Dads and lads

2012-11-06 00:00

SCHOOL sports day events like dads and lads cricket matches, moms and daughters hockey games, parent and staff races are all meant to provide some light-hearted, non-competitive fun to proceedings. Now I have two teenage boys, and over the years have taken part in several of these kinds of events, and let me just say that when I think of them, non-competitive is not an adjective that springs to mind. I mean you are talking about two groups of males. And when you consider that a large number of participants in these events are middle-aged men, well all sorts of drama can and often does unfold.

For me, our sports day last year was a particularly painful case in point. It was a staff versus parents versus Grade 7s affair, so as a parent-teacher, I was feeling quite a lot of pressure. I was roped in at the last minute, as one of our staff had to attend to a personal emergency. My son, Francis, who is really quick, was in the Grade 7 team, so I think the sports department figured that I would be a reasonable bet as an emergency replacement.

I tried to warn them that choosing me wasn’t a good idea. I gave them a brief summary of how recessive genes work (or rather don’t work). I explained that Francis had got his speed from his late grandfather, and that the gene had skipped a generation in me. I even used a computer analogy to try to consolidate my point. I explained that in me speed was like one of those greyed-out buttons you sometimes get on your screen. It’s there, but nothing happens when you click on it.

It obviously wasn’t enough because I still wound up running for the staff as one of a four-man relay team. The distance was a lap around the field, about 250 metres or so. Our first runner, Chris, an ex-American college athlete, got around the field in a blistering time and handed me the baton together with a massive lead. Off I went. I thought a good steady pace would be more than enough to get around the track and still maintain a reasonable gap. The steady pace part wasn’t really a tactical decision; it was the only way I was going to make it around the field anyway.

But my calculations were horribly long. I was about halfway around the field when I heard shouting and cheering from the side lines. I looked over my shoulder to see my son Francis thundering up behind me like the Gautrain. In a feeble attempt at humour, I pretended to hold him back good-naturedly as he drew up next to me, slowing down briefly to ask me if I was okay.

The applause and shouting reached a crescendo as Francis moved past me. I felt like I had just become part of a really bad Greek play. The remainder of my run was really a desperate struggle to get enough oxygen into my lungs so that I could at least finish my section and hand over the baton.

Fortunately, my wife, Shelley, only managed to arrive after the race, so she wasn’t present to witness my humiliation. But a fellow parent happily related the story to her, joking that I was probably still recovering in the oxygen tent.

This year our sports day was cancelled. It had been rescheduled three times (twice because of rain), so I believe that it really wasn’t meant to happen. This has given me a bit of time to reflect and write about last year’s events, which has been quite cathartic.

And, in fact, to be honest, apart from the obvious psychic scarring, I got off quite lightly. During the race, one of the poor dads in the parents’ team tore his Achilles tendon and had to hobble off the field and later undergo surgery. Yes, I know, Oedipal undertones, catharsis and a torn Achilles tendon, but, like I said, the whole experience really did feel like a terrible Greek play.



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