This past weekend at the Pomme de Terre, a parent (who shall remain anonymous) was black carded for unruly behavior following a team match. The parent admits that he “violated rule #5 of An Open letter to Fencing Parents and attempted to live vicariously through his child.” It is terribly difficult to admit wrongdoing, particularly when shame is brought upon your club and family, but this parent has owned up to his mistake and written an eloquent post about what can happen when a parent gets overinvested in his/her child’s fencing. Despite what multiple witnesses have called an egregious and careless error by the referee in this bout, the parent acknowledges his mistake, and without prompting, reached out to me requesting this be posted on The Fencing Coach. I hope you will enjoy this read as much as I have.
A Diary of a Black Card
A couple of months ago USFA rules were changed in order to make it easier to “Black Card,” or eject, a spectator from a fencing tournament. The term “spectator,” of course, is simply a euphemism for “obnoxious parent.”
“Who are these people?” I wondered at the time. Who are these people? — the ones who seem never to have learned what every competitive athlete should know, what even our children know. That you win some. That you lose some. That you let it go.
Well, as it turns out, “these people” are me. Obnoxious parent is a euphemism for me.
Because over the weekend, I was that parent, the one who couldn’t let a bad call go, who verbally abused the bout director, the tournament director, the other team and its coach. Am I sorry and embarrassed? Yes. Is there a part of me still raging, a part that wants to argue the issue to death? Oh, yeah. But there’s nothing left to argue about: the decision on the strip was final, and out of several hundred fencers and “spectators” at yesterday’s Pomme de Terre, I was the only who displayed anything even remotely resembling poor sportsmanship. There can be no defending the way I acted.
There can be no defending it especially because I know that what happened had nothing to do with fencing. It had nothing to do with the call I protested so grotesquely. It was about something else.
A fifty year old man, a putative adult, I brought my own failures and disappointments to my son’s event. I crowded the bleachers with every petty grievance I’ve ever nursed; when a trivial last straw hit me in the form of a referee’s decision, every one of them exploded into action.
I wanted to see him win for his own sake, of course, but I also had another agenda, one not so noble. I wanted him to win so that I’d feel like I’d won. Vicarious redemption. I wanted him to triumph so that his triumph could be my own. It’s not something to be proud of.
I needed a win. I needed it badly, and I looked for it in exactly the wrong place: my child’s event, my child’s life. In the end, I embarrassed myself, my son and his team.
He’s taking it well, as is his coach, his teammates, their parents, and everyone else I embarrassed. In fact, I think he might even be enjoying the opportunity to engage in a little role reversal.
“And what did we learn today?” he asked his infantile father. “That we don’t yell at the director?” He might as well have told me to use my inside voice.
But that’s not really what I learned. I learned that we don’t live vicariously through our kids. That our problems are our own to solve, not theirs. That we don’t bring our own longing for victory to their field of battle. Boundaries. We don’t visit our sins on our children. Halt.