Friday, July 20, 2012

The Art of Moving On

Mistakes can be rectified and losses can be rationalized, but grudges are a bitch to shake.  I know this because in my four years as a baseball coach, I made mistakes and lost more games than I care to admit, all of which I have come to terms with.  But four years after being forced to resign, I tend to refer to the school's athletic director and a handful of helicopter parents with a word my wife would not approve of me using here or anywhere else.

Coaching baseball in my early twenties didn't make me the man I am today, but it motivated me to cease being the man I was before I got involved.  It began, appropriately enough, on a friend's couch after a long night of drinking, near fights, and a delightful late night burrito - often the salvation of a sad Friday night routine.  While contemplating the amount of hypothetical money I would pay for a toothbrush and a Gatorade, a friend asked if I would be his assistant coach for 7th grade baseball.  I said yes, provided he could give me a ride to my car.

I didn't arrive at the first practice with any intention of making a real impact, and I certainly didn't expect to be impacted.  I love baseball, but truthfully, I just needed a daily activity for the summer that didn't revolve around a case of cheap domestic beer.

Over the course of the summer I realized something; I didn't simply enjoy coaching, I absolutely loved it.  My connection with the kids inspired me to make improvements in my life.  I didn't want to be someone who demand more of the teens I worked with than I did of myself.  I enrolled at the University to get my degree and started making plans for life after graduation.

Everything was going well as I entered my fourth season with the program.  Our teams made two trips to the state tournament at the junior high level, and in my first season at the high school level, my JV team finished above .500 despite key freshman and sophomores playing at the varsity level due to a lack of upperclassmen.  What our program lacked in experienced talent, we made up for with youth and momentum.  On top of that, one of my best friends was named varsity head coach.

I went into my fourth season with every intention of making it my last.  I was about to graduate and my desire to move was no secret.  I figured I could stick around, and use my familiarity with the existing players to help ease the transition for my friend as he took over the program.  I never imagined the shit show that ensued...

Losses piled up for the varsity team.  Fast.  As things got worse, the best players on my team were called up to try and provide a spark.  The more we lost, the more upset the parents got.  It should be noted, parents are the fucking worst.  Except the ones who liked me, they were cool.

By the end of the season, the varsity team had managed to win only five games.  My team lost more than they won by a fair margin, the roughest stretch around the time a 500 year flood hit Iowa that summer.  That is exactly what it sounds like - a flood, the degree of which is so great there is only a 0.2% chance of it occurring in a given year, and the most appropriate meteorological metaphor for a baseball season in the history of baseball...or water for that matter.

Mistakes were made.  The losses were painful and relentless.  I told people in the off-season I would consider returning for one more year.  I had done some good work and was not too keen on going out a failure.  I am a competitor, and as such I needed to avenge a poor season.  Not to prove it to myself - I knew I was a good coach, still do - but to all the people (read: parents) whose opinions I pretended not to care about.  I did care about their opinions, but apparently my boss cared even more...

The news of my "resignation" was delivered to me by my friend, who was also ousted as head coach.  He met with the AD and she informed him that he would have the option of remaining on the staff in an assistant capacity, but due to some complaints from parents I was not welcome back, and she would appreciate it if he would let me know.

Upon hearing this, I went to the school for an explanation.  She reiterated there had been complaints, though her descriptions were vague and, of course, no names or details were revealed.  Among the complaints that rendered me black-balled after four years of blood, sweat, and tears - some people think you had too much influence on the varsity line-up.

Translation: I am friends with a couple moms that think you're an asshole, so you can't ever coach here again.

After four years - two of which were volunteer - of pouring my heart and soul into the program I was out, for reasons unclear, without the respect of receiving the news first-hand.  Grudge.  Locked.  In.

I met my wife shortly after that final season.  We moved to Dallas and have done some pretty damn cool things over the last four years.  The mistakes I've made have faded from my consciousness and nothing could possibly feel more arbitrary than teenagers losing baseball games in a town of 2,400 people.  But my grudge against a handful of people in that same little town, people that have absolutely no impact on my life, wouldn't subside.  Stupid pride, I suppose.

The lens of fatherhood has given me a fresh perspective on most of my personal interactions.  This personal interaction actually prepared me for how I intend to approach at least one small aspect of fatherhood.  If my son chooses to pursue sports, I will give him as much instruction as I am capable, but my primary role will be as a fan.  Let the coaches coach, because I know how difficult the job is even without unsolicited advice.  All bitterness aside, I am grateful for that lesson.

Driving home the other night I saw a message on my phone stating the program I used to coach had made it to the state tournament, a dream I had shared with them a few short years ago, ultimately replaced by utter disdain.

I was surprised by the feeling the news triggered within me.  I didn't give a damn.  I expected to be jealous or disappointed, maybe even embarrassed that the people who ran me out now had the ultimate scoreboard justification for their actions.  But I didn't feel any of those things.

My family occupies all the space in my mind and heart I had previously wasted on unnecessary anger.  Each and every second I spend with my son is better than the last, and I have no intention of wasting a single opportunity by using that time to look back at past disappointment.

I have no room in my heart for grudges.  That space is spoken for.

So, what the hell - Go Bears!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Decade Three, Day One

I think I understand why some people cry on their 30th birthday.  It's because they went to a pub the night before and consumed just enough beer to make every second in the office tick by slower than the last, thereby compounding the real problem - in 29 years and 364 days they failed to acquire the foresight to request an obvious day off.

Each milestone birthday encourages us to take inventory of accomplishments, failures, and opportunities left on the table.  Most of us have two checklists, personal and professional.  My lists have accrued the bulk of their respective checks over the back half of my twenties.  That's how a branding wizard positions a decade in which the first five years were marked by hazy indifference.  And "hazy indifference" is how a branding wizard says "drunken stupidity."

But in the last four years I met a girl, got a degree, moved to Dallas, got a job, proposed to the girl, got a better job, got a dog, married the girl, got a promotion, bought a house, changed jobs, and became a father.  A pretty good run.  My personal life is better than I ever dreamed it would be, so naturally on my birthday I spent eight hours in the office being depressed about the professional dreams which never materialized.

I didn't have terribly lofty or specific goals, just that by age 30 I would have two published books under my belt.  The first would enjoy modest success, but I would hit my stride with the second and be working out the movie rights, turning down bigger dollars in favor of a small studio that would allow me the pen the screenplay.  You know, easy stuff.  The kind of daydreams that haunt you when, on your 30th birthday, you are sitting at your desk in the ad sales bullpen hanging on a client approval e-mail that will decide whether or not next Thursday's revenue meeting will be your turn to get smeared across the conference room by the CEO.

When my eight hour pity party was over, I climbed into my Ford Escape with a backpack full of work materials and a head full of professional regret and headed home to what was to be a fireworks outing with my wife, son, and visiting brother.  For anyone that is unfamiliar, going to a fireworks show in Dallas means arriving ridiculously early so you can get a parking spot, fighting 100,000 people for a place to sit in the Texas heat, and packing up shop after the first boom scares the living shit out of your three month old son.  Needless to say, this did not seem like a suitable remedy for my state of self-loathing.

When I have a bad day at work, the sight of my son's face as I walk through the door makes my frustration vanish 99% of the time.  The other 1% it takes being greeted with Batman streamers, a baseball cake, and my son in jorts and a patriotic onesie that reads "All-America Hunk."

Gabe and Uncle Jay - two great Americans

I am guilty of placing pride ahead of perspective far too often.  I complain about minor inconveniences and I am always embarrassed in hindsight.  I spend a great deal of energy acting as though I do not care what people think, when in reality it consumes me.  These are the qualities of a man whose sanity depends on a supportive wife and family.  The kind of people who know a bad mood evaporates into the thick smokey air of the Red Knight's cheering section of Medieval Times.

Dallas is very much a "too cool for school" type of city.  There are pretty people everywhere.  This makes choosing a dinner spot incredibly difficult for a 30 year old man driving around with his wife and brother in matching Ultimate Warrior face paint.  Therein lies the brilliance of the Medieval Times tickets they sprung on me as a final birthday surprise.  We would have been ostracized at nearly every restaurant in Dallas, but not MT.  There we were called Lords, complimented on our enthusiasm, and given a very welcoming smile and nod from a man I would later learn was literally a King.

Gabe, understandably confused

If there is one thing I've learned in my 30 years, it's that I am a better husband, father, and person in general when I focus on today.  When I wake up with one simple goal - do what it takes to deserve the family you have when you lay down that night.

There are going to be plenty of rough days and professional frustrations along the way, but I have strung together a hell of a lot of great days, and with the exception of the under-performing Red Knight, I have some amazing people in my life.

You've gotta believe there's a book in there somewhere...