Being and Dartmouthness
By Kip Dooley, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 4, 2012
My parents are polar opposites in many ways. Their friends from college often express amazement that my dad, a football and baseball-playing SAE, ended up with my mom, who was a hippie flower child with hair down to her waist. On their first date, over dinner before one of my uncle’s high school hockey games, my dad explained the rules and strategies of hockey to my mom. My mom reciprocated the lesson by explaining the concept of negative space in visual art.
When I was young, like most little boys, I idolized my dad. He could throw a football in a perfect spiral, ran a six-minute mile and could pick both me and my brother up at the same time. I still get a huge smile on my face when I remember our excited cheers of “Dad’s home!” as he pulled his Volkswagon into the garage every night before dinner.
I liked my mom a lot too, until a certain age. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but at some point — middle school, I think — I began to resist her. I’m sure it had something to do with wanting to become a man, pushing away the mother and all things feminine to appear more “manly.” I remember feeling embarrassed by the way she laughed loudly at parties and danced to the car radio as if no one was watching. I was annoyed by the way she cooed at little kids, cried in movies and waved excitedly at people we barely knew from the neighborhood.
The thing that got me most was how she yelled louder than all the other parents at my soccer, hockey and lacrosse games, despite the fact that she didn’t know much of anything about sports. She ran marathons before my older brother came around and continued to run long distances every morning. Still, in my mind, she didn’t really get what sports were all about.
My resentment was natural, I think. In the transition from childhood to adolescence, most kids get progressively more embarrassed by their parents’ mannerisms and dismayed with their mere existence. But in the past few years, I’ve begun to realize that, at a deeper level, there was something more problematic going on as I went through my early years as a young man. I didn’t just think my mom was annoying — I thought she was dumb.
Thinking about it now, the way I thought of my mom was probably influenced by the way our society tells young men to think of women generally — irrational, overly emotional and unintelligent. An endlessly curious woman, she used to ask all of us boys at the dinner table in-depth questions about our days and activities. Frequently, we stonewalled her, annoyed with her earnestness. Even her professional work as a food writer I didn’t take seriously. She didn’t pay the bills or work late hours, so I assumed her work was unimportant.
Despite our annoyance and occasional rejection, my mom has encouraged and loved my two brothers and me unrelentingly. No matter how many times I told her growing up, “I don’t want to write in a journal — it’s dumb,” she continued to encourage me to write. I thank God she did, because eventually I listened to her and started writing.
Her insistence that I learn to express my thoughts and feelings — that I trust the validity of my own experience — chipped away at the debilitating male trope of stoic detachment. As an underclassman, I was tempted to cover up my disappointments with lacrosse through drinking and acting as if I didn’t care. At times, this is exactly what I did. But through many a crushing loss on the field and my difficulties in school and social life, she remained steadfast in offering to listen, sharing insights, urging me to write.
After a close loss to Cornell University in early April, stewing in my room over a game we should have won, I felt myself beginning to close off. And then I got an email from my mom.
“I have been watching you and Matt and Tim play as if watching myself; taking on the burden of your victories and defeats. It’s a privilege to be young as I grow older. Last night, walking back from Hanover to Norwich, I felt my whole life knocking around inside me — daughter, wife, mom — who never played organized sports but have fallen madly in love with a game I’m just now beginning to understand. Within each contest there’s such promise and disappointment, courage and breathtaking physical grace. As I crossed the shining Connecticut River that reflected the bounty of stars, I was grateful for what all of these games do — create ever-lasting moments of pure, sweet joy.”