By Jim Paglia
Dear Soccer Dad:
As a past PTA president, I learned that "Dear Parent" sometimes is code for "Mom." This article is for any parent, but fathers most of all.
Thirty-five percent of all children born in Illinois have no father listed on their birth certificate. Forty percent of the children in Illinois are in a home without an adult male presence. ABC News polled prison inmates showing that race, gender, education and poverty were not common denominators among criminals, but 85 percent of the inmates claim father absence. The statistics in most states are not much better, and some are worse.
Father absence may be the single greatest factor in the decline of American society. There are two kinds of absentee fathers in soccer: The ones who do not attend, and those who come in person, but not in spirit.
Some dads do immeasurable harm by not being in their children's lives. Others do equal harm by being involved the wrong way. Our children do not need us to be their trainer, motivator, agent-in-waiting, or play-by-play announcer during games.
As fathers, we can be a collective force for change at our children's games, and openly choose to set a better example. We can apply peer pressure, and insist there is no place in the game for parents living over-vicariously. We can be examples of men our children and the father-absent kids deserve.
If your child were exposed to an unsafe, harmful environment would you make your presence known, assert your fatherly authority, and protect your children as only fathers can? It is time we choose to do it in soccer.
The expression "Soccer Mom" has become a cliché. Sadly, some moms can be obnoxious spectators, too. Often, they learn that behavior observing men. Imagine the good that would come from being a highly visible and meaningful version of "Soccer Dad?" As the past president of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, I know there is no greater force in a child's life than a father.
Last year, I saw a father berate his 13-year-old son with comments like, "I didn't drive all this way to watch some freaking ballerina. Get your butt involved in the game!" His son's actions reflected the pain and humiliation of each screaming insult. His body literally jerked with each hurtful word. A second father joined the chorus and directed criticism toward his own son and the team in general. The entire team was playing with fear and embarrassment.
I spoke directly to the two dads in a calm, quiet manner and said I did not want my son exposed to that kind of verbal abuse. If they persisted, we would leave for the balance of the tournament. I moved my seat away from these two dads. After the game, I wrote an "open letter" to the coach, director of coaching and the parents asking for better touchline conduct.
Four things resulted:
1. The director of coaching supported my position in a letter to the parents.
2. The two fathers declared they were attending future games in silent protest.
3. At the next game, I sat apart from the other parents. Within minutes, all but the two dads moved their seats around me.
4. My son told me how proud he was of me.
Let's act like the men and fathers we are, setting the example our child and other father-absent children need. Our children should see men acting respectfully toward other people including coaches, officials, opponents and other parents. They need to see us responding to both victory and defeat with dignity and composure as responsible fathers.
Jim Paglia is a nationally recognized brand strategist who lives outside Chicago. He has an extensive background in soccer ranging from the NASL, to NCAA Division I, to World Cup 1994, and 30 years of club administration and coaching.