Arriving on Jet Plane

A significant event in the life our church happened this week, but it was even more significant for another group of people. The Syrian refugee family that we are sponsoring arrived in Canada, and I went with my family to meet them at the airport and sit down for supper with a small group of others. It was a beautiful evening, and I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t want to do a typical “listen to all the misconceptions I had blown away, and so if you stil have the same misconceptions I had yesterday, shame on you” kind of posts. Still there were a number of things that came to my mind that I thought were noteworthy.

It was chaotic at first. Airports are confusing places sometimes, and so for a little while, there were three groups; my family and other church members who arrived late because of unexpected traffic problems, representatives from our partner agency Mennonite Central Committee who had been at many welcomes like this before, and the newly arrived family, all waiting in different parts of the airport. When we finally found each other though, there was still a delay. The wife and children were with us, but the father and one of our volunteer translators were not. We asked where they were and we were told that they were helping another Syrian family, friends from the same plane. Assuming they were friends from Syria we said it was great that they could travel together with friends, but in fact, this was simply another refugee family they had connected with on the airplane. They were supposed to meet a government representative after they got off the plane, but they missed them and came out to the terminal. Once that was worked out, we were free to go, but the people we were helping were also helping others. The circle of help continued at other times of the evening as well.

Our whole group sat down for supper at the home where the refugee will settle in for a few days before moving into their apartment. It wasn’t big enough for everyone to sit around the table, but there would be room in adjacent rooms, so we started grabbing food and plates. I sat down with my kids at the main table, but very quickly I realized that we were out of place. The other children went through the line too, but they followed their mothers to the nearby living room, and when they were done eating (not necessarily when their plates were empty, just like my kids) they went to another room where there were toys and video games. Without anyone directing us, the group was pretty soon mostly segregated, with the men around the main table, the women in the living room and the English and Arabic speaking kids playing together in the games room. If we had all formed one large circle, it would have been cozy, and we would have had moments of cultural learning, but it would have been unnatural. All of us enjoyed and learned from our circles, but not as a result of forced interaction.

Already, as a minor player in the process, I didn’t want to force my voice into the conversation, but I found myself holding back even more than normal. As it turns out, it’s pretty tough to talk about why a family would leave a country, what past and present events led to that country turning out this way, and what needs to be done to improve things, without talking politics. It also turns out to be pretty tough to talk about politics without betraying your allegiances. Maybe it’s my Canadian cultural sensitivities, my Mennonite Christian theological leanings or my introverted personality playing out, but I really shut down in these settings. Partly I’m worried about offending someone, partly I’m worried about being labeled as being part of a political camp that I don’t identify with, partly I see the futility of investing my emotional energy into which countries and leaders are to blame and which US presidential candidate can make things better or worse. Maybe, if someone had said ahead of time to avoid political conversations, the conversation may have been more civil (meaning only that the volume of voices wouldn’t have been raised as high). But, like our dinner, this would have been forced and would have provided only a theoretical benefit.

This process will be a long one, with lots of work and learning ahead for many people involved, but there is excitement about where it will take us.




The Kingdom of Heaven is like an All-Star Game

There was once an All-Star event where the players were lined up to be introduced to the fans. At the far end were two men, different in almost every way. One man, named Patrick, was a little under six feet tall, but highly skilled, highly paid, and high scoring, with few penalty minutes. The other man, named John, was well-over six feet, but low skill, low salary, and almost no points and many, many penalty minutes.

When it was almost time for them to be introduced, Patrick turned to John and said, “Watch, I’ll get booed, and you’ll get one of the loudest cheers.” It was seemingly an absurd prediction, but these words served as a reminder of the obvious; Patrick belonged there, John didn’t. Patrick had played in the All-Star game before, and John hadn’t. Patrick broke a record for scoring points this season, and John had one point, an assist, all season long. Patrick’s was a marquee name in one of the league’s oldest and strongest fan bases. John spent most of the season, sitting more than he played, on a team with arguably the smallest fan base in the league.

In order for fans to vote for John, they had to bypass all of the options the website suggested (including Patrick) and manually type in John’s name. This only happened because a journalist concocted a plan to vote John into the All-Star game sarcastically. You see, the All-Star game has become a bit of a joke, where some of the players who are voted in don’t show up, and many of the ones who don’t try very hard. So the plan, in some ways, was to respond to a joke of a game with a joke of a player. Voting for John was an insult, at least many perceived it that way, an insult to the league, and an insult to John. The league responded by telling John he didn’t belong and that he should decline the vote. John agreed, telling fans he didn’t belong and that they should instead vote for the other all-stars on his team, but he didn’t say that he would decline the vote. Maybe he was so convinced that he didn’t belong that he didn’t think it would come to that. So the league pushed again.

Just a few weeks before the game, John’s team traded him, and his new team sent him down to the minor leagues. The trade didn’t make a tonne of “hockey sense” and it led many to suspect that the league had engineered it. With him playing on a different team and even a different league, it would spare the league the insult of having a man play in the All-Star game who didn’t belong.

Whether or not they made the trade happen, it was clear that the league didn’t think John belonged in the game, and they haven’t hesitated in the past to work behind the scenes to make sure non-deserving people are excluded. Not only that, they are also willing to do what it takes to make things easier for the people who do belong, people like Patrick. Over the summer before the All-Star game, Patrick was accused of doing something very bad. Something so bad that just about anyone else in a public role would be asked to step away for a little while, or even be smart enough to do so voluntarily. The criminal charges have since been dropped, but other similar accusations have been made. Patrick was also charged in a different violent attack that happened a few years before. Still, Patrick is popular enough with the league, so not only does he not have the same obstacles as John, he lives under the league’s protection.

Patrick’s absurd prediction was correct. When John’s name was read, the arena thundered with applause, more than for any other star. When Patrick’s name was read, people booed, people who cheered for rival teams and people who think victims of crime should be taken seriously. But why would people cheer for John? Well, as the march toward the All-Star game went on, we, the fans, learned more about him. He wasn’t just a violent cartoon character goon we imagined him to be, but a man worthy of our respect and our support.

As it turned out, there was a moment where the story changed. John was considering turning down the invitation to the All-Star game, and in an effort to persuade him to do just that, a league official told him that if he went to the game, he would make a fool of himself and embarrass himself in front of his children. And that’s when it changed. Perhaps in John’s own eyes he didn’t belong, but he knew that in the eyes of his children, he did. And that was partly what made the trade that much more tragic. It meant that John, his two kids, and his eight months pregnant wife had to pack up everything and move from Pheonix to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

We don’t know for sure, but it looked like John wouldn’t be able to play in the All-Star game, until enough fans made enough of stink, that the league swallowed their pride and let him play. And he loved it. While other people seemed to be just going through the motions, John was having fun. When Patrick got booed, John laughed really hard.

During the games, John scored two goals, and his team won a million dollars in prize money to share between them. When it was all over, his teammates lifted him up on their shoulders, all 250 pounds of him. When it was time to announce who was the Most Valuable Player, and the winner of the new car, John’s name was called, and the camera panned to his beaming wife and joyful children. (She would later say that she cheered so hard after one of his goals that she had to tell herself to take it easy. The game was played on a Sunday, and she was scheduled to be induced on Thursday.)

This is one of the reasons why I love sports. I know a lot of people who, like John, are convinced that they don’t belong; that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, etc. John belonged in the All-Star game. He had enough votes, and that’s all that mattered. But it was only when he started to believe that he belonged that the All-Star game became worthy of him.


The David Bowie Effect

This has been a rough week for celebrity deaths. Yesterday, Celine Dion’s husband and manager, René Angélil passed away. Before him well known film actor Alan Rickman also died. And before him stage actor Brian Bedford. Each of these men were famous enough to trend on twitter, at least in Canada, after their deaths, but the one that started it all off was the iconic singer David Bowie.  Bowie trended the longest, because for a long time, everyone was talking about him. There was even a little bit of backlash, with a few people writing about how too many people were talking about him. And while they felt some backlash of their own for their perceived lack of sensitivity, they raised a valid question. But they weren’t simply saying that too many people were talking about his death or that he didn’t warrant the attention, but that given what they knew about the friends that share social media space with them, the amount of attention Bowie had been given after his death far outweighed the attention he had been given before his death.

There might be something bigger at work here. In some ways, this is the way that we as a society collectively mourn, but posting articles, videos and musings about a celebrity after they have died. It’s a pretty good bet that if someone older than 60 is trending on twitter, there is pretty chance that they’ve died. But there was something about David Bowie that I think made his death different.

I should make clear that I wasn’t a David Bowie fan. It wasn’t that I actively chose not to like him, but I was (and in some ways still am) just mostly so far outside the popular currents that I don’t know who is big and why. So, I am commenting, not as a fan, or as a critic, simply as an outsider.

But the nature of the comments about Bowie were different than other celebrities. With Rickman and Bedford, people talked about their acting abilities, and about the connections that they as fans made to the characters they portrayed. Alan Rickman was great at being a bad guy, but I also appreciated how he walked the fine line between good and (perceived) bad as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility and as Harry in Love Actually. And while I wasn’t a frequent guest at the Stratford Festival, I did appreciate Brian Bedford’s voice performance as Robin Hood in Disney’s animated adaptation. While there were some fans talking about their love of David Bowie’s music, as many or more were talking about the “roles” that he played. And I don’t mean the parts he played in various TV shows and movies (although I loved his appearance on The Extras) and I’m not saying that his presence was anymore artificial than any other celebrity. But David Bowie was the kind of celebrity that was known as much for his personality as he was for the art that he performed (as though the line between art and personality can neatly be drawn).

At the peak of his celebrity, David Bowie was “weird.” (I don’t use that word derogitorily, but any alternative I could think of, ie. outsider, different, alternative, freak, etc. either also carried the same stigma or just sounds too soft to be accurate, so I add the quotes to lessen the blow.) That was just who he was. And maybe it helped to deliver the “weird” music that he was writing, but it also helped to endear him to young people who saw themselves as “weird.” And I think therein lies our current juxtaposition. It is surprising to see how many people now identify as having been fans of David Bowie. For most of us, there is room in our social sphere for “weird” people, and we expect them to like and identify with “weird” celebrities. It can be surprising now to see which of our friends was a fan of David Bowie, because we didn’t see them as being “weird” then, at least not “weird” enough that they needed a “weird” hero to give them the courage to continue living out their “weird”ness.

The thing is, most of us saw ourselves as “weird.” Despite our constant striving to be “normal,” many of us accepted that we could never quite fit in, or that the only reason we did fit in was because people liked the artificial self that we were presenting more than the “weird” self that we were hiding. You can test this out. Look around the high school classrooms of your memory and estimate what percentage of people you thought were “cool” and which ones were “weird.” Now do the same in the professional and social circles today. But don’t just think about it, ask people if they were “cool” or “weird” in high school. You will be surprised at how many thought they were “weird.” From time to time we get reminders of the emotional trauma people carry from the social rejection of their youth. Maybe we can call this the David Bowie effect.

There is a lesson here, that many of us learn as we age, but we don’t always manage to teach it to our young people. “Cool” and “Weird” are artificial and unhealthy. Striving for those labels for ourselves and attaching them to other people are destructive for us, for other people, and for the prospect of building authentic, life-giving relationships with them. There are still young people in our world who need a David Bowie to make them feel better about who they are, but even more than that, they need regular people to throw off these labels that limit and hinder us.


Sensitive, not accurate

I don’t know anyone who was actually offended by the red cups controversy at Starbucks. Maybe I just don’t have the right social media contacts, I don’t know. This isn’t the first time what we call the time around Christmas has stirred up a media frenzy, and it probably won’t be the last.  I’m not the kind of person who gets offended at the idea of being wished Happy Holidays, but I wonder how accurate that sometimes is.

Now, believe me when I say I’m aware of the various other religious holidays happening around this time of year. Ever since calendars were based on the sun and the moon, people have used the Winter Solstice as an excuse to have a holiday. In fact, that has more to do with when we celebrate Christmas than any sense of historical accuracy. But while there is a veritable pantheon of other reasons to be festive, in a commercial setting, I think “Merry Christmas” is often the only one that is accurate. I’m not saying that this should be case, but sadly it is.

In our western culture, we’re very good at getting offended on behalf of other people. So, if a non-descript imaginary retail store had a bold “Merry Christmas” greeting for their customers, they would probably get more complaints from non-religious people, and even Christians, than they would from adherents to other religions with overlapping festive schedules. From my experience, most religious minorities in Canada are happy to experience religious freedom and are far more interested in interacting with others living out authentic versions of their own spirituality, rather than live in a world artificially free of religion. I wonder if those complaints were collected, if they might sound something like this:

“Why wouldn’t you include my faith group in your signage? We shop just like Christians; a whole lot in November and December and then not again until April.”

“For your information, I’m not buying Christmas gifts. My people too have allowed their sacred festivals to be absorbed into the western commercial process.”

“Rather than absorbing myself into my religious calendar, I am trying instead to simply buy my faithfulness, so if you could make your holiday greeting a little more generic, that would make it easier for me to do that.”

This is why I am not perturbed when I don’t see a Merry Christmas greeting written onto the receipt, the coffee cup or the walls of our commercial establishments. It our post-modern western society, we dare not leave anyone out, unless we offend them, so rather than say anything offensive, we do our best to say nothing at all. It is a shame to be left out, unless what we are being left out of is corrupted.

I wonder what the response would be if, instead of writing generic holiday greetings, stores would include holidays greetings specific to the other religious festivals being marked. What if people realized that the “Kwanzaa gifts” they found on sale were manufactured by slave labour overseas? What if we were greeted at entrance of store by an image of the Hindu god Ganesh pointing with his many hands to various items you could purchase there? What if the Hanukkah themed mall display included manikins wearing women’s underwear with Maccabeean tassels? Maybe this already happens in more metropolitan places than I’ve lived, but I suspect that somewhere along the line, leaders and adherents of these other religious and cultural groups would stand up and say ‘no thanks.’

In our most commercial settings, only ‘Merry Christmas’ is fitting, because only the church, by aligning itself with western states and western culture, has allowed one of its most important holidays to be co-opted like it has. I only wish it weren’t so.



Advent 2, 2015 – The Path of Mercy

This is my sermon from Second Advent Sunday this year.

The central text was Luke 1: 68-79.


Advent 1, 2015 – The Path of Justice

This is my sermon from First Advent Sunday this year.

The central texts were Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 24: 25-36.

Musings Parenting

Am I just lucky?

This past Saturday afternoon, I sat with my wife, watching our three children run around a playground. We took a trip to celebrate ten years of marriage and we had spent much of our quiet time reflecting on how far we had come, what we had gone through together, and what we had accomplished. In many ways, we were watching our three greatest accomplishments (our children) and reflecting on another (our ten years of marriage).

And, it had been a great trip, experiencing the beauty of God’s creation by hiking up to breathtaking scenic lookout points and places of absolute serenity. Our kids hiked more than 7km over two days with almost no complaining. They approached each new park, hotel room and restaurant with excitement. My wife and I had nothing but happy memories to reflect on from our marriage. It was just a happy, happy time.

As I sat there reflecting, I said to my wife, “I hope we’re not just really lucky!”

This would have been the perfect time for her to say that no other man could possibly make her this happy. She could have listed off all of the conscious decisions and sacrifices we had made that had brought us to our present almost utopian reality. She could have pointed to any combination of our intelligence, faithfulness, and mostly humility as the cause of our current stability, but she didn’t. She just smiled and said, “Yeah, I don’t know. “

It would be great to be able to control our own narrative like that. It would be great to be able to say that each of us, sought out to find a companion, and because of some mixture of determination, divine providence and the proper criteria, we found what we were and should have been looking for.

Of course it is possible to tell another story; that we got lucky. Lots of people never find their soul mate, but somehow we succeeded. Lots of couples try and fail to conceive, but for us it worked right away. Then, of those couples who manage to get married, many don’t last for ten years, but we did. And we can’t say that we are somehow better and more deserving than these other people, because we know them. We know that they are as much or more intelligent, attractive, gracious, loving, faithful, and marriable than we are. So the question is obvious, why us and not them?

There are perils to embracing either story wholeheartedly. If I believe that my good fortune resulted only and completely from my work and actions, then the logical conclusion of that is that the pain and difficulties my friends experience is the direct result of their failures. So if someone were to complain to me about their plight, what could I possibly do but diagnose their failure and prescribe some kind of remedy. If I believe that I have earned nothing, then it would be best not to hold too tightly to my family because that which has come randomly will leave randomly. If someone asks for my advice, I dare not give any, because I wouldn’t have earned the right to comment on any situation, no matter how similar to mine.

There are benefits though too, and, as usual, it’s best to dwell on those. If I believe that I have done good things to earn my good situation, then I need to keep doing those things, or else I will deserve to lose those good things. In this world view, if my wife loves me, it must be because I have done something right, so I need to keep doing right by her. If my kids are happy, it must be because I have either given them a happy world, or because I have given them the tools to be happy in an unhappy world. Why would that change now? Keeping them happy and joyful will require more work. If I see my blessings as easy come easy go, then maybe I should hold them even tighter. From time to time random evil does happen; a child is kidnapped, a plane crashes, and vehicles accidentally collide. In those times all we can do is draw our loved ones closer and tell them, just in case it’s the last time that they hear it, that they are loved and valued and cared for. Shouldn’t I do the same thing all the time if my day-to-day fortunes are just as random?

You may have learned to be leary of any time a pastor presents opposing and flawed positions, but I don’t have a clever third option. I don’t even know where on the spectrum of in between options I would place myself. But I am truly happy to be where I am, and so I am committed to do whatever it takes to stay and I want to do whatever I can to demonstrate appropriate gratitude. Whatever the truth is, I want my response to be appropriate.


Donald Trump’s 3 Favourite Bible verses

As you can probably see just in the title of this post, and my spelling of the word ‘favourite’, I am Canadian, and so when I comment on American politics, I do so as an outsider, and that’s fine with me. Also, I feel that as a Christian, my primary allegiance is not to my own government either, and so when I discuss Canadian politics, I do so as an outsider here as well.

Recently, I was fascinated by an interview with front-running American Republican leadership candidate Donald Trump. Shortly before the interview, he had stated that the Bible was his favourite book. Using that as a springboard, the interviewers asked him what his favourite Bible verse was. Instead of answering the question directly, he insisted over and over that he didn’t want to get into it, and that it was very personal to him.

To me, we can take this exchange to mean one of two things. If we take him at face value, we have to presume that he is a man of faith, but that he feels his faith and his politics shouldn’t mix. This is a perspective we’ve heard before, but almost never from leaders within the Republican party. Is Donald Trump advocating the separation of church and state? So far he hasn’t been accused too often of being a liar. To a fault perhaps, he has been branded as a person who fearlessly speaks (what he perceives to be) the truth. So, maybe we need to take him seriously on this one. But, he operates in a political world where there are serious consequences to not knowing at least a little bit about his Bible, and so there exists the possibility that he might be lying. Maybe he has no favourite Bible verses. Maybe, just maybe, he was lying when he said the Bible was his favourite book. For a long time, people have been saying that America could never elect an atheist as president, but maybe Trump is about to prove that it is possible. Maybe.

As I reflected on this though, I wondered what verses he could have chosen. I came up with a few, just in case anyone from his campaign team reads this blog (they don’t) and in case he gets asked this question again (he will).

A verse that might actually inspire him, but he would never say

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” – Job 42: 10 (ESV)
Isn’t Job his best Biblical parallel? Except, unlike Trump, Job only declared bankruptcy once (granted, he declared it literally, a la Micheal Scott, not legally like Trump) and, unlike the Donald, he only got a new and younger wife once.

A verse that he could have actually used as a joke

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” – 2 Kings 2: 23-24 (NIV)
This would have been incredible. It would have subtly communicated that he knows his Bible, that people should stop making fun of his hair (or lack thereof), and that there is a danger in picking a few verses here and there out of context. This is a tricky passage for sure, but it’s there for us to deal with, just like our politicians.

A verse that would have angered some (and surprised no one)

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” – Matthew 26:11 (ESV)
This is not a favourite verse of social justice minded Christians, understandably so. I see it as a rebuke of Judas’ hypocrisy, the treasurer who would siphon off a little for himself, and a logical statement about the definition of poverty (ie. No matter how much we help the poor, there will always be economic disparity and we will call the people with less ‘poor’). But coming from Trump, it wouldn’t be clear if this was going to inform his economic policy, if he was discrediting the work of charities, or if he was speaking about himself as much as he was quoting Jesus.

Do you have any other suggestions for him?


Ruby’s Waitressing Dream

My daughter came home from the last day of school with a package of books, crafts and papers. It was the culmination of projects, journals and art from the whole school year, as well as information about the summer and information about the next school year. It was fun to flip through the various pages seeing her progress and seeing her journalised reflections of the events in our lives over that time. But one sheet of paper jumped out at me.

It was a print out of 25 photographs. At the centre was her teacher holding up a sign with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” All around that were the images of my daughter and her 23 classmates holding up signs with their answers. There were future doctors, artists and hockey players, and in the midst of all of their lofty goals was my daughter holding up a sign that simply read “Waitress.”

In a lot of ways, this didn’t come as a surprise. She loves organizing things and she loves serving people. When she plays with her friends, they often create menus together and then come ask the nearby adults which of the imaginary food options they would like.

Still, her choice stood out from the rest of the high paying, professionally certified and/or socially prestigious positions so much that I wondered if it reflected poorly on my parenting. In her defence, there were a few other children whose signs could also demonstrate a lack of professional ambition. A few boys had “gamer” on their placards, and while that could very well mean they just want to play video games all day long for the rest of their lives (they are already on the “can’t date my daughter” list) there is at least the potential that they want to be video game designers. One girl’s sign read “mother,” a job that often requires more ambition than I have, but is rarely held up as “successful.” I think motherhood doesn’t get the social prestige that it should, but at least you know that when a little girl writes that as her life goal, you know she has good parents. But waitressing is the kind of profession that almost nobody aspires to. The vast majority of restaurant servers are using the job as a stepping stone to something bigger, or using that job to pay the bills while they pursue other dreams on the side.

It crossed my mind that this could be some kind of cruel joke. I wondered if maybe the teacher had taken photos of the kids holding up blank sheets and then used Photoshop to write in the jobs she thought they were destined for, in a kind of Soviet style classification exercise. That might even explain the gamer label on a few of the boys (one of them was on the aforementioned list before I saw this sheet). But, in all of my interactions with the teacher, she gushed about how great my daughter was, in terms of friendliness, intellect and enthusiasm. So much so, in fact, that I was surprised when she didn’t win the academic award for Grade 1 (parenting bias may have influenced my surprise as well.)

But it isn’t that I don’t respect my restaurant servers. I am constantly impressed by their ability to remember complicated orders, deal with difficult customers, and spend the whole shift on their feet. Also, I aspire to treat everyone equally, and that has to begin with people who are put in a position to serve me. I am a good tipper and when appropriate, I like to engage our servers in conversation. I’m not claiming to be any particular waitress’ favourite customer, but I really hope that staff at the restaurants I visit feel respected in their interactions with me.

And it seems therein lies my success, and perhaps my failure. Does my daughter want to be a waitress because I have indirectly taught her that it is a position worthy of respect? Am I disappointed by that choice because deep down I don’t respect them as much as I aspire to? Either way, the odds that a person grows into the career that their six year old self chooses are quite low. Her career path will be determined by her hard work, natural skills and the opportunities that present themselves far more than it will be by the choices she makes as a six-year old. I can try to instill a good work ethic, I can do my best to nurture the abilities she has inherited, and I can do what I can to put her in touch with people and organizations that will give her the opportunities she needs to succeed. But more than any of those, I need to give her a view of the world where success is not measured by a paycheque or by the social prestige of the position you find yourself in. Success is living with integrity regardless of where life takes you, and part of that integrity involves treating everyone with respect, regardless of the status society gives them.


Soccer, an exercise in empathy

As a family grows and ages, there are certain things that are perhaps inevitable that would have seemed strange before, like buying a minivan, shopping at Costco for practical reasons, and sitting in a lawn chair at the park three times a week watching kids play soccer. This is our first year registering our kids in community sports. It was the first year our son was eligible, and I didn’t really think that our daughter who is a few years older would be interested.

Trust me, I know how that sounds. It wouldn’t be the first time I was accused of having stereotypical views of gender roles, and at times I have earned those accusations. I recognize that I may have been working on underlying prejudicial understandings when I didn’t register my daughter in soccer, but at least that wasn’t my intent.

I like to think at least that I am a pretty engaged father. I know my kids. I watched my daughter interact with her friends, and I never really observed competitive instincts, and they would always default to imaginative play, never physical play. I talked to her about school, and the stories she told about phys. ed. class were more often about getting trouble for not paying attention than they were about enjoying the sports. When I would watch sports on TV or in real life, she was never interested, except she had learned that a trip to the arena often included a trip to the concession booth. If I want to motivate her to do a chore or task quicker, it doesn’t work to suggest that it’s a race (I’m not sure what works, but that certainly doesn’t). There are of course other benefits of sports, but my daughter was already getting plenty of social opportunities through school, church and other community stuff. We would usually go for weekly family bike rides through the park, so the athletic component was taken care of as well.

My son on the other hand is constantly jumping off of furniture, bragging about how fast he can run, and walking around the house and our yard with plastic hockey sticks and golf clubs hitting balls, pucks, trees, shins and other assorted toys. He and I wrestle for fun. My wife and I have had to tell him more than once that a headbutt is not an appropriate greeting. Making a race or a game out of a task is a reasonably effective motivator for him. Soccer made sense for him, it seemed.

Fast forward to this past week, and you might understand my confusion. My son happily gets ready, is proud of his new cleats and shin pads (he can share the shin pads with his sister), and he might even run to the playing field, but the drills and the game itself soon outlast his attention span and his energy level. Not only that, but he still doesn’t quite understand certain aspects of the game. At home, we tell him to share, but on the soccer field he is supposed to take the ball away from people, but not from his own teammates. Four year old soccer players rarely pass the ball, but when his team has the ball I tell him to run up and help his team just in case some kid does get that inclination. There was one play in particular this week where he had the ball, and as the other team was collapsing in on him, he kicked the ball really hard, and it hit an opponent on the knee. The other kid wasn’t wearing shin pads, and maybe didn’t have the pain tolerance of other kids that age, but he started crying and got mad at my son. My poor boy was utterly confused. Hadn’t he done what he was supposed to do? Was hurting other kids a part of soccer? If so, he wanted nothing to do with it. Our team had fewer kids that day, and so sometime people had to play back-to-back shifts. He came off after and just wanted me to hold him. This isn’t what I thought soccer would look like.

Leading up to last night’s game, and a few games before that, my daughter had been complaining that all the other girls had scored already, but she hadn’t. Partly it’s because she younger and smaller than the other girls and lacks the speed and technical skill that the others possess. I also told her though that she is a responsible defensive player, and it’s tough to score when you run back to stop the other team from scoring, like you’re supposed to, and other players wait at half for someone to pass them the ball. Last night there was a play where a teammate was running up toward the net on the right hand side. I told Ruby to run up and help her team, even though 6-8 year old girls don’t really pass either. The other girl shot the ball, it bounced off the flexible post and rested in front of the net, and my daughter was there to tap it in. She didn’t really celebrate, except that her teammates all hugged her as they walked back to the sidelines. Other parents too were congratulating her. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen, but I didn’t think that’s what soccer would look like either.