Boys

Carlo hit a kid at school a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a major incident. More of a reflex than anything else. The kid pulled on his backpack. Carlo hates it when people do that so he turned around and slugged him in the gut.

The teacher saw it and tried to explain to Carlo that it was the wrong thing to do.  There was no getting through to him, though, because Carlo tunes out disapprobation, 100% of the time.  “I’m awesome and righteous,” he thinks to himself, “so there is no way this angry person could be talking to me."  The teacher wisely escalated the situation: she sent Carlo to the principal’s office and the principal forced Carlo to call Carleen at work and tell her what he did.  This got through to him and he realized that he was wrong. I spoke with the teacher the night before last, and she said Carlo’s been great since then. He either learned his lesson or the kids are all too scared to mess with him.

He’s playing soccer this fall. That’s probably worth its own post, but for now just know that he generally likes it. Apart from his stunning good looks he’ll never have anything in common with David Beckham, but he’s not the worst kid out there either. And he has a great attitude too: he runs around, has fun and doesn’t care if he scores goals or if the team wins or not and that’s probably all anyone can ask.

The games have all gone well until today. I should have known that it was going to be a bad day when the other team showed up and started doing highly regimented group warmups before the game. Kindergarten soccer teams don’t do that. They run around and kick the ball a bit and talk about Batman. These other guys drilled like the Soviet army. Maybe they were having fun with all of that, but I’m not sure how it could be possible.

The worst part was that they played like goons.  They pushed and they shoved and they tripped and they tackled. The referee must have had other things on his mind, because apart from some half-hearted "let’s keep it clean out there, boys” he really wasn’t all that into restoring order.  The other coach seemed pleased that he had turned five year-olds into thugs, because no matter how ugly it got out there, he just clapped his hands and told his kids that they were doing a great job.

Carlo doesn’t get the ball very often, so he wasn’t getting shoved, but a couple of his teammates – the fast, skilled little guys – were taking a beating. One kid came out of the game after getting shoved to the ground, landing hard on his head.  At one point, when our boys started to get discouraged, our coach gathered them together and told them – loudly, so that others might hear – how proud he was that they were playing “good clean soccer."  It was heartening to hear.

But it wasn’t enough for me.  Seeing the rough play made me think of how bad I felt when I heard that Carlo hit that other kid. It made me think of little incidents I had with other boys when I was young. It made me think of how difficult if can be to be a boy. To have society’s expectations of what it means To Be A Man come into conflict with my own, non-aggressive and non-violent values so very often as I grew up. It made me think about the fine line a young man must walk in order to avoid becoming either a brute or a victim.

I can’t communicate these feelings with Carlo yet – he’s far too young – and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t at that moment because the game was going on.  But what I was seeing go down this morning was starting to prey on me, so I did the only thing I could do: I stared at Carlo’s head as he ran up and down the pitch, willing him to hear the psychic message I was sending him:

"Carlo: it’s wrong to hit. I’m so glad you learned that after what happened at school that time. You are a sensitive boy, and I understand that your emotions sometimes get away from you. That happened to me when I was your age too. It will be hard to learn to control yourself sometimes – you’ll want to scream and lash out and cry to the heavens when things don’t go the way you want them to –  but you’ll learn to reign that in. I did. I know you can, because you’re intelligent, and strong-willed and wonderful.

"But let’s leave that until tomorrow. Right now I want you to chase after that tall boy with the blond hair on the other team who just shoved Aiden, and I want you to body slam his skinny punk ass to the grass and whale on him until he cries for his momma.”

Carlo didn’t hear me.  It’s probably for the best that he didn’t.

Raising a son is hard.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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