Today was the boys end of the year party for wrestling. They had lots of fun. This wrestling season was full of getting up super early, making weigh-ins, having breakfast, then getting back to warm-up. We went to far away places to wrestle, we constantly ran into the Sedro-Woolley juggernaut – little wrestling assassins. For me it was an interesting experience to go from being a participant to being an observer. Wrestling is an intense sport. It is one on one, you can’t hide behind teammates or be lost in the shuffle of team sports. Nope it is just you and the other person. As a parent it can be nerve-wracking to watch your child compete, to struggle, to battle. The boy’s coach, Joe, gave a parent talk prior to one of the first events of the year, basically reminding the parents that we should treat our kids the same whether they win or lose. The goal is not to enforce the idea that some how we as parents are more proud of our kids if they win and somehow less proud if they lose. After every match, my goal is to tell them both that I am proud of them and that I love them. I try to have the same reaction regardless of the outcome of the match. It sounds pretty easy to do this, however when you watch a match it is hard not to get caught up in the excitement, especially when they do well. In wrestling, when you lose it is a little more personal then in team sports, because in wrestling, when you lose – you lose. There is no team, your teammates don’t lose along with you. It is just you. You feel the bitter defeat.
My sophomore year of high school, I wrestled varsity, but the truth was I didn’t win very much. In fact, I didn’t win a varsity match the entire year. I did win a couple of JV matches, but not at the varsity level. That year the league tournament was held over two days. Yep, I was the only person on the team that was knocked out of the tournament on Friday – day one of the two day event. It was tough. Most of my matches, I would lose by around 6 points. I didn’t get pinned, but I didn’t win either. I was ashamed of the fact that I sucked. At times it was even more painful because I truly loved the sport, I loved being a wrestler, I love the hard work, pushing myself, but I wasn’t any good. The shame was hard to deal with, it surrounded me. It made me feel isolated and alone. I even got to the point where I banned my parents from coming to dual meets and tournaments. My shame was winning, overtaking me. Somehow, I believed that I was a failure and I didn’t want my parents to see me lose. Shame twisted my thoughts to make me think that they would somehow love me less or be less proud of me, because I wasn’t very good. It was also the first time in doing sports, that I really struggled. Granted I wasn’t the best at other sports I did, but I could hold my own – but not in wrestling. My parents honored my request and didn’t attend my meets and tournaments that year. Looking back I realized that I stole those moments from them. They didn’t care if I won any matches or not, they just wanted to watch me compete. Much like I like to watch my boys compete. My only hope is that they try their best and don’t give up. That is all I ask of them and I am proud of them regardless of the outcome of the match. I know my Dad felt the same way. After I was eliminated from competition that year, I continued to show up at practice and work out along side those who advanced to state that year. I worked hard and didn’t quit. I enjoyed practice because I didn’t have to feel the wait of the shame I carried.
Along came my junior year, our first tournament was at Granite Falls. At that tournament I actually won my first two matches and qualified for the final. While we were waiting around for the finals, I remember my coach, Ralph, came up to me and asked why my parents were not at the tournament. I came up with some bogus response, not wanting to admit that I was ashamed of myself and had banned my parents. I tried to lie my way out of revealing my shame. Then Erik Backstrom, who was listening to my response outed me to my coach. Telling the truth. “Dave’s parents would come to every tournament, but David tells them not to come.” I was caught red handed. I had to admit where shame had led me. To pushing away my family. Ralph demanded that I go call my parents and tell them that I was in the finals. I did. They stopped what they were doing and drove up to Granite Falls to watch me wrestle in the finals. In order to make it in time they literally had to stop and leave quickly. They made it in time to watch the finals. I ended up losing in overtime. But the cycle of shame was broken. They didn’t miss a match or tournament the rest of my career. But yes shame caused me to hurt those closest to me, those who were my best supporter, my biggest allies. But I had allowed shame to twist my thoughts and my mind to push them away, to try and hide my shame from them.
I think that is what shame does, it causes us to hurt those closest to us. It isolates and causes us to feel alone and then it causes us to push away those around us. They become the problem, the enemy. We hate feeling isolated, but yet we fight to isolate ourselves even further. Those who can help us to overcome our shame, we run from and keep out. We take our shame and but it in a box and try to hide it from the world at all costs. We don’t want anyone to open and look into that box, so we make pour choices and bad decisions in the name of protecting our box of shame. Yet we don’t realize that real problem is shame itself. We don’t need to feel it, we don’t need to give in. We think that by locking it up in the dark and hiding it, it will die and go away. But shame feeds in the dark, it grows more powerful the more we try to lie and deceive to protect it. It dies when it is exposed, when it hits the light, when the truth prevails. It dies when we let those who love us and support us see our shame and love us despite our shortcomings, our imperfections. None of us are perfect. We all have our flaws, but that does not mean that we are unlovable. No it just means that we are human. Shame dies when we see that those people who truly love and support us, will love us not just despite our flaws, but also despite our efforts to hide our shame from them. Honestly my parents could have been upset at me for banning them from attending my meets, they could have said “Oh now you want us to come watch you, when it is good for you.” They could have told me tough, you lost your chance, you failed us, thus we are moving on, we are done trying to support you. But they didn’t. They stopped what they were doing and made the hour drive to watch me compete in a six minute match. They came and watched me lose, but they were very happy to be there, to watch me.
My goal is that my boys will never have to feel the isolation and loneliness that shame brings. I want them to feel that they will always be loved. That they will always make me proud. That I will always be happy to be called their Dad. Granted they will make mistakes, they will fail, they will then try to hide their problems, they will lie at some point, but that does not mean that I will love them any less. Yes there will be times that I am not happy with their actions, but I will never not be happy with who they are. I will always have their backs. I want them to know that I will always be willing to make that hour long drive for them simply because they asked me to.