Small Gestures Can Make a Big Difference

In Research by Engagement

I WAS watching one of those fun weekend adult-versus-youth football games when I noticed a skinny, lanky kid struggling on the pitch to keep up with the speed, agility and skill level of his teammates which included my two sons.tree11

Not surprisingly, the teenager was replaced after about 15 minutes and he stood at the sideline, sulking at being given such a brief outing. This boy had always been a bit of a loner but I walked up to just keep him company. We spoke briefly once when he stopped me abruptly one day to ask me about how newspapers got their news.

As soon as I pulled up to his side, he started complaining about being substituted so quickly, though he did concede he was playing badly. He usually plays better, he said, and started telling me about a game he had played for his class a week earlier, proudly announcing: ‘I scored two goals.’

Then suddenly he blurted: ‘I wish my father had seen me. I dribbled so well that day, I beat a few players and the goals were very nice goals.’

He repeated: ‘My father should have seen me. I played so well.’

I have met this boy’s father on several occasions. He is in his mid-40s and superfit. I know this because when I was introduced to him, he was in running gear and had just completed a 2.4km run in about 10 minutes, an impressive time for a guy his age. He was apologetic about his sweaty hands and said: ‘I just finished doing some trackwork.’

Normal human beings jog or run – only serious athletes call their training “trackwork”. During that chat, he went on about teenagers today and how they didn’t have the coordination and agility and strength of the older generation. He had even pointed to his son as an example, adding that he would tell his son to play just to have fun.

Then it clicked. That boy, judging by what he told me at the football game, obviously had been trying to impress his father. Yet, would the Dad have been impressed? The football game at which he felt he was in good form, was an inter-class game, something many would consider insignificant. Not this teenager though, going by what he was saying. He had wished that his father had been there to watch him play.

Sadly, few parents I know make an effort to go down and support their children play or perform in school. And even if they do, they usually save themselves for the big final game which, of course, often never materialises. I am like many of these parents, saving myself for the semifinals and final and when your son’s team gets kicked out in the quarterfinals, it becomes a problem. You would have gone through one season without having watched him even once.

When my son Shaun completed his basic military training, we went for a buffet meal to celebrate. It would be a time to stuff ourselves and for the family to bond, I thought.

However, at the buffet, we were all focused on getting our money’s worth. After the dinner, my three kids were too stuffed with food. They could either talk or breathe – not do both. So much for attempting to foster family ties on this special day.

During Shaun’s NS days, I found out that one of the best times we had as a family was something that I had originally dreaded – that long drive back to Safti Military Institute to drop him back in camp after the weekend break.

During that 30-minute drive, this reticent NS-man son of mine holds court, telling the family about the week that had passed – the highs and the lows, his and his fellow trainees’ blunders, the rewards and the punishment.

There would the occasional squeals of laughter and the interjections from his siblings: “What!”, “Really?”, “Did he really do that?” All three kids would cackle away throughout the drive. Considering how often they squabble over the smallest of things, this was really something.

The hearty laughter, seeing them enjoying each other’s company and my son returning to camp in such high spirits always left me with a wonderful feeling and a great way to end the weekend.

Often many of us make well-intended plans for our family to go for a nice meal, or take a holiday together at the year end for the family to bond. But in waiting for these special occasions, we let countless other gems of opportunities slip by. No need for that special day or a big game, that teenager at the football game would have felt great if his father had shown up even if it was just for his inter-class games and my son probably also feels that more bonding took place during those drives back to his camp than any of our long holidays away from the rest.

About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).

First published on 16-01-2012.