Dear Little Brother,
I may have been the firstborn. But you are the boy he always wanted. You are the one who can follow in his “legacy” footsteps. You are the one that could finish his dream which now only exists as newspaper clippings hanging on our wall.
Dad has always been tough on me as an athlete, but you will have it so much worse. You are his only chance at finishing the dream he left hanging on our basement walls.
A Pure-Bred Athlete
Dad will have you playing baseball from the moment you can walk. When you can run, he will put you into flag football. Then when you start to show your size, he will immediately put you in tackle. He will push you to follow in his footsteps, and you will fight it every step of the way. He will overload your plate at dinner and make you finish everything on it. It is almost as if you are a purebred horse that is bred solely to play football.
By age 10, you fall in love with hockey all on your own and convince Mom and Dad to let you play for the local peewee team. You will be good at all three sports, but you will have a natural knack and love for hockey. Plus, you will have the size other kids your age won’t. Come high school, you will choose not to play football; you will choose hockey. But unfortunately for you, this will break our dad and his dream.
This is where I wish I could have changed Dad before he got to you like he got to me. I tried, along with Mom, to get him off your back and to let you play the sport you wanted to play. But it wouldn’t be enough, and this experience would shape the rest of your life.
As you get older and college is nearing, Dad will refuse to let you continue playing hockey. He will make you choose one sport, thinking if you focus on one, you’ll be more likely to end up with a scholarship. But that sport will not be hockey; Dad won’t budge. He will say hockey won’t get you anywhere because you haven’t played it as long as the other kids. He will tell you there aren’t enough hockey scholarships. He will say it’s too expensive. He will come up with every excuse and reason he can to keep you from playing the sport you love because he doesn’t understand it and it’s not a sport he wants you to play.
I will tell you to keep fighting him. I will tell you not to give up hockey. Mom will do her best to fight him with you. We all wish we would have ignored Dad and just paid for you to play before he got into your head with his excuses. This is where you start to lose the energy to fight, and following in Dad’s footsteps starts to seem inevitable.
Football It Is
You think maybe this will finally make him happy. Maybe he won’t be so hard on you if you play the sport he wants. And, of course, there is his CONSTANT reminder that college is expensive and you need to get a scholarship.
The pressure to get a scholarship will eat you alive. You will put everything you have into football. You will convince yourself you aren’t smart enough to get good grades or apply to bigger schools.
I tried to tell you; you could do it. I tried to tell you that you are smart. That you didn’t have to play football if you didn’t want to. But you didn’t believe me. Dad had already gotten into your head and convinced you that a football scholarship was your only way into college. He had won. After 15 years of playing sports, he got what he wanted- a son to play football and maybe even make something of himself, the way he didn’t get to.
Back To The Basement Wall
You won’t get those scholarships. But you will get into college and play football at the DIII level. Unfortunately, that is short-lived.
You will get an awful concussion- this will be number three or four and the worst one yet. After that, you will decide to finally call it quits for good because you know if you get another concussion, your brain will be mush- or rather more mush.
After all the fighting, after all your hard work, no one’s dream came true. I wonder, was it worth it for Dad? Was it worth shattering your hockey dreams? All of that, just so your dreams ended up on the basement wall right next to his. I think we will all wonder what could have been had he just let you play the sport you loved. Maybe your hockey skates would be on the wall now too, but at least it would have been something that made you happy, not something you were pressured into doing.
You will graduate college, but you will continue to think about the pressure from Dad every single day. You will wonder what could have been had you stuck with hockey. You will try to find your first professional job and continue to think you’re not good enough to apply to most of them. And sometimes, you still long for Dad to be proud of you.
I don’t know what happens next. But I hope you learn that you are smart. I hope you learn that Dad will never change and that he will never learn how to communicate without criticizing. One day, I hope you learn what I eventually did- it’s not us, it’s him, and you are good enough.
Your Older Sister