It may have been the heat, their unsightly strokes, or the constant bickering in between points, but for some strange reason, when my sons finished playing this morning, I said, “You know I love you guys, but I have to tell you this: you are both terrible tennis players.”
“How can you say that?” one son asked.
“Because I have this unconditional, paternal affirmation for both you and your bro-“
“Not that. I mean, how can you say we were terrible?”
“I could have said it was your serve. Then again, it might be your play at the net. Of course, I haven’t gotten to your ground-strokes. And let’s not forget that backhand…”
“But you can’t say that. You should have said, ‘You’re both good players, but here are some areas for improvement’.” (You can tell that my sons have attended private schools.)
“That’s not a bad approach, but I don’t want you to someday get your clocks cleaned on the tennis court because, when you were still an impressionable adolescent, in a moment of fawning insanity, your father duped you into thinking you were a decent player.”
Before I could defend myself further, my life partner joined in the fun. “Mr. Teacher Man, did you ever so much as bother to TEACH your sons how to play tennis, rather than just criticize them?”
“I am a terrible tennis player myself, “ I parried, “so all I can do is teach them how to be awful, and it seems they’ve already mastered that on their own.”
In hindsight, I realize I should have done what I do in any athletic context, which is to yell, “Bend your knees!” I confess I’ve yelled, “Bend your knees” at guys’ playing checkers, but it never seems to achieve the desired effect. Of course, neither did this momentary stab at truth telling.
On second thought, everyone in my house is an outstanding tennis player.