I had plans when Aidan Patrick Corey arrived. He was going to be a wrestler and he was going to be a good one.
It was 10 years ago and I was a wrestling coach and a dad. Yes, sadly, it was in that order.
It took a teary-eyed 6-year-old to teach my 36-year-old, nearsighted and self-centered self a little perspective.
I had plans when Aidan Patrick Corey arrived. He was going to be a wrestler and he was going to be a good one. I wrestled. I coached wrestling, and he’d have all the advantages of growing up as a coach’s son.
We’d turn the living room carpet into a makeshift arena. We’d have one-on-one sessions inside wrestling rooms. I envisioned Aidan and me working and drilling every night, toiling towards his eventual beast status. He’d have an edge because I was his dad.
Not that I’m one of Those Dads.
Nobody wants to be one of Those Dads. We all know them. They’re the ones in the bleachers with the reddest faces. They’re the ones with carotid arteries protruding from their necks. They scream during youth athletic events. They bash coaches and blame offiicials. They hype their kids on Internet forums while posting under an anonymous handle. Technology sleuths aren’t needed to figure who’s behind MyKidIsAwesome1972.
Sane minds are left to wonder, “Who’s it about? Your kid or you?”
Actually, sane minds don’t wonder. They know.
In the history of 2-year-olds, none experienced more claw-rides than Aidan. We added halves, bars, and an impenetrable stance to his arsenal. He understood switching from a high crotch to a double. Before he’d attended his first practice, he was ready.
My wife, Keli, bless her, thought 5 was too young for Aidan to start. I argued she was being overprotective, that our son would fall behind.
Aidan was still watching Barney and I was worried he’d fall behind as a wrestler.
Not that I’m one of Those Dads, but more hours in the living room would have to suffice.
The day arrived a year later. I drove Aidan to his first official wrestling practice in November of 2007. The real stuff was finally here. I finished tying his tiny wrestling shoes outside the practice room and looked up.
Aidan was silently fighting tears, welling as they were in his saucer blue eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
No answer. He just kept looking at me, tears no longer welling but streaming. His look of tearful, worried silence shredded me.
In a rare, overdue moment of clarity, it dawned on me: I’d never asked Aidan if he wanted to wrestle. I’d never even asked him if he liked it. It didn’t matter to me. It didn’t matter enough, at least.
I’d become one of Those Dads. And shame on me for that.
In the years since, I’ve thought about the fragile line coaching dads must carefully tread to avoid joining Those Dads. Some fail. We know that. Some pull it off.
I asked Jake Ryan how his father navigated the tenuous path of coaching one's own, but still remaining Dad. Ryan’s father is Ohio State coach Tom Ryan.
“You hear stories all the time, how wrestling dads are overbearing,” Jake said. “My dad was completely hands off and let me decide for myself. He always acted as a father first, a coach second.”
Consider the backstory before chalking that up as a convenient soundbite.
The well-documented tragedy endured by the Ryan family — Jake’s younger brother, Teague, died suddenly at the age of 5 — was, for a period, too difficult for Jake. For a time, he left the sport.
“After Teague passed, I stopped wrestling for around a year,” he said. “I don’t recall ever having a conversation with my father about not wrestling that year. I told him I didn’t want to. That was the end of the conversation we had.”
Parental wisdom is frequently shown in what we don't say.
"I’m sure he was upset," said Jake, who recently graduated from Ohio State. "But he never showed me that.”
Oklahoma coach Lou Rosselli has three sons. Jordan and Jaxson jumped into the sport their father has coached for more than two decades. A third son, Tyler, had other athletic interests.
“I am OK with them not wrestling,” Rosselli said. “I do reinforce work ethic, elite qualities. (Kids) have to find sports and activities they really love to do. (While) I preach work and time into their craft … the elite qualities come from a mentor, coach or dad.”
My son became enamored with basketball. I thought it would pass. It didn’t.
When Aidan was 8, my wife and I awoke early one Saturday morning to the muffled thumping of a basketball. We realized our son was shooting hoops. In the neighbor’s driveway. A few minutes after 7.
Fortunately, the Jaegers are good, forgiving folks. They're parents, too.
We now have a hoop in our driveway.
Aidan made his high school basketball team as a quick, albeit undersized, guard. He scored a career high 32 points — including 8 for 10 from beyond the 3-point arc — in an AAU game last year.
Am I bragging? Probably.
He's honed his skills the way most do. He’s worked at them, because he enjoys basketball. To Aidan, it's fun.
Dad got out of his way. Funny, what happens, when we let our kids chase their loves, not ours.