Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Conditioned Frustration

Like many others, I've found myself far less physically active than I used to be in my youth. There are a lot of reasons for this, between the time commitments devoted to family and kid activities, increasing responsibilities at work and of course I'll own up to some laziness on my part. Tennis was my sport growing up, having played it competitively in high school, and while I played occasionally in college, the opportunities to play have been few and far between.

Since we've moved to the Houston area, my wife and I have had a couple of changes to play tennis. The convenience of having nice courts in our residential subdivision minutes away have made opportunities to play easy, as has the nice weather which extends for much of the year. So while I've found myself terribly rusty, I've been able to work off some of the kinks and work on my groundstrokes and service game.

What I find interesting is that I still react to unforced errors, or "mis-hits" in the same way that I used to in high school, despite the fact that I'm more than twice as old as I was back in my high school days and my worldview has changed dramatically, between going through the life-altering seasons of marriage and parenthood as well as devoting myself to my Christian faith. But my reaction upon volleying a ball into the net or sailing it ten feet beyond the baseline is still the same. I bend my arms and clench my racket in one hand and fist in the other and scream, "Oh, come on!" out loud to myself. It's sort of silly, but I've done this since I started playing tennis in sixth grade. But it's interesting that I still do this almost twenty years afterwards. One might think that many years of maturity would help me to chill out a little or be it's somehow stuck.

I think there's this conditioned response to frustration that tends to be difficult to break out of. I think the shouting on the tennis court is obviously a specific reaction to a specific type of frustration, but is emblematic of how human beings react to any sort of trial or hardship. And like the shouting during tennis, getting older in of itself doesn't change how we cope with difficulties. As children we threw tantrums, withdrew, blamed others, or whined when things didn't get our way. As adults, we do very much the same things, except that we do so in a way which just seems more grown-up - we may use more advanced vocabulary in our tantrums or whining and we're a little more subtle in our blame deflection.

So God help me - I'm less concerned about me shouting at myself on the tennis court, but I certainly hope that over time my conditioned response to frustrating situations would be increasingly patient, gracious and wise.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning to Love Things for Love's Sake

Two of the major life events people experience are getting married and having children. Indeed, these two events have a profound impact upon how an individual makes decisions and prioritizes his or her time. Like how a little yeast leavens the whole loaf of bread, being married and having children colors every part of one's life.

A couple of weekends ago, I went with my son to a "Fun with Son" Cub Scout outing, a time where "scouts enjoy BB guns, archery, sling shots, crafts, sports, games, campfire, and more". For yours truly, a suburban guy who has bad seasonal allergies, is repelled by insects and nature smells, hates the outdoors and feels much more comfortable in front of a laptop, television and any sort of electronic gizmo, this outing pretty much seemed liked a lousy way to spend a Saturday. This is where the apple fell pretty far from the tree, because this is exactly what my son would dial up if he were to concoct a perfect day.

So trying to be a good dad, I drove the 90 minutes out towards the country with my son, and as always, I enjoyed time in the car just chatting about random topics and life in general. We talked about our life in Texas, how flat the landscape was compared to New Jersey, school, God, friendships and current events. We talked about friends, relatives, cars and houses. And as I've noticed, with each passing year where I've had a chance to enjoy lengthy alone time with my son in the car, our conversations have evolved to be more mature and thoughtful.

When we got to the ranch, I encouraged my son to get to know some of the other scouts in our pack, and in under blue skies and the gentle warmth of the Texas sun, I watched my son create and launch air rockets, hammer out a leather bracelet and fire a BB gun and slingshot. I rallied the scouts in our camping area to play a little two-hand touch football and joined my son in rubber chicken volleyball (don't ask). With the exception the touch football, would I opt to do these activities with these folks (a largely nice group of people, though you do have pockets of Ned Flanders-like and separatist militia-like eccentrics) as a way to spend a weekend? Not by a long shot. But given the chance to hang out with my son, I couldn't be happier.

Such is fatherhood. A father isn't going to share every interest with his son. And try as they may, no father can coerce a boy's heart (nor should they) to only gravitate towards what a father loves to do. And provided that my son's interests are legal and healthy, I'll learn to love those things out of respect and support for his unique personality. As long as he's willing to have me as his sidekick, I'll look forward to those long talks in the car.