Dad trying to live vicariously through me.

I suspect my Dad wanted to be a sports legend. Because he’d “missed his shot”, Dad tried to achieve his goal through me instead.

At first, trying new things was fun.

“Netball!” Dad exclaimed one day.

“Huh?” I didn’t even look away from the TV. I’m a couch person, me.

All Aussie girls play Netball, we’ll sign you up for this year’s team tryouts”.

I ran around confused on the Court a week later — appointed the team’s “Wing Attack” which to this very day I don’t know what they’re responsible for. Something about running all over the court except for in the semi-circles where only the Goal Shooter and Goal Defender (?) were allowed. I knew I was tired from running about and I couldn’t catch the ball or take it from someone as viciously as the other girls did to save my life. 

“Darl, you’ve got to be more competitive” Dad was exasperated “Try to not help everyone so much, you’re supposed to be playing with gusto, love.”

I’m not the competitive sort. I didn’t make the team.

Dad wasn’t put off.

“What you are, my girl — is a tennis pro” Dad decided.

Tennis looked like hard work to me, but to make Dad happy, I was willing to give it a go.

Dad spent a fortune on a new tennis racket for me, new ‘tennis whites’ and super cool matching white “Nike Air” sneakers (I thought they were so pretty) to complete the look.

“My mate got you in with the leading tennis Coach” Dad said on the drive to the tennis Courts. “Give it your all, Janet — try everything and try your best”.

Ok.

But I couldn’t seem to hit any balls. The Coach seemed to be acting out some kind of vengeance when he served and try as I might, I couldn’t return the serve. All I saw was a green blur fly by me hit after hit. After 20 minutes of attempting to be the ‘Tennis Legend’ my Dad had excitedly told me about, I struggled to raise my racket. No one had told me that if you hold something (and raise it up and down) for long enough, what started out as barely 2 kilos starts to feel like it weighs a ton.

“Golf’s better, anyway” Dad said on the drive home. I had to hand it to him, Dad was not easily put off. I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Tennis is exhausting.

Golf would have been awesome if I had ANY hand-eye coordination. It would have been a lot more successful if the guy I was crushing on at high school wasn’t ‘on the green’ at the same time — with his sexy little ‘90’s boyband’ hairstyle, cute polo shirt and canvas chinos. And OMG you guys, he was wearing low boat shoes with no socks! My heart!!! Trent looked like a Tommy Hilfiger model. I was too busy drooling to pay attention to anything my teacher (or Dad) were saying to me.

“Nevermind” Dad told me on the long walk back from the 18th hole “Golfing might not be our thing, but we’ll find what it is and when we do — woohoo!”

our thing”. Bless.

We tried Karate. This was hugely unsuccessful as I kept running away whenever someone came towards me. I didn’t want to get hit and I didn’t want to hit or kick anyone else. I even felt empathy for the wooden boards we were supposed to be able to magically break in two with our bare hands. I just touched mine gently and whispered “I’m sorry” to it. I refused to hit it.

Dad rolled his eyes affectionately “You have a big heart, babygirl” he said on the walk home; draping an arm around me. “That’s a good thing”.

We tried gymnastics. I was not flexible enough or brave enough for the balance beam. I was also the smallest on the ‘team’ and my legs and arms weren’t as long and lithe. I really struggled. 

We tried fishing. I was in copious tears when we took the first little silver fish off the hook. Dad told me much later as an adult that he had to walk away, or he would have screamed.

We tried basketball (I was far too small), lacrosse (I just kept getting hit by the other girls — kneepads are not as protective and pain-free as they’re made out to be), boxing (Dad either hadn’t learnt from my fear of physical contact from Karate classes or was in denial, bless him), running (I admit, as a black girl, I liked the wind in my afro and I could MOVE (surprising to both Dad and I — his whole face lit up when he watched me sprint). I liked running a fair bit, but I didn’t have the willpower to get up before 5am to meet at the track every single day — even on weekends (which to me were sacred and set apart for much-needed sleep-ins). “We” attempted cycling (I got tired easily and couldn’t keep up the pace of the other trained cyclists my age — when did they start training, for goodness sakes? At 4?), skating (to this day I can’t skate), surfing (I spent the whole day faceplanting into the ocean over and over AND OVER again) and squash. I thought of squash as a mini and more torturous version of tennis. It was a no from me.

I’d tried out for so many sports teams and was completely exhausted. Even Dad was slowly getting worn down. This was a hopeful sign to me.

“You’ll be the next Gold medalist at swimming” Dad proudly announced as we walked in the blistering heat towards the town pool the next day.

Dad patiently taught me how to swim. I was rubbish at being any good at it and liked to lazily float on my back and gaze up at the sky.

“Chook, you need to be a bit…faster” Dad would encourage.

I liked bobbing under the surface and shouting swear words where no one could hear me. I loved being able to do successful handstands. I couldn’t do them in the gym — but in the water, they were “easy peasy” and I loved it.

I think whenever Dad looked at me, I was doing something goofy and not very “sportsmanly” in the pool. I was having a great time!

Dad shook his head.

“You need to be serious about this, Janet” Dad tried in vain.

I was serious about scooping up struggling bees and dragonflies and gently putting them onto the concrete sides of the pool.

“Oh Darl” Dad sighed.

We moved on…to diving.

Since we were already regular visitors to the pool, I guess Dad thought diving was the natural progression of things.

After my first dive, I climbed out of the pool, found Dad and nudged his shoulder. Dad was savouring a meat pie (his favourite) and had started talking to another patient parent.

“Yes, darl?” he asked.

I rubbed my head “I’m not feeling well, Dad” I admitted.

“Why? What’s happened?” Dad put his pie down. This meant he was taking me seriously.

“I hit my head really hard on the bottom of the pool” I gingerly touched the ‘egg’ that was already forming on my skull.

Dad quickly inspected it. All my life, I think Dad’s secretly wanted to be a Doctor, too. “Are you feeling dizzy?” he asked. I nodded. “Okay, follow my finger with just your eyes, don’t move your head” and he moved his finger side to side and up and down in front of my face.

“Well, I don’t think you’ve got concussion, but we’ll take you to the Quack (Australian for ‘Doctor’) for a checkup just in case, ok?”

Ok.

In the car on the way to the hospital, Dad asked how I’d hit my head.

“Well I dived in at the deep end the way you told me to” I shrugged, feeling lightheaded. The bump on my head was starting to throb.

“But Chook” Dad insisted — “When you dive, you put your arms out in front of you to cut through the water and protect your head”

“You do what?” I was genuinely surprised by this new information.

Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road and demonstrated a dive with his arms out ahead of him, hands crossed over each other “Like this, Janet”.

“I didn’t do that” 

Dad started to laugh.

“Well…” Dad gasped “How did you dive?” he managed to say, giggling.

“I just jumped in — headfirst” I shrugged.

Dad started to howl. Tears were running down his face and he was gasping for air. His face was bright red and he was laughing so much the car was shaking with it.

“Oh babygirl…you pillock” Dad was almost screaming he was so surprised and found it hilarious.

I knew I was being made fun of, but Dad’s full belly laugh is like nothing else, and I couldn’t help but join in.

At the Doctors, the receptionist laughed when Dad explained why we were there. The Doctor laughed heartily before examining me. Once it was declared that I wasn’t concussed and would be fine, the Doctor called Nurses and medical students in to retell the story (Dad beaming away the whole time)— they all laughed, too.

Great.

That was the end of trying out to be a sports star and Dad didn’t make me try out for anything again. I had a sore head for a few weeks, but didn’t have to get up early for the skateboarding ‘try outs’ that week — so really, I think this was definitely a ‘win-win’ situation.

8 responses to “Dad trying to live vicariously through me.”

  1. What an amazing story about you and your dad! My mom did the same thing to me, which started at age 7. The only difference was, it wasn’t to live vicariously through me. She did this to me because she didn’t like who I was and wanted to change me.
    It was an epic fail and an epic success. I’ll tell you about it sometime. I have a chapter about this in my memoir.

    Did you feel that you weren’t good enough for your father? That he was trying to mold you into something you weren’t? What was going through your mind the whole time this was going on?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really sorry you had a similar but more unhappy experience with hour Mom trying to mould you into something you’re not. As I’ve gotten to know you, I really like you! You’re super smart, really funny, observant, caring, sweet and really cool. I think anyone who wants to change that is out of their minds.

      My brother was the golden and favourite child so I really relished time with just Dad where I had his full attention. I failed terribly at being a sports star, but I made loads of friends and made Dad proud by trying everything he proposed at least once. Every sport I actually spent a few weeks in, but for the purposes of this blog, I cut it down to a day for each.

      I think my parents would have liked me to be more wealthy and successful but that’s my brother’s jam, not mine.

      I would LOVE to hear more about your life and as a fellow Memoir writer, I’m so excited for you and hope you end up selling millions of copies. I’ll definitely buy one!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are so kind with your words! Thank you so much! I definitely feel the same way about you. You really care about others, there’s an astuteness about you that I find refreshing, not to mention you are wise in your words.

        What’s the name of your memoir? What’s the theme of it?

        The name of mine is, The ‘It’ Girl. The theme is the abuse I endured throughout my childhood and how I survived it.

        I will definitely buy yours. You have an engaging way of writing. Of capturing a person’s attention. 💜💜💜

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ooo that’s such a cool title. You will break hearts because readers will identify with you and hurt on your behalf. It shows so much strength that you’re turning your pain into an incredible book. Mine’s called “The 1st pancake” because I feel like the test pancake in my family whereas my brother came out perfect and I too talk about trauma – but focus on the “takeaway” from it and hope to encourage anyone else going through similar things. My book dedication reads “to everyone who got chosen last on sports teams, you are amazing”

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  2. This is such an amazing story, Janet. I read your comments, too. I don’t know how you survived all that trying out at sport. It must have been tough trying to please your dad all the time. You certainly gave all his suggestions your best shot, and I admire you so much for giving it a go, even when you didn’t want to. You really do get your feelings across so well in your posts. I almost felt like I was alongside you, trying out all these activities.

    I was totally useless at sports – everything I tried, I flopped at. Like you, I was scared of the ball hitting me in ball sports; I didn’t want to get hurt by another player during combat sports. I was always the last child to be picked for teams at school, accompanied by moans of, “do we have to have her on our team, miss”. It didn’t do my confidence any good at all. I couldn’t catch or hit a ball either. I was afraid of drowning in water and was too small to manage the gym equipment.

    Like you, I’m a big softy (and a scaredy cat!) – I will stop my wheelchair, wait for someone to come along (as I can’t reach the ground from my chair) and ask them if they could move the little bee, worm, bird etc. so that it wouldn’t get run over by a bike or a squished by a person’s shoes. You should see some of the looks I get for asking! I’m sure they think I’m a very odd person. I don’t care; I respect all life, and if I can prevent a death (like with my mouse in my blog recently), I will do everything in my power to do so.

    I’m pleased that, as you mentioned to your previous reader, you are writing your memoirs, and I love the perfect name you have chosen. I wish you every success with it. I want to do the same thing as an amalgamation of the poetry that I’ve written about my abuse and survival (in the end). I just have no idea where to start, though. It was one of my aims when I restarted my blog after a break from it for three years. Love to you, my friend Xx 🐭🦋🐝🐛💓💓💓

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My dad, a man who is nearly a professional couch-potato, was the same way with my sisters and me. Sports, music, all of it. He was not trying to make us into something else though – well, maybe with the music as he’s tone-deaf too and always wished he could play music – he just wanted us to have the childhood he remembered. He didn’t sign up for sports though, his friends and him went out into the middle of the street and tried to be Babe Ruth. We lived in a cul-de-sac, and there were only two other kids our age, both girls as well. One was an extreme Tom Boy and wouldn’t do anything as simple as hitting a baseball, she wanted to try handstands on a moving skateboard and weird stuff that even my baby sister as a toddler recognized as potential death. The other girl was raised in a different culture at home, and the idea of her using her energy in sports was strictly prohibited. My cousins would come over, but my mother was a helicopter mom, so if it couldn’t be done indoors by all of us (despite having a very lovely back yard), it was a hard no. Except fighting and swimming which were back yard experiences. But my dad wanted us to be kids like he had been, and working with his desire and my mother’s fear of even the backyard and booboos, he signed us up for all sorts of crazy stuff. Almost all of it was considered “girlie” stuff though, like ice skating or ballet. We hated all of them. But then he struck gold. We were driving somewhere in the farm area of out state and we passed by a group of horses in a field. My father wistfully said he always wanted to horseback ride. I, the oldest (and clearly most rational), scrunched up my nose and said “yeah right. They’re tall and don’t know how. You’d fall and break every bone in your body and then Mommy would be furious at you for being so dumb and would probably smack your sorest broken bone.” He said “nuh uh! I am very sportsy under all this fat! Besides, if I fell, I’d probably bounce.” My sisters and I had a good giggle. He told us we were all grounded for laughing at him and as punishment he would take us for ice cream but we weren’t allowed to have any and had to watch him eat it instead. That stopped the giggles fast, and he once again outwitted us. He wasn’t serious as my mother would probably kill all four of us for getting ice cream before dinner, but it was a fast way to stop the chortles and giggles. He also was not offended by us laughing as he understood that it was the mental images he had given us (mine was of the horse dribbling him like a basketball) because none of us saw “sportsy” as a particularly awesome thing as we had hated every sport before, and fat was just another way to say “I like good food.” But he wasn’t kidding. By the end of the week, we were signed up for horse back riding lessons. The difference this time was that he signed himself up too. Well, the reality is, he signed himself up and then us too. He didn’t want to leave us out of something we might actually enjoy “because all girls love horses. It’s the law.” I told him I was a girl and I didn’t love horses and he told me that’s because I just didn’t know I loved them yet. I asked why it had to be a “girl” thing and he said because boys liked things that they could control and use their own feet, like basketball and baseball. Girls like REAL challenges, like ice skates, horses and gymnastics because they are way braver and to stop whining. If I like it, awesome, if not, he signed us up for long enough that he would learn not to fall off and die which was his goal anyway, and that’s it. Five lessons. We’d survive and to stop whining. My mother was freaking out and he said he found a good teacher, the horses seemed calm and if we got hurt he’d let her kill him. She said she wasn’t worried about us because kids fall, break everything in their body at least once and being kicked by a horse builds character, but she wasn’t going to bathe him while he wass in a full body cast because he never even made it to the point of getting on a horse, he tripped on a lump of dirt getting from the car to the barn. He thanked her for her support LOL He asked if she wanted to learn and she said, “I’ll learn by watching and listening while you guys do it. I’ve always wanted to be AROUND horses, I never once thought about riding one. It just wasn’t something I wanted to do. But I always wanted to be comfortable enough to just walk up and pet one like it was a big dog, I was just always afraid I’d walk up wrong and scare the horse and I don’t want to do that. Do you think the teacher would teach me how to pet a horse?” He called the teacher and after she finally stopped howling in laughter at the simplisity of the request, she said “of course I will!” My dad told her he would pay her for those lessons too and she immediately went silent, we could hear the silence on the phone and he said “hello?” She told him that she would never in her life think of charging someone for breaking them of their fear of one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. If he thought she was that kind of woman, he needed another teacher. That first lesson, five of us piled out of that car, and although we paid for 1 hour of lessons for my dad to be shared between four of us, it took two hours, which she didn’t charge for the second hour. What she found was one man who loved horses but was terrified to ride them and four women who were terrified of horses and never dreamed of riding one. After five lessons, my dad was completely done. He had ridden a horse successfully without her holding on to the horse and didn’t fall off and die. He met his life’s goal. He was the only one who bailed out. For the next 6 (?) years, those four terrified women were at that barn every single weekend without fail. Mommy was saying hello and petting every four legged creature on the property (10 horses a dog and two cats), and my sisters and I were saddling up. I got good too – I was competing and doing small rodeos. To this day, I LOVE horses; we all do. To this day, when we go to a horse ranch for vacation, my father doesn’t think twice: at least once on the trip, he will come to the barn and hop on a horse with no fear other than falling on his way to the barn or out to the horse. He has no fear of riding. She was an AMAZING teacher. So, the experience is what you make of it. Your father constantly pushing you may have been because he was unable to be a “sports legend,” it may be because he wanted you to try everything just once so you said you could and maybe even just because he wanted to give you an opportunity he never had and to find a passion in something you didn’t get to do in phys ed. Maybe he just wanted an excuse to spend time with you without your brother. His motivations aside, you seem to remember it fondly-ish. You remember your time with him fondly, even if you don’t remember the sport itself fondly. That’s the part that matters. There was enjoyment for you, even if it was only the walk to and from said location and not the sport itself. You had moments with him that you will forever remember, and that’s all that matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved your reply, Marla! AND OMG YOU ARE GOOD AT HORSES! that’s SO COOL!!! I’m super psyched for you and love that you competed and did really well, that’s such a great – if not unexpected – outcome 🙂 Your horse-riding teacher sounds amazing and your Dad sounds like a really cool person to hang out with. I love that because of him, you’re not afraid of horses. Loved this story and am smiling away as I read it. Thank you for sharing it with me xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. The reason I shared it is only to remind you, and others, that it’s in how you frame it in your mind. He forced me to do it for his own needs/wants/dreams to be met and I just happened to enjoy it vs he found a fear in me, asked that I face it, and created a life long love for something I was scared of initially. Even the sports I was bad at (or hated) are framed similarly in my mind. He demanded and I hated it vs I concluded and he listened. Also, it taught me that you don’t know you’ll be bad at it or hate it until you try it. You might be the one that’s wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

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