I never played soccer. As a kid, when I wasn’t nosing around in favorite books like The Great Brain or The Phantom Tollbooth, or tinkering with my Lego Alpha-1 Rocket Base and crater plates, I was kicking up dust on the hill of a baseball diamond. For a while I played football (aka “the American kind”), while pummeling my forearms black and blue. But never soccer.Then I became a dad.
Not just any kind of dad. I became the Imperfect Dad of two girls – two wonderfully creative, nerdy and active girls. As a work-from-home daddy, I’ve been lucky enough to be with both of them nearly every single day since they were born. For the purposes of Raising Nerd I’ll call them RocketteGirl, a dancing, high-kicking, chemistry- and Minecraft-loving, bookish Nerd, who is 8-going-on-9; and Lighting McQueen, who also likes to shred a rug and, at 6-going-on-7, is a fast-striking, videogame-playing, knee-high ninja in dangly earrings. Now that I’m on board starship Raising Nerd, you’ll be getting to know all about them.
Once RocketteGirl hit her second year of preschool, the sweet siren call of soccer pulled her in. Same thing happened with her little sis two years later.
When it immediately became clear that both girls really liked soccer, were getting great exercise playing it, and were developing invaluable bonds with teammates, who was I to suggest they move on to, say, tee ball?
RocketteGirl did play one season of tee ball (I mean, you can’t blame a dad for trying). But, ultimately, her and her sister chose soccer as their spring and fall team sports to compliment their solo sport Tae Kwon Do. I didn’t fight it.
I have been to almost every soccer practice and game for both girls from day one. Together we watched the US Women’s Soccer team play in the 2015 World Cup. And because I always hung around practice during Lighting McQueen’s first season, and the original assistant coach was never there, I officially became her coach two years ago, basically by default.
I rationalized my decision to coach a sport I 1) never liked, 2) never played, 3) rarely if ever watched, and 4) for which I knew virtually none of the rules.
But here’s the thing. It didn’t matter what I liked. It didn’t matter what I wanted. The most important thing was for me and their mom to encourage them to explore what they like and to pursue a variety of things until they find what satisfies them. That’s not to say I don’t have some influence on their choice of activities and don’t introduce them to my own cool science finds, adventures, and pop cultural phenomena. RocketteGirl’s love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Lightning McQueen’s obsession with How It’s Made are proof I most certainly do. And if they don’t dig my interests, that’s OK, too.
Encouraging them to do what they like wasn’t enough. For them to stick with an activity – any activity – I felt like I should get more involved myself, whether I knew what the heck I was doing or not. The same thing goes for me getting involved with their school projects, reading preferences, club activities…and, yes, entertainment consumption.
The great thing about all this is that my approach isn’t just anecdotal. It’s backed by mounds of research on the positive impact of parents, particularly dads, being involved with their kids. The broad benefits kids get from having an involved dad are clear.
According to the 2016 State of America’s Fathers report, the benefits of dad involvement work both ways. Dads who are actively involved and have good relationships with their kids are more likely to take care of their own health, be connected to their communities, and less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. It’s as important for kids to be involved in the lives of dads as it is for dads to be involved with their kids.
Understandably, not everyone is able to be home and available during the day like me. Many parents are challenged by work schedules limiting the time they can spend with their kids.
The good news is that research also suggests that the quality of time you spend with your Nerds may be even more important than the quantity. When you are there, showing them you’re interested and asking about the experiences and activities that excited them in and out of school that day can help feed their creative energy, inspire more learning, and keep you connected.
It amazes me how sometimes just being there for our kids – in tune and without distraction – can be enough.
So what if I don’t like soccer? Or molding miniature food out of clay? Or rock collecting? Or messy crystal growing sets? Or Minecraft? It doesn’t matter. I’m getting there and these have given me endless opportunities to engage with and learn from my kids, and vice-versa. Whatever their “things” are today, next month or next year, I’m going to encourage their process of discovery and make the effort to become as passionate about those things as my girls are.
What new interest, hobby or obsession have you taken on since you began raising your Nerd? For comedian and notable Nerd Patton Oswalt, it’s My Little Pony. Tell us about yours in the comments.