Lessons from handballby Marc Severson on Nov. 13, 2011, under Education
It is hard being the father of a child. Mothers have an automatic connection that fathers need to develop. It takes effort and commitment. As the father of four girls I had to try and balance my own needs and goals against the needs and progress of my family while learning what shoes went best with Barbie’s current outfit.
For some it will hard to believe I was once a jock. I came to it late in my youth, playing fast-pitch softball, and intramural football in my twenties. But before those activities, back in 1968, when I was 17 I learned the game that was to possess me. The game was handball. After I took a class at the UofA in my freshman year I was hooked. I played handball for the next 30 years.
Handball is a demanding game. The biggest obstacle to overcome if you choose to pursue the game is that you must achieve a balance between your dominant hand and your off-hand. If you are right handed you must become equally left handed. People who are already left handed may have a slight advantage because much of their life they have been forced to do things in a right handed world. To be truly good at handball you have to replicate the natural skills of your body in the other side, that one that has always been there but rarely called upon to act. Just imagine trying to teach yourself to be ambidextrous. If you are right handed, the footwork, the strength, the movements of your left all must mirror the natural motions that your right side has demonstrated all your life. It took . . . am I really going to say this? . . . rigor and fidelity. (Oooh, that left a bad taste in my mouth.) There were times that I played 7 days a week before I had kids. Quite often I also spent three to five hours a week just practicing the mirror-like actions.
For a naturally indolent, easy-going guy, this was a major change in lifestyle. For a time I organized my life around handball. Lunch was a match with one of several opponents, after work might be another tough match or two hours of practice. Weekends were pickup games at the club on Saturdays when I would spend four or five hours on the courts and Sunday was my day to relax, a doubles match for a couple hours with a bunch of guys I had known for years. I was almost thirty, married and my weight was in the low 200s Not bad. I felt good.
Then she arrived.
It was a Friday, Easter weekend. My wife woke me saying she thought it might be time. We went to the hospital. She was in labor but dilated only 4 centimeters, nope that wasn’t near enough, not baby time, not yet. We went home. More pains, real pain. Uh-oh, back to the hospital. No, 4 centimeters, it’s going to be a while, she’s still not ready. OK, grab the bags let’s head home. Not long after we got there I was again on the phone to my wife’s Doc and back we went. I got to know that drive really well. Thirty-six hours of labor and finally the decision is made. Classes and breathing and exercises notwithstanding we’re going with a C-section. When my first child, the first miracle I had ever been witness to, was finally in my arms I saw she had a little bump, a raspberry if you will, where the doctor said she kept running up against bone spur she couldn’t get by. It was a good thing we agreed on the surgery.
Once you have children a perplexing situation arises. It represents a memory loss of cataclysmic proportions. You sit, late one night, or very early one morning, lowly singing a song you barely remember while rapidly patting the back of a fussing, squalling, very unreasonable individual, one twentieth your size who nonetheless controls your every action in life and you wonder, “What the hell did I do with all my free time before I had kids?”
Talk about on-the-job training — for me it came back to handball. I had to balance my life just as I once balanced my game. I tried to replicate what had been my non-parenting life with my new parenting life. It took time, thought and effort to teach myself about being a father. And it took practice. I thought back to my mother. She was only 23 when I was born. Looking at who I was at 23 made me thankful I was not a parent then. I felt only slightly more competent at the age of 29. Still, I eventually became as deft at changing a diaper or coaxing that last burp as I had once been at hitting a off-hand back spin ceiling lob. As a grandfather, these skills are gradually coming back to me – except not the lob shot, that’s probably just a memory, forever.
No matter when it happens, it’s hard to be the father of a child. It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done, much harder than learning to play handball.