Watching from a distance….

May 11, 2004

Earlier this evening I was waiting to go to dinner with someone. I was sitting in my car outside the restaurant looking through the front window of a dance studio, watching little girls try to become ballerinas. It made me wonder why parents insisted on making their children dance, and alternately, if the parents didn’t push them into it, why any little girl would want to become a ballerina. I mean, how often do you see ballerinas?

I remember when my daughter took dance classes. It wasn’t something I pushed her into but now I wonder how much of it was my wife’s desire for her to dance, and how much was my daughter’s. I do remember her saying she wanted to be a ballerina, but I wonder now whether it was simply her mother’s wish coming out in my daughter’s voice.

Looking through the window I watched the class end and a tall, thin girl about 11-12 get ready to leave. She had long blond hair in a pony tail and glasses, and her face reminded me of my daughter’s at that age. Their mannerisms were so much the same it made me melancholy watching her. If I tried only slightly I could see my daughter at that age, with me watching from a distance.

I seemed to watch from a distance a lot, then.

I remember seeing my daughter dance only once. She was about 8 or 9 years old, I imagine, and self-conscious with a group of classmates at a dance recital. She and the other girls were out of sync with one another. It was somewhat painful to watch, and I was far more interested in her dancing instructor, a lithe blond who was also a cheerleader for the Bengals. I remember my parents were there, an my grandmother, and two aunts. We went out to eat afterwards, courtesy of my aunt.

It was the same with my sons, my non-participation. I occasionally tossed the baseball back and forth with my sons, but not much. Admittedly that was difficult because of my left hand and inability to catch, and I honestly felt badly about it if not ashamed. But adding to that was the knowledge I could still pitch and let them bat, but quickly tired of it. I didn’t play sports, didn’t hunt, shoot guns. I didn’t work on cars or build treehouses with them.

Instead, I shuffled my children off to church with my parents on Sundays. I let my wife take my daughter to dance lessons. I let my sons catch a ride with friends to baseball or football practice, or drove them myself and didn’t stay to watch. I remember a few baseball games with my youngest son, and a couple of football games with my eldest. I never travelled to away events. Perhaps my one redeeming action in sports was that I did go to the basketball practices for my daughter, and the game, but only a few baseball games of my son who only played one year, and only a handful of football games of my eldest son, who didn’t get much playing time at all.

I look back now on those things I missed in my children’s childhood and am sad. I can make myself very depressed thinking and especially dwelling on them. I try to avoid the idea that I knew, even then, what I was missing, and that I, and perhaps they, would regret my lack of involvement — because I did know. But I was so self-absorbed in my writing and private thoughts and affairs, in doing what I wanted (and what I wanted was to not go to these events), in being by myself, that I missed so much of their growing up. Even sadder is that I wasn’t a father who worked from daylight to dark. During many of their years I was unemployeed or working temporary jobs for a few hours. I had the time to do so many things with them, but didn’t.I have nothing to show for those years except a lot of memories, and many of them empty, painful, shameful sometimes, and always melancholy.

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