Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I mentioned a ballplayer in my last post and later realized I should give you guys some background in order to understand me better.  This gets pretty personal so, if deep-rooted psychology scares you, now is the time to head toward the exit...

I've always had a complicated relationship with sports.  On one hand, there is intrinsic joy in all movement and athletics can celebrate physical grace.  On the other hand, sports as they are practiced in our society are too often corrupted by competition.  Competition can be destructive and sap all the fun out of playing.  You'd know what I mean if you saw angry fathers screaming at their sons playing Little League baseball.  Too many adult men torture little boys in sports.  The worst parenting I've ever seen has been on ballfields.

Sports are also deeply encoded with gender in our society.  While games themselves are not inherently gender-specific, they are often seen that way.  My parents, for example, viewed sports as the socially-approved activity for boys, so they imposed sports on me (and my brother) as a way to prove to the world that their sons were real men.  During my early childhood, I expressed repeated desires to be treated as a girl which terrified my parents.  They forcefully beat that out of me.  I learned my natural inclinations were completely unacceptable to my parents and that if I wanted their love, it was conditional on acting masculine.

The prime symbol of gender-normalcy in my family was participation in sports.  I was pushed into sports early on and learned that engaging in them placated my parents.  To gain my parents' love, I dove into athletics and worked feverishly at it.

I played three sports at a serious level: baseball, soccer and wrestling.  I developed my natural talents to their limit and played on varsity teams.  While also being an academic overachiever (I finished 7th in my high school class of 860 kids), I won multiple sporting awards.  I was the only smart kid who played sports in my school, and the only athlete who was good at schoolwork.  Each year, I won the "Scholar-Athlete" award by a wide margin because I was the only kid with a foot in both worlds.

Here's an example from my youth of my fervor.  During a heated soccer-match, an opponent tried to kick the ball, missed and caught the inside of my kneecap, totally dislocating it.  In great pain and completely unable to stand, I was taken to a hospital where an immobilizing knee-brace was put on.  Two days later, I returned to practice where I "ran" laps around the field with a leg that couldn't bend and a 10-lb. brace on it.  The pain was excruciating but I pushed through it.  The coach and my teammates thought I was dedicated to the game; in reality, I was doing this to get my parents to love me.

My strongest impulse in my youth was to please my parents.  They were immigrants and anxious about their standing in American society.  When their first-born son achieved honors in sports and at school, they felt better about themselves as parents.  My successes were, in their eyes, reflections on them.

I didn't want to disappoint my parents, so I did the things they pushed me toward.  Sports was the biggest example.  Now, when I think about sports, I can't separate the activities from the often-negative role they played in my life.  Thus, I have mixed feelings about sports.  In some way, sports were a tool to oppress me and I resent them for being that.

Growing up, did you care about pleasing your parents?  And did that affect your upbringing?


  1. Wow, that is complex. It is very true though in many households. My Husband wants our youngest son to play sports but has issues because my oldest son would rather read and draw than play sports. The only thing that I strived for to please my parents was to do well in school.

  2. Aw, I feel so bad for you as a kid. Why do our parents mess us up so much?

    In my family, I am the eldest and "the smart one." My younger brother is "the jock." Both of us knew these roles from very early on - it probably didn't help that I was terrible at team sports (whereas as an adult I have excelled at solo pursuits, like doing a marathon) and my brother was dyslexic (which was not discovered until he was nearly out of school).

    Both of us felt the pressure to be more like the other - and it has taken many years for us to come to terms with the jealousy that each of us felt for the other. I've worked through a lot of my own issues with my Mom (my dad died before I could sort out those), and with my brother, but even now we tend to fall into the old roles when all three of us are together. *sigh*

  3. Wow, how very harsh.
    If our parents only knew how much they hurt with their actions.
    At home we are 3. I am the eldest of 2 brothers.
    They were always giving my mom a hard time, getting in trouble, getting DUIs, debt, drugs and so on.
    So I was looked upon as the responsible one and the one that does not make mistakes.
    Let me tell you these are very heavy labels to carry around.
    Sometimes I secretly envy the fact that nothing was expected of them.
    Today they are "on the right path", as both finished College and one is even going back for an MBA.. but I envy the fact that they did whatever they wanted.
    We were "measured" differently and it took a toll on me.

  4. I admire your ability to cast some light over "dark periods" of your life... and eventually everybody else's life as well. I think all people share common experiences and once we aknowledge that it's much easier to bond with each other, regardless of the age, race, financial and social differences! You're an excellent example of that! Back to sensitive matters now - I was a bit like you. An overachiever. I was trying new things and try to be the best in everything I did, just to please my parents. Up to this point, I still struggle to overcome my need to be "the best" in every single thing I do...

  5. Sadly, so many people have suffered through this. I played sport, but a serious fracture in Grade 8 saw me sidelined and then I went wild. I can't quite explain all the 'stuff' .. but it was insane. I looked for attention, but not through school. Too many things were happening at home that made school simply a necessary evil.

  6. Thanks for sharing intimate stuff, guys. I'm impressed at your candor and appreciative of your friendship.

  7. You did have a very trying childhood, didn't you. Thanks for sharing this stuff. It sure makes one think. I cannot remember consciously doing stuff to please my parents. But doesn't everyone do stuff on some level to meet their parents' approval?

  8. Very much so & nothing felt good enough...I have always been treated different from my siblings which has caused a lot of pain.

    Thank you for being so honest and open about your childhood. You obviously love your parents very much. It's really sad to know how social "norms" had such an effect on what was expected from you. It's sad to think about what your parents felt you needed to be and the pressure to change. Im really sorry you had to experience that.

    You are a strong individual! I don't think there's many people out there to be abl to confess like you have. And to have such insight. Thank you for sharing.

    I really think things need to change. Why do we base our norms on what society and media dictate? And worse, why are the children being pressured to be a certain way?

  9. Good questions, Ashelle. I thought society would improve over time but, after seeing a half-century go by, the norms and pressures are still there. There has been no discernable improvement for the plights of the socially-deviant. My hope for tolerance has been unrealized.

  10. I was a dancer for many years, and you see the same kinds of things. I remember all the mothers hovering at the window outside our dance studio, and being quite catty to one another over whose kid was "best," under a guise of friendship. Quite disturbing actually. This is really common. I am not a naturally competitive person at all, but I feel my parents and others have forced me to become moreso ...

  11. I'm very lucky because my mom was never like that. In fact, she was anything but. I started playing soccer when I was 7 or 8 because I wanted to. At my first practice, I got hit square in the face with a ball--hard--but kept on going without even stopping to cry. I've always been like that, and I still am. If I want to do something, there's no stopping me. If I don't want to do something, my momma is always supportive of that (even today), and I can really, really appreciate that. I played volleyball for a year in middle school. I was signed up to play the next year, too, but I went to one practice and absolutely hated it. I told my mom and she told me to quit. Some parents would probably shutter at this thinking it endorses being a "quitter," but if you aren't enjoying something...why continue?

    My dad, on the other hand, is not so supportive. I've ALWAYS been practically a straight-A student. If I brought home an A-, the first thing out of his mouth was, "Why didn't you get an A?"

    Blah blah blah. I don't want to comment on your story too much because I think it speaks for itself. If I ever have kids, I'll push them to be their best in whatever they do, but if they aren't THE best, or don't want to do it in the first place, I'll respect that. Sports are a scary thing all around, starting with youth teams. Not only do parents get mad when their kids aren't performing outstandingly, they get angry when OTHER kids aren't doing so hot, and--from what I've seen--are usually pretty verbal about it. I had soccer coaches from hell. I don't know how people can get THAT wrapped up in a youth soccer game. It's amazing, and scary. Very scary.

  12. I did try and please my parents, my mum didn't like the fact that I'm good at and enjoy different things to her. Its taken 40 plus years for us to get close to sorting that out.

    My friend has a little boy who likes to wear dresses, be firends with girls and do girly things. I think it would warm your heart if you could hear her talk about him and how she tries to let him be himself without being hurt by society.


  13. Wow, that must have been really hard for you. When I was in grad school getting my MA in sociology, I spent a lot of time researching the socialization of gender-roles, especially in early childhood development.
    At the time, I had no kids nor did I even think I would have any. Now that I am a mom, I'm so happy that's what I studied. A major reason that I decided to home-school my two boys is because I'm not a fan of the cog in the wheel education system or the gender crap that goes along with it.
    My boys are very sweet and loving. My oldest loves dance, playing baseball and rugby, wearing sparkly shoes, and his long hair. I would hate for his gentle nature to get bullied out of him by kids who are only repeating the negative statements that they have heard from their parents.
    I have heard too many times already from other kids that boys don't dance, have long hair, wear pink shoes etc. I always retort with, "Well B is a boy and he is (fill in the blank). I guess boys do that after all." The kids are always kind of quiet after that and generally that's the end of it.
    I always make a point of telling my boys that they can do and be whatever they want and that mom and dad will love them no matter what.
    While I may not have the research/teaching position I set out to get while at University, I feel that this job as a home-schooling mom is much more important and fulfilling. I want to raise people who are kind and understanding and secure in who they are, whoever they may turn out to be.

  14. Lori, you have an amazing attitude. I wish you'd been my mother. Really!

    Thanks, Sebbie, for sharing. Your friend is exceptional.

    Ashley, you always add to the conversation. I find myself wishing your comments were longer. :)

  15. Your story touched me. I've always admired you. Your bravery and courage, your confidence and commitment to yourself is inspiring. And now I understand where a lot of that comes from. It's unfortunate that we have to go through awful times to gain such strength but it's truly how it works for some of us.

    You are a survivor and an inspiration. Thanks for always telling the truth.


  16. I've been wondering lately about your relationship with sports and was going to ask you about it. You read my mind. :)

    You're a prime example that parents can't "cure" their child's gender if I ever saw one. If your child doesn't want to be a boy, no amount of sports or pushing to be in a certain career is going to remove the desire, for heaven's sake. Here you are, and you still want to be a girl. How much better things would have been had they just let you. It would've been hard for them, but parents are supposed to make sacrifices for their children, not the other way around. I totally get the negative connotations behind your relationship with sports. But if it's still something you enjoy to some level, give yourself permission to make it your own thing now, separate from their wishes. Easier said than done, I know. :) You get to decide now whether it's something you want to keep in your life because you like it or if you're still just bending to someone else's ideals (society's rather than your parents') or covering up. Sports can teach great lessons - working as a team, seeing what your body is capable of, learning to be committed to something...I guess like with anything else in life, you have to run it through your "gratefulness filter" and appreciate any good things you got out of it!

    I was very fortunate to have parents who never made me feel "less than." I did enough of that on my own!! As I've said before, I don't know exactly where that came from since they didn't impose it on me, but I think I was just born that way and had to train myself out of that mentality when I finally realized how exhausting and frustrating it was to live that way. I was always told they were proud of me; they celebrated everything I did. It's a wonder I struggled so long with feelings of needing to be perfect when they never made me feel like I wasn't. Maybe I subconsciously wanted to maintain their perception? But I always knew their love was unconditional. They had me try a few activities - ballet, clogging, piano, etc. - to see if I liked them, and once I stopped enjoying it, they let me stop doing it. Ballet and clogging were short-lived (I am NO dancer); piano lasted for 9 years (I should be doing concerts after that long, but really, I'm just alright at it - but it was fun). I found art, writing, and singing on my own.

    I was also born with a deep-seated need to please my parents, like you were. They never even had to spank, ground, or restrict me! If I did something wrong (which was rare since I was trying so hard to be good), a talk with me was enough. I put enough guilt on myself that they knew how much I regretted whatever it was I'd done. Come to think of it, they never really had to lay out rules for me. I just did what I was supposed to. Gosh, I hope I get a kid who's that easy! (Judging from how hubby was as a kid, my chances aren't great - heehee!)

    As far as organized sports go, it's just never been my thing...I'm terribly uncoordinated and awkward in sports (or was it my anxiety making me that way?) and just don't enjoy doing them for some reason. I'd play baseball over anything else; hitting the ball is pretty satisfying. Going to a game can be fun, if it's not football! The closest I've ever come to watching football and enjoying it was when I watched "The Blind Side." lol One thing I forgot to add to my "Jenarcissist Bares All" post was this girl in middle school who called me names in P.E. because I didn't know the rules for soccer and just stood there, paralyzed by fear that everyone was watching and judging. One thing I do enjoy (or would enjoy if I took the time to build up my endurance) is running; it feels very freeing to me. If I had the mindset in high school that I have now, I might've gone out for track. I am somewhat competitive; I just find other outlets for it! :)

  17. OMG!! I'm SO glad you don't mind long comments. Wow, that one really took the cake!! haha

  18. I love long comments. They mean a reader is engaged in the topic and sharing real thoughts.

  19. Growing up in an Asian family, all a child could do was please the family. If anything is done to do otherwise, the parents aren't the only ones involved, you get all your extended family in the discussion--aunts, uncles, grandparents etc. Talk about pressure, you've got the entire clan meddling (really) with your life until you're married--or until you move to the United States. :)

    I love your posts. They're so real and so interesting. Thanks for sharing your story.

  20. AW Ralph I wanna give you a big hug :(

    I am so sorry to hear that something you like is associated with something so horrible. I think the best thing to do here is make new, better memories of sports. You should come to MI and play kick-ball with me and Lauren! NEw Sport, New friends, New memory. I think you mentioned before that you liked dance, you should take lessons. OR Join a community soccer group?

  21. I can't believe that happened to you...I tried sports, I was a tennis & swimming athlete when I was in grade school then a swimming athlete in college, one of the very good in our class. but it was my choice. But most of the time, my parents, esp my mom, persuaded me to all their decisions inc love and education, I was like a remote control. In the end it was rewarding but emotionally, I felt I was a bit shattered. It's not yet too late, hej i am now treading to the decisions I am making in my life and, regardless of age, pursue what you still can do.=)

  22. HUGE sigh, I was just talking about this last night with a girl from my high school who was flipping out about this boy being mean to her (6 years ago) and I tried to explain that his dad pushed him way to hard in sports and it made it impossible for him to understand emotions and feelings after being constantly told to "man up". To this day I know he has trouble with social interaction because he was never smart he just thought sports could be the ONLY focus. Thus ending up not well rounded.
    I can't believe you had your knee dislocated and then ran on it. That is really intense. THe things we do for the love of our parents.
    Have you read anything about "the tiger mother?" in the news lately? You should, its very interesting.
    PS- living at home I still totally care about pleasing my parents, which is driving me INSANE.