Wild Soccer Dad or Howler Monkey?

Watching your kid play soccer, or any sport, can be a joyous occasion or break your heart.  Sometimes both in the same game, match, competition or event. 

I’ve seen it all over the years watching soccer matches. Parents screaming at their kids, storming the field to make a point with an official, kids begging parents to just. stop. I’ve talked about it, written about it, thought about it and come to the conclusion that my job as a parent is to provide support, understanding, enthusiastic cheering and just simply be there. Now that my kid is playing at the college level, I’ve learned that being there still means everything to her and she’s willing to forgive the occasional lapse on my part as I contribute my opinion to a call made on the field.  “That was all ball,” is my common advice after one of her awesome slide tackles. To-date, no official has responded with “gee, I’m sorry — missed it — never mind!”

One of the joys of D3 athletics is traveling to other universities and seeing the architecture, the facilities, the other kids. Just this year I’ve seen colleges in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana and throughout Ohio. They are all beautiful and each is unique. Parents at this level are nice people for the most part. They drive a couple of hours or more to see their kids play and they all just seem happy to be there. You run into each other in the stands and more often than not feeding the team in the parking lot after the game.

The competition on the field is fierce and the players are celebrating successes, wins, goals or trying to understand what they can do to help their team and be a better player. If you watch closely, you can see it all. Sadly, what I saw Saturday was a parent who wasn’t, clearly, just happy to be there. Watching his daughter play on a beautiful Saturday afternoon on a great field with an historic college serving as the backdrop wasn’t enough for this guy.

I don’t know his name, but he is the first person in memory that I would have happily punched in the nose. He really did get inside my pacifist skin. Throughout the first half of the match, his vitriol and incredibly loud voice served as an irritant for “our side” and infected “his side” more and more as the match went on. Playing to a 0-0 tie in the first half, the young women on the field were intense. They were working so hard, on both sides, and it was purely a joy to watch these young athletes in their prime.

Our team went down by a goal in the second half and everything seemed to ratchet up a notch, both on the field and in the stands. My daughter had a throw-in (for you non-soccer-people she was throwing it in from the sidelines) right in front of the other team’s fans. She’s really good at this, but that particular throw-in wasn’t her best and I could see from the look on her face that she knew it even as she let it fly.

And then, Loud Dad from the other side stood up and screamed as loud as I’ve ever heard anyone scream, “nice throw number three.” He screamed at my kid. Before a moment went by, I was on my feet, pointing at him and calling him out. Me. Pacifist. “You! You never yell at my kid!” I was beyond furious in that split second. He started to stand up when the person with him urged him to sit. Lucky for him, because this soccer mom was out of her mind angry with him. There is nothing on earth so dangerous to man as a woman completely out of her mind with fury who perceives her child is under attack. Nothing.

Eventually the match was over and our kids took the loss. My kid processed it coming off the field and as is her bent she took responsibility for the loss. Despite my assurance that it was, indeed, a game and no, her team didn’t hate her. And yes, there will be another game in a couple of days. Life goes on — how did you do on that research paper?

I couldn’t get Loud Dad off of my mind, however. Away from the team I swore to never return to that college if “that’s the type of people they have there.” Of course, it isn’t. They have students in residence, not their idiot parents. That’s a good thing.

Then, Sunday morning, while reading the news from the week, it all became clear. I read an article about a study performed with Howler Monkeys. Howler Monkeys are very loud. Aggressively loud. That’s how some of the males attract females. By being very loud. More interesting than that, however, is that the study concluded that the loud monkeys were the ones with the small testicles so the only way they could attract partners was by being loud. The monkeys with the big ones just didn’t have to yell so loudly. What do you know about that? (Howler Monkey Study Abstract)

Now, make no mistake, I am not calling this screaming human a Howler Monkey. Frankly, that may be an insult to a monkey just trying to get his freak on. But coming down through the Hominidae family tree . . . well some traits just linger don’t they.

howling fatherhowler monkey

Never Tell Me To Shush . . . Reprint from Skirt! 2012

Last night I turned into one of those mothers.  Maybe a little more over-the-top, but that’s just me.  First, let me apologize to the parents and others near the soccer field who were treated to my profanity-laced diatribe, directed solely at the middle-aged man with the pot belly and the flag.  It was inappropriate.  While not an excuse, and certainly not a justification, it had its origins in the early 1970s – it was a long-time coming.  Perhaps everyone will remember my daughter’s grace and sportsmanship in the situation and know that while I did not do better, I did teach better.

For women who are today on the wise side of 50, we were, in high school, often on the sidelines.  In those pre-Title IX days, organized sports programs for girls were few and far between.  The few girls who wanted to participate in organized sports either played with the boys’ teams or rode along in a little group, hoping there would be girls at the other end of the bus ride.  In high school, girls could play basketball, but were encouraged to go out for gymnastics.  They could be on the track team, if they didn’t care about competing against other girls and most of us thought the rarified ranks of cheerleading were beyond us.

Club sports for girls just didn’t exist.

Fast forward 40 years and watch the blur of the Equal Rights Amendment that never passed and the glass ceilings that still prove to be impenetrable.  The recent spurt of legislation across the country and draconian laws that determine what happens to a woman’s body, even in the sanctity of her doctor’s office.  Women continue to fight for a place on the front lines and the further they get, the more we learn about the scandal, the abuse and the heartbreak that accompanies their ascent.

A male friend told me not long ago that the young women who work for him have derided him for being a “feminist.”  Like that’s a bad thing.  My own daughter has said to me, “I’m not a feminist like you, mom.”  This in a world where web sites tout the ranks women cannot join.  I was a member (for a short time) of a small-town Rotary Club that still had a “men’s table” during their weekly lunches.  And yes, I did take the devil’s own delight into sitting with that group on occasion.

But I digress.

My daughter is an athlete.  She is strong, determined and talented.  Her prowess is beyond anything I could imagine and there are hundreds of thousands of girls just like her who have grown up running and kicking and throwing and hitting.  They take that hard-won freedom for granted – and well they should.

Women, however, still are often on the sidelines and not actively coaching or refereeing the contests waged by these girls.  Frankly, we just have not stepped up.  Which brings us full circle to my daughter’s soccer game last night.

A group of supportive dads for the other team raucously cheered, encouraged, criticized and directed their daughters.  The sideline judge ran past them over and over.  They were, frankly, loud and obnoxious and he never turned his head.  I sat down the line among the parents for my daughter’s team.  We’ve been together a long time now.  We know each other’s kids and we know each other’s foibles.  We share coffee and umbrellas and at any given road trip have each other’s girls in our cars.

Soccer is a rough and tumble sport.  The girls who are playing as teenagers have learned to take the bumps and bruises and truth-to-tell give as good as they get.  My kid is tough.  She is honor-bound to stay on her feet, she never cries in public and she won’t dignify trash talk on the field with any sort of reply other than to play harder.  She has never been seriously hurt while playing and for that I am grateful.

Last night, the game was rougher than most.  As I said, the other team’s parents were louder than some.  Going at a dead run for the ball, my daughter caught an elbow to her cheekbone and dropped face-first to her knees.  She was down only momentarily, but any parent who has seen their kid go down knows the abject terror that flows through your heart.

That’s when I yelled at the center referee.  Told him to settle the girls down and not let them hurt each other.  Even as I yelled, I knew that what can look intentional from the sidelines usually isn’t.  That would have been the end of it.  Except that the sideline judge jogged toward my chair, past the noisy dads and calling “hey!” to get my attention he put his finger to his lips and told me to “shush.”  He told me to “shush.”  Should I repeat that again?  This overweight, huffing and puffing man told me to “shush” and that “he would not let them hurt each other.”

Forty years of fury and frustration turned immediately into explicit instructions to this sideline judge.  While the game went on and my daughter continued to play (with several moderate injuries it turned out) my disdain for men who tell women what to do and my despair knowing that a perfect stranger – a perfect male stranger – felt superior enough to tell me to “shush” boiled over.

I raised a tough daughter because I am, indeed, a tough broad.  I’ve been through career fire and personal grief.  I’ve stood against bullies and been crushed under tyrants.  I work in a highly competitive field and face daily challenges.  I don’t know that man’s story – but I do know this.  You do not “shush” adult women.  Because I didn’t curtail my temper, I’m sure he now adds “crazy” to his internal lexicon about women.  Any man who thinks he can do that, clearly has no respect for the gender in general.  And sadly, I didn’t teach him a thing.

So as moms it’s not enough that we teach them to play.  That we encourage strength and competition, that we look for teaching moments for sportsmanship and skill.  Apparently, we also need to return to the field ourselves as coaches and referees.  We need to go back out and play ourselves because the road isn’t yet clear.  There is more to be done.