Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When A Parent Becomes A Spectator

Squash always seems to my continued amazement to imitate life. Anyone who has been a parent, knows that when your children become young adults it's a major adjustment as your role as parent changes. I've been rightly accused by my young adult son and daughter of still treating them like children -- and I can tell you it does really make them mad. I'm often slow to adjust and make changes but once I recognize the need I do make the changes necessary to keep things going. I recently received a wake up call from my daughter that seem to say if I didn't relate to her as an adult, I might as well not talk to her. We recently had an AIM conversation, she can always go offline if I annoy her rather than just hang up the phone, where I asked her how her studies in pre-med were going. She said she was studying for a Micro-Biology exam, I then asked her what that was, and she proceeded to tell me quickly what that was. I'm still trying to understand what it is and how to relate to that. She never played squash but foil fenced and was really very good.
For my son, who plays squash and wants to play professionally, he is at the point where I coach him but mostly he likes the way I train him and feed him. It's on rare occassion that I'm allowed to offer any advice. He is incredibly demanding and edgy on court and has little or no patience if I am on court with him and have been coaching 7 hours and seem tired or sore. I'm not his father on court, I'm on court to help him train.
Recently our good friend and squash guru, Jim Masland (whom I've written about frequently on this Blog) was back in town. My son first joined Jim on court when he was 4 years old in Durham, North Carolina in 1993. Since then they have played numerous times, and even as recently as last December, Jim beat him. The gap has closed significantly since my son was 4 years old, and last time they played the better player lost to a wily fox, an Odyssean journeyman, a Yoda with the lightsaber. Jim has slowed in recent years, has put on some pounds, but his game is still great, he's a joy to watch. He has a magnificent forehand, short, compact, economical and holds the ball forever. His feathery drops to the front are tantalizing and he can punctuate a long rally with a sudden and winning trickle boast. Jim is a fierce competitor and I've often noticed just how fierce he is when he's pressured. He is used to winning, if not in score, then in the quality of the squash.
We invited the club members at LA Fitness in Great Neck to come watch, what was now becoming a grudge match between the two warriors. Trash talking started a week before. My son has been training hard and is in the best shape of his life. His game is the foundation of a professional game, 3 months ago it was but he tin'd the ball and didn't execute well. Thanks go to a brief stint in England playing in Birmingham with Chris Hall and Chris Fuller, under the tuteledge of Steve Townsend.
The crowd was small but some of my favorite members were there to watch. Margaret Higgins who had taken a break from squash was back, the place smelled wonderfully with some "beach" labelled perfume (she always adds class to the squash area there), Shyamala was there as well, beautiful and with that most infectious laugh. John Gross, Pooya, Tom, and a number of other passer-by's had stopped to watch
Jim was in considerably better shape than the last time they played, he was more muscular and balanced. You could see his footwork was sharper, he moved extremely well around the court. My son, was quick, his racquet speed and preperation explosive. A few early points into the game Jim returned shots and before he even looked back to follow his ball, my son had cut the ball off and rifled shots back. There was a nice even tone to the first game, Jim was still trying to find his timing and the way of the court, which is fast off the wall but slow on the floor. My son built an early lead and then Jim tied it and went ahead 9-7. I could see a very cool and calm player with a gameplan, every shot he hit had purpose. Jim was a bit impatient and when he tin'd a loose ball in the front he was a bit frustrated it was the opening he had been looking for. My son then missed a hard tight rail from Jim and Jim had game ball at 10-8. It was then that I realized that I wasn't watching my son, I was watching a player, a really good player in a great match. For years my son played, wasn't fit, was evolving, a work in progress, he'd hit a bad ball and look at me, I'd gesture with calm, focus, watch the ball signals, he's wave me off. He'd argue with the referee and yell at himself -- his squash mind was well beyond his physical abilities. Here, I was referreeing this match and he never even looked in my direction. He was separate, he was a young man on court simply playing a game he loves more than anything in the world. He won that first game 16-14, Jim looked like he had been through a round with a young Mike Tyson.
The second game began with Jim making an adjustment. He'd shorten the rallies and end the point on the fist opportunity he had. He wasn't going to "hang" with my son, so his gameplan was to frustrate my son, hold the ball, go for the nick, redirect the ball. It worked brilliantly, my son started playing Jim's game but was tin'ing. A couple of times I made some signals to settle and watch the ball come off Jim's racquet, but my son wasn't looking at me. By looking at him you wouldn't know whether he was winning or loosing. He just played. And the games were 1-1.
Between games my son came off the court didn't even notice me, I was talking to Shyamal and Margaret but was watching my son out of the corner of my eye: "is his asthma bothering him, does he need a hit from his nebulizer, how are his knees"; the floors at that club aren't sprung and unforgiving. But he took drinks of his vitamin water and stared blankly ahead.
My son played brilliantly in the third game and just dominated a fading Jim. I wanted to tell my son to beware of the aging possum, to finish Jim off and not let him in. In the fourth game, tensions mounted. Neither player gave an inch. My son was calm and composed, Jim was edgy, shaking his head, and when he missed a forehand volley off my son's backhand cross he seemed to drunkenly stumble to the side wall. He was tired. Jim was trying to upset the rhythm of the game he argued a let when no let was called. He opened the door and said "where was the let" I responded by saying "no let was called" a bit puzzled that he was arguing a call that wasn't requested. To Jim's credit he came back, he wasn't ready to concede and fought back, he was he now the underdog, the scrapper, fighting for every point. I've watched Jim play for years and I always marvelled at his balance and fluidity on court. Now it was my son, striking the ball with tremendous pace and precision, taking it right to Jim, he wanted to grind Jim into submission, and if it went to a fifth game, so be it, my son was none the weary for the match. My son had three match balls and when Jim went for a forehand trickle boast and tin'd it my son gently pumped his fist, job done, match over. He shook Jim's hand as an equal -- they walked off the court and sat for a while discussing the match. I watched with some regret but a great deal of respect that what I was once to my son in squash he now to himself. He was and is his own man both on the court and off the court. I briefly talked to him about my observations, but stopped myself, old habits are hard to get rid of, he didn't seem to notice as I cut myself off and said "well done".

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