink the times I had criticized Alicia growing up (hopefully not many!!!) And I thought of the times harsh words from my own mother affected me profoundly, and how my emotional memory of her words has continually changed over the years. And I thought of the harsh words I said in anger to a kind and deeply healing older mentor of mine, after years of deep kindness and wisdom and time he’d given me. My harsh words were said in fleeting anger and misunderstanding and my words caused me to lose him from my life. He had always said, among many wise signature phrases of his, “WORDS... are important...”
This is a really great and relatable piece, we all have our C'mon Lyle moment whether we are aware of it or not and we all have that inner critic! The shaming and fear of being shamed is the work I went to Salt Lake City to do - get intimate with my fears, befriend them and then get intimate with all the rest of my emotions and inner voice, lovely to see you are doing that work too!
Interesting how we're all dealing with these generational traumas that have been coming down to us since WWII.
I had a similar experience in that I WOULD HAVE been a pro baseball player if someone had encouraged me and showed me how to go about it.
But that isn't what my Dad knew. He knew what a "real" career was, and it wasn't that. Playing baseball as a career was almost like cheating. It wasn't "honorable."
I ended up in IT, and was able to utilize my intellect, but I often dream what a shot at the pros might have looked like. Even if it didn't work out - I sure wish I would have tried. And I wish my Dad had taken to the time to look into it when he saw my talent, and see what might have been done.
Those are the demons, aren't they?
Nice article, all of these.
That point, which Bowen quotes below, about how your father might have seen your performance on the field as a reflection on him is such a perceptive one. As Latham observed in his essay, good fatherhood often means reminding ourselves "it's not about me." But as a kid, that sense of being exposed or called out -- of a protective figure not having your back in public -- can cut really deep. I appreciate how your essay is not really about that so much as it is about how to avoid making the same mistake yourself. And you do a nice job of balancing your father as a character: a hard worker who made sacrifices, who may have been called out in earlier chapters of his life by a harmful script. That's such an important part of memoir writing -- the attempt to understand what might have contributed to someone else's behavior. It's a generous and necessary move on your part.
Really appreciate this essay!
This is a piece that resonates and connects with me and the limited experiences I’ve had with my own father. The other men my mom brought around is a whole other story that I might heal and liberate from.
It’s inevitable, isn’t it, that ruptures will be experienced in our lives of interpersonal relationships? Those relationships we are most attached and attaching to will be felt the most deeply, temporally, and meaningfully. What does the individual and the relationship do to acknowledge these and repair them. Restore, as much as possible the rupture, bump, bruises, or brokenness that may result in our words and actions? That’s what I’m interested in. Acknowledgment, presence, and repair. May each of us find repair and balance the entirety of the experiences as you have done here. Thank you for your share.
Oh man Lyle. Whew. So many parallels in our stories. I was named Dee after Dee Fondy, a journeyman major leaguer that my Dad worshiped as a kid growing up. When you talk about your Dad’s voice always being there in your head when you make a mistake. 🥲
“Reflecting back on that moment when he said those words to me from the stands, I wonder if my success was part of his identity too. Or, more specifically, I wonder if my lack of success threatened his identity as a successful man and father.”
Powerful piece my friend. Thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Lyle :) Since I’m not a parent yet myself but am specializing in coaching mothers, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about and reflecting on parenting from the lens of my experience as a child, and your experience here is so, so relatable. I’m constantly noticing old wounds in myself like the one you shared, and trying to prevent new wounds (esp as I embark on a new career path that was not part of “the plan” :)).
I’m reading “untamed” by Glennon Doyle right now and in the spirit of synchronicity, I just read a chapter yesterday where she talks about parents expectations and the messiness between who a child is and who their parents want them to be. She shared a mantra I absolutely adore that was something like: “what if parenting became less about telling our children who they should be and more about asking them again and again forever who they already are? Then, when they tell us, we would celebrate... it’s not ‘I love you no matter which of my expectations you meet or don’t meet.’ It’s that ‘my only expectation is that you become yourself.’”
I think that idea will be my North Star if I’m fortunate enough to be a parent one day.
It’s a wonderful thing you have the awareness you have for your daughters. You’re already miles ahead. Keep shining! 🌟
Great piece. I hope you hear a positive version of "C'mon Lyle" on a regular basis! we all need it.
Great piece of writing Lyle. Similar experiences in my early life have weighed me down for years. Thanks for sharing so honestly. It helps. On many levels.👏✍️
hope you don't mind my posting a link to one of my own, but I thought you might be interested in this, about my dad. It's a different story to yours though, but hopefully interesting nonetheless: https://terryfreedman.substack.com/p/bravery
I am in the process of finally realising that my ambitions don't necessarily resonate with the ones that my parents had envisioned for me. The truly unsettling part about this is that now I feel like I have no direction. I often find myself torn between the desire to pursue my own dreams and the knowledge that I will likely always be a disappointment to the ones who raised me, through no fault of my own. It's a feeling that I'm still learning to navigate.
Oh man Lyle. Thanks for sharing so freely of yourself.
"When I close my eyes and relive that moment, I feel that little boy shrink into shame. He wants to curl up in the corner of the dugout and cry. But he would be mortified if he cried in front of his team. A second later, he’s angry. Angry at his dad for the overly harsh tone. Then he tries to rationalize his failure. Big leaguers strike out all the time, he thinks. If they are successful ⅓ of the time in their career, they’re a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t know what to do with this onslaught of varying emotions in such quick succession. Instead of letting his emotions flow through him, he grabs his mitt, trots out onto the field, and suppresses them all."
I read the above and I felt my chest tighten up. I think all of us have had those moments, and I'm haunted by the fear that I might inadvertently do the same to my kids when I'm not my best self. I'm really happy to know you've found ways to work through those old scripts, even as it's taken both of us into our 40s to really know what we're doing with them.
I loved this beautiful reflection.
Lyle, I’m not sure this is relevant but wow, this video is interesting! This mother is wonderful, all parents should be like this, she must be a therapist! I think I’ve spent a lot of my life Re-parenting myself in certain ways. This little boy has such a good start!!