"What if the impressionists had been dentists?" queried a droll essay in 1978. A more intriguing question considers what might have ensued had Wayne Gretsky been born in South Miami.
In baseball, pundits argue about the greatest player of all time. Ted Williams or Willie Mays. Barflies pontificate about Walter Payton versus Johnny Unitas as the best football player ever. In every sport, there is room for glorious debate. Except hockey. Wayne Gretsky is far and away the best ever to dodge a Zamboni. Even without his all-time record goals, he would still have more points than anyone who ever played the game. Nothing to talk about.
But what if Wayne's family had lived down the street from me here in South Miami where the nearest ice skating rink is a three-day trek away by wagon train over rocky terrain? Or worse, what if Wayne's parents had forbidden him to play hockey insisting instead that he study linguistics?
What if loving parents are searching in the wrong haystack? Insisting that your kids suffer with piano lessons when they could be brilliant programmers is ill advised. So is demanding that your kids learn Chinese when they could be gifted mathematicians. Forcing your children to study calculus when they could be fulfilled as musicians always turns out badly.
Imagine Wayne Gretsky growing up to be the manager of the Winn-Dixie down the block because he never got the chance to strap on ice skates. Think of the lost opportunities for your children to achieve greatness and contentment by following their own star. Shouldn't they be exposed to every opportunity? Shouldn't they be allowed to find their own path?
Which is not to say that any of the above choices are mutually exclusive. Good academicians can be strong athletes. Gifted musicians can do well in calculus. The question is about the use of excessive force
As an adult, consider an insensitive employer forcing you to complete tasks for which you have neither aptitude nor affinity. Complete the nightmare by envisioning your boss constantly on your case: "Have you finished those reports yet?"
Is it any wonder that people hate their jobs and steal office supplies? Workplace misery doesn't excuse
theft but it might help to explain
all those missing staplers.
What if you are forcing your children to devote their attention to that which is antithetical to their nature. Sure, I can multiply two-digit numbers together in my head, but does that mean that my children must learn the same party trick? What if we are rubbing our children's metaphorical fur the wrong way?
The smart money is on allowing our children every opportunity to be who they are. Offer them athletics, music, art, academics and every other conceivably option to find their passion and their brilliance. Expose them to skating and literature and language and hiking. Model sober attention to that which brings you joy.
"Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life." Whatever else we communicate as parents, insisting that our children fulfill our vision of the path that will bring them contentment is invariably a step in the wrong direction.
Or as Gretsky himself said, "You miss all the shots you don't take." Surely we should put as many metaphorical hockey sticks in the hands of our very real children as possible.