Team sports were never a part of life in the woods. The physical nature of the labor that both mom and dad took on each day, left little energy for activities unrelated to putting food on the table. The private nature of our existence did not invite group, much less team, participation. Neither my brothers nor I ever attended or played school sports. Football and baseball did not occupy a spot on the TV viewing schedule. The more solitary and productive ventures of hunting and fishing were the choices made to escape the daily grind – for the men. Mom and I joined in the fishing on family camping trips, but her job taking care of a home and family seemed to flow from waking until sleep seven day a week.
Soccer was the first sport to enter the weekend schedule in the spring of our son Erik’s Kindergarten year. His elementary school had a popular program that all students were encouraged to join. A swarm of little bodies chased the ball from one end of the field to the other, with no distinction between positions beyond the goalies and everyone else! That refinement would evolve later. Ron helped with the coaching at first, but left that to those more familiar with the game as structure and strategy grew. We all attended the games, standing along the sidelines of the grassy field shouting and cheering on Erik and his classmates. The interactions with other parents were light and brief and focused on the kids. I felt like we were a family there, together with a common focus. T-ball at a local park was my next introduction to team play. Kids from several different local areas joined into teams. The small players learned to hit a ball off a tee and run from base to base, or race after a ball and try to tag a runner or throw it to someone else. Sometimes they even just skipped off to play in the dirt in the outfield! It was pure enjoyable chaos. Again, we all went to games and acted like a family. Ron loved baseball as a kid, so when the need for a coach was announced he immediately grabbed the opportunity. It seemed like a good idea, the All-American game and his son as focuses for his time and energy. As Erik grew and moved from T-ball to little league, additional coaching duties also grew to include preparing fields and attending meetings. We started to drive separately so Ron could work before and after games. Erik’s friend next door joined the team and rides were often shared so kids could go and come home while Ron stayed. Then our daughter Tyra joined T-ball and eventually softball. The sports life invaded every corner of time outside of work. I started staying home with one kid while the other was at a game. A meal with all of us present took great effort, and seemed to be no one’s priority but mine. Ron had not grown up eating meals as a family. I had grown up with the expectation that each family member would be seated at the table – present to eat the food my mother prepared.
Ron’s time spent at the park grew and grew, and soon became his excuse to be away from home – and segue to drinking after. Each time he left for the ball field I was never certain when he would return. Tasks at home – like mowing the lawn or making repairs – were neglected. A wall of resentment grew with each “I have to…..” related to coaching. I knew the “have to” was really “want to”. He chose the baseball fields over me, over our home, and over our time together as a family. I tried going to some of the games. I really did want to see the kids play. I sat alone while he joked and chatted with everyone. The other parents all seemed to know each other, connected in a way I was not. The discomfort was so great, for both Ron and I, that I stopped even trying. In an argument one evening I asked why he chose to be at the field instead of home. His response: “They need me there.” felt like a slap in the face, a slap that woke me up – it was a world where he felt needed and respected – much as I did at work. Despite my desperate need for him to be home, to be my husband, he did not feel needed here. Why would he? I took care of everything that really needed to be taken care of. He went to work and provided the income that paid the big bills. After that, the choice between mowing the lawn or working with a team of kids that brought him joy, parents that appreciated his role as coach, in a game he loved, was no choice at all. I was happy that he spent time with our kids as their coach, maybe even a bit jealous. I understood the joy of making a difference in a children’s lives by offering your encouragement and skill. But it didn’t stop there. When was enough enough – both while on the field and after? This was a battle I could not win. I felt unattached and left behind. As Ron’s world seemed to glow with purpose mine seemed shoved into the shadows of waiting, worry and bitterness. It was time to find other sources of satisfaction. Ron was not available. Had he ever been?