If I were to write down everything I know almost nothing about, it would make a mighty scroll.
It would be so impressive, that I’d be well advised to break it down into volumes, kind of like an Encyclopedia of Ignorance. Book One would be about Home Repair, with extensive chapters on plumbing and electrical appliances. A smaller but just-as-definitive work would be about my inability to solve my daughter’s tangle of hair each morning. For the life of me, I can’t create even the most basic ponytail capable of surviving the trip to school.
At this point, some of you are probably thinking, “He should add ‘How to Write a Column’ to the list. What idiot writes a column about the stuff he doesn’t know?” (Answer can be found in the picture above).
But bear with me, because I just learned something about not-knowing. It can define us – if we let it. Like a photographic negative, the gaps make the picture what it is. And I’ll wager many of us do that from time to time.
My wife recently suggested I coach my son’s soccer team – a suggestion she’d made a few times before. You should know that the book of Sports Not Called Baseball, Football and Tennis belong in the encyclopedia. My soccer knowledge can be summed up like this. I know players try to kick a round ball into a square-ish goal. I know that you do not use your hands unless you’re the goalie. I know that grown men lining up to defend against a penalty kick will cover the part of themselves they consider to be most important – and they don’t put their hands in front of their faces.
But that’s not enough information to coach a team, is it? So I rebuffed the suggestion. ‘Let someone else do it,’ was my prayer, and I was so grateful when it was answered in the affirmative.
But this year, the prayer did not get answered – not to my satisfaction, anyway. Jackson signed up for West U Soccer, and there were more teams than coaches. If someone didn’t step up, my son’s team would not exist and he would not play. Still, I didn’t boldly step into the breach. When the final call for volunteers came, I chose a more weasel-like path. “If no other parent steps up,” I said, “I’ll do it.” I left it up to fate, and fate pointed a finger back at me.
Needing a crash course in soccer, I frantically called family and friends who know the game. I called Jackson’s coach from the previous season, who had volunteered despite knowing little about the game. I surfed the Internet for instructional tips (what people needing instant information did before Google is a mystery to me.)
Before I knew it, I was running drills on how to dribble, how to pass, how to shoot. While watching practice and pretending I had a clue about was happening around me, I noticed Jackson was hanging on my arms and legs.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked.
It was then I realized Jackson – in the way peculiar to 8-year-old boys who would rather suffer torture than show Dad affection in public – was hugging me. It was a shocking moment. And that wasn’t the only surprise of the afternoon.
Before this coaching gig, Jackson never accepted my offer to kick the ball around in the yard. At the end of a hot, hour-long practice, he suggested we stay late and kick the ball around together.
Confused, I called a friend who has coached his daughter’s teams for several years. He wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“Oh yeah, coaching Caroline is probably the best thing we do together,” he said. “She’s always hugging on me and smiling. She never wants to play soccer when we’re at home, but when we’re on a team, we have a great time together.”
So I guess that’s it – being on a team together. A family is a team, certainly, but we don’t have a cool name like the Cobras. We don’t have uniforms – thank goodness – and we don’t show our stuff against other families on Saturday mornings.
The thing I dreaded quickly turned out to be a joy. I learned – subtract one book from the encyclopedia – Jackson and I needed something for the two of us, something structured to keep out the interruptions of work, of busy little sisters and of Nintendo.
And now we have it.