Park Life: Scores, scorelines and parental pride

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The Independent Culture
TO MY son Tom, I am a walking, talking rebuke whenever we approach a sports field. He is convinced that I am obsessed with sport, and that I judge him (and disparage him) accordingly.

He is wrong, I must insist, on both counts. I dare say I could become obsessed with sport if I allowed myself to, but I keep an iron grip on myself: if I am locked into a prior engagement that clashes with a vital FA Cup replay, I am able to forego the football with reasonable good grace.

And I do at least glance at the front page of the newspaper before devouring the back pages, and if sport is the only thing worth watching on television, I put it down to the dearth of decent scriptwriters since Dennis Potter.

The more serious - and hurtful - charge is that I somehow blame my 10- year-old son for not excelling in my field of interest. This is not true at all, but I cannot seem to shake Tom's conviction.

Nothing I say or do helps: if, on the tennis court, I suggest that he try moving his feet, I am told: "Stop getting at me." Last weekend, playing doubles with the rest of the family, I kept my mouth resolutely shut until Tom threw a grand-slam tantrum and blurted out: "Dad's looking at me."

At the end of last term we were the only parents in Tom's class not to be invited to sports day, even though Tom had come third in the sprint trials. It is not that he is bad at sport - he may not have an eye for a ball, but he is big for his age and physically imposing - he is just not interested.

Perhaps it is true that I would have been disappointed if neither of my children were sporty. We will never know. Luckily for me, seven-year- old Darcy shares my interests with almost uncanny precision: he would play football all day long and then watch it on television all night if we allowed him.

It came as no surprise to me that the boys turned out the way they have. When each was about 10 months old - the crawling and sitting stage - I tried an experiment: I sat them down and rolled a ball towards them to test their reactions. This was not a hideous attempt to brainwash my infant children into sharing my obsessions. Far from it: I wanted to test their instinctive interest in a rolling ball before experience had told them that it was supposed to be fun - before they had witnessed role models, whether me or older children, playing with a ball.

Needless to report, baby Tom was mildly interested, picking up the ball when it took his attention, then dropping it and moving on to something else.

Baby Darcy, by contrast, was instantly transfixed and is still, as it were, playing with that ball.

We discovered where Tom's interest and talent lay, quite by accident, a few years after my experiment with the ball. There happened to be a piano left behind in our new house, and after it had sat there for a few months, silently taking up valuable space, I rang around and found a piano teacher to give Tom a few lessons. Within a couple of weeks he was picking out recognisable tunes and reading music as fast as he could read the alphabet.

Six years on, when I tell Tom how proud I am of his music, he thinks I'm only saying it. What he does not - cannot - understand is that I have to hold back tears each time I listen to him practising the piano, let alone watching him play a Beethoven sonatina or a Chopin prelude in public.

Indeed, I am far more impressed by prowess at music than at sport because it is so bafflingly mysterious to me: a perfectly executed arpeggio is more moving than a perfectly executed cover drive. Music also has a wonderful power to communicate emotion without using words (which almost always fail, unless you are a genius).

It has also given Tom a discipline and maturity of purpose that sport simply cannot deliver at his age: scales performed unbidden every morning, followed by some serious practice, and only then mucking about with his own tunes. At the age of 10, sport is nothing but mucking about.

So, finally, I have to admit that making music is a more worthwhile study, a greater accomplishment, a higher expression of the human soul than sport.

But come on, Tom, even a maestro must want to relax and hit a ball about every now and then. And that's where I fit in.