Editor’s Note: This column is an opinion piece submitted by August Demilune, a parent taking adult sociology courses at Austin Community College.
This past spring, against my better judgment, I relented to my 6-year-old son Gulliver’s teary-eyed pleading and signed him up to play on the kindergarten t-ball team. It was a moment of weakness I’m sure many parents are familiar with. You know you should say no to your child — whether it be to their request for one more raspberry before bedtime, or allowing them to visit the house of a friend whose family owns a television — but you just cannot bring yourself to deny your precious bundle of joy.
I suppose I justified the decision by reasoning that some things must be learned through doing. So yes, I signed my son up for the t-ball team hoping he would learn on his own how problematic sports can be, with its ableism and fat shaming, and its insistence that children — or anyone — must measure themselves against one another. The goal of doing a thing should not be to do it better than someone else, and parents who don’t teach their children this are simply not doing a good job at raising their children compared to the parents who do teach that lesson.
I was racked with anxiety sitting in the bleachers for Gulliver’s first game. I couldn’t bear the thought of my sweet boy being cruelly confronted with conflict, and judgment, and his own limitations. All things he should never have to be made aware of.
My nightmare quickly became reality after Gulliver’s first at-bat resulted in an “out.” An out. A term so blisteringly exclusionary that I nearly walked out onto the field, picked him up, put him back into his big boy björn, and left then and there.
An inning later Gulliver’s place in the batting order came up again. This time I was not going to sit idly by and let others judge him by some rigid metric of success that he’d never consented to or been consulted on. So I walked up to the bench and asked Gulliver to give me his bat. (I never tell my child to do anything. I ask him because I respect his autonomy as an individual.)
Gulliver said no but I took the bat anyway.
“Papa will take care of you,” I told him.
As I walked up to the plate his coach followed behind me. Being a white man, he was predictably incredulous that someone had the courage to challenge a norm and asked me what I thought I was doing.
“Don’t you dare!” I screamed at him. “You don’t get to decide my child’s value! No one does! I’m going to show you what he’s worth!”
The other parents, coaches, and children, from both teams, were taken aback by our bravery. Noticing the apprehension and even disgust from the crowd, I began to lecture them on the oppressiveness of their expectations of “normalcy,” but I was interrupted by a coach from the other team who, thankfully, seemed to be as open-minded as me.
“Let’s just get this over with,” he said as he placed the ball on the tee.
“This is ridiculous,” a bigoted parent from the opposing team shouted. “He’s a grown man hitting a ball off a tee at small children!”
Apparently now this mother cared about the well-being of her child. Now that her child was in danger in a way society didn’t deem acceptable. The emotional trauma of becoming an out, or of being forced into “fielding” — a disgusting, antiquated term that exposes children to horrific plantation imagery — is no bother to them. But put their defenseless, forty-pound child fifty feet away from an adult male hitting a hard ball off a tee with a metal bat and suddenly the world is about to end.
She, nor anyone else, however, seemed to care about my child. Gulliver was on the bench crying now, obviously upset that these small-minded people were attacking us.
I stepped to the plate, lined up the ball, and swung with all my might. For Gulliver. For change.
Ultimately I popped out to the catcher in that, my first at-bat. But on the year Gulliver, primarily through me, is hitting an exceptional .219* batting average.
Hitting, it turns out, has been the easy part. Every week Gulliver still faces ridicule and judgment because of our bravery. Because we dare to challenge society’s idea of what success is. Because I’m 0-22 with runners in scoring position. But how others perceive us — emotionally, socially, and statistically — doesn’t matter. What’s important is what we believe. So every time I think Gulliver has earned it, I tell his coach to mark down a home run in the box score. Gulliver has hit forty-seven home runs this year, and I am unbelievably proud of him and everything he’s overcome to accomplish that.
I am amused in retrospect. During that first game I wanted to run home, and now my child has the most home runs in the league. Sometimes the universe really does bend toward justice and, when it does, it often does so with a delicious hint of irony.
Of course, the establishment never simply concedes its mistakes and attempts to correct itself. It sees the “renegades” and the “deviants” and tries its best to silence and ignore them. Sadly it’s no different with Gulliver. Now that the season is nearing its end I’ve been told that all the children on the team are going to receive the same sized trophies. This despite the fact that Gulliver has more recorded home runs than the rest of the team combined. And that’s to say nothing of his intangibles, like courageousness and empathy, which he clearly has more of than anyone else on the team. In a just world he’d get his own unique, bigger trophy honoring the fact that he’s more valuable than everyone else. Fairness has never been something our society has been much concerned with, though. Why should it be any different now?
Whether or not things work out the way they should, one thing is certain, Gulliver (through me) is going to keep swinging. And that’s what matters most of all.
*The author was not aware that bases reached on errors do not count toward batting average. As of the time of publication, adjusted for this miscalculation, the author is hitting .071 with zero extra-base hits.