My dad marked a milestone birthday recently, and my stepmom threw a small-ish dinner party to celebrate. After the cake was sliced and served, my three sisters and I each shared a special memory with the group. Mine was a bit unusual, but then again, so is my dad.
When I was 13, my mom signed me up for summer swim team at our local pool. (Yes, I know that’s the age when most kids quit swim team. Sigh.) A former collegiate swimmer, my dad volunteered to take me to my first meet. About ten minutes before my first race, I ran over to him in a panic. The girls I was up against looked good—really good—and I was scared. “What if I finish last?” I wailed. “Well,” he said calmly, “You might.” I walked away, slightly confused. Was that his version of a pep talk? Wasn’t he supposed to grab my shoulders and tell me I was crazy to think I’d lose—that what I lacked in experience I made up for in grit and stamina? As I stepped up on the starting block, I quickly glanced over at my dad, and he gave me a slight nod.
Spoiler alert: I finished dead last. Afterward, I walked over to my dad, and we both just shrugged our shoulders. Some might think this was terrible parenting, but it was a brilliant move on my dad’s part. Acknowledging the worst possible scenario (losing) and having some time to sit with it was quite freeing. I realized that finishing last would be embarrassing but not the end of the world. Plus, I didn’t feel the need to apologize to my dad afterward or explain myself. We both knew losing was a possibility. It happened. Time to move on.
After I shared my story, my dad approached me later to apologize. He didn’t want me to think that he had no confidence in me back then. I reassured him that he handled the situation perfectly. Last weekend I watched my middle daughter come in last in her own swim race. (Unlike me, she never considered this outcome beforehand.) I saw her face fall as she glanced at the scoreboard. Afterward I told her the same thing happened to me—multiple times. “Really?” she asked, eyes widening. “Really,” I reassured her. I survived, and so would she.
Nowhere to go but up,
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