When my 10-year-old son swings and misses, I tell him to keep his eye on the ball.
When he has a hard time throwing strikes, I tell him to relax and just play catch.
On the football field, I tell him to play as hard as he can and have fun.
There’s a right and wrong way to teach a first baseman to cover the bag. There’s a right way to show a player to slide, block, tackle and shoot.
In sports, the answers are easy. There is a cliché answer for everything. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Pretty simple.
Off the field, the answers are much more complicated.
What do you tell your son when his fourth-grade classmate and friend commits suicide? What do you tell him and his friends when they ask you why the boy would do that?
How do you help such young children cope with such a devastating loss when you’re not sure how to deal with it yourself?
The Kennedy Elementary School and the Mining City were rocked last week by the untimely death of young Darian, a smiling boy who left this world about 90 years too soon.
When we turn to our book of clichés, we will not find an answer to this one.
I didn’t know Darian well, but he was at our house several times. A few other times, he’d see me at the store or gas station and enthusiastically yell, “Hi Grady’s dad! Where’s Grady?”
I’d go home and tell Grady that a boy was asking about him. “Oh,” Grady would say. “That sounds like Darian.”
He could just tell.
Darian didn’t play Little League Baseball, but he clearly had some athletic potential. That was obvious when he ran a mile in 10 minutes, 10 seconds while representing the Kennedy Crusaders at the Butte Invitational Elementary Cross Country Meet last September at Stodden Park.
There’s something special about any fourth grader who will run a mile when he doesn’t have to.
There’s also something right about a kid who, in the age of the smart phone, would ride his bike a dozen blocks uphill just to see if his friend was home.
No matter what led to this young boys’ death, it is apparent that, as a society, we all let him down. We let his fellow children down, too.
We do that when we go to social media and, without knowing want happened, point a finger at bullying — or his fellow students — because that is the cliché thing to do.
In reality, this is way more complex issue.
Darian seemed to really be liked by everyone. He clearly was not a bully, and it didn’t appear that he was bullied by his classmates.
This one is not on the kids. It’s on our society. The kids are the victims, and they are devastated.
I used to laugh at my kids’ teachers when they talked about bullying. A bully, I would think, is the boy who takes your lunch money.
Over the years, though, I realized how wrong I was. Bullying is worse now than when we were kids because we didn’t have social media.
But bullying also isn’t only a problem of the young. You see it everywhere.
Last week we had kids all across the country stage a school walkout to try to get people to listen to them when they say that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough to keep them safe in school.
What do they get for such bravery? They get beat down on social media by people telling them their opinion doesn’t matter because they are merely teenagers.
Ironically, they are told they are ignorant by people who won’t even listen to what they have to say.
They are called stupid because eating Tide Pods became a fad on the internet a couple of months ago. It doesn’t matter that the percentage of teenagers who actually put Tide Pods in their mouths starts with a .000.
Worse of all, these so-called adults blame the children for getting shot at because they were bullies or too weak to stand up to bullies. If instead of running their mouths about guns, they should solve the problem by simply being nice to each other.
That is obscured on so many levels.
Stupidity isn’t exclusive too the young, and neither is being a jerk. The mean kids aren’t naturally mean. It’s a learned behavior.
The girl who backstabbed your daughter most likely has a mother who cuts down a coworker at every turn. The boy who punched your son probably has a dad who likes to hit people, too.
It is unfair to place the burden on fixing the parental mistakes of others on classmates.
When it comes to shootings and suicides, we can’t just throw the bully blanket on it and say, “Case closed.”
Do you think those kindergartners at Sandy Hook Elementary bullied the 20-year-old shooter into murdering them?
Bullying is a huge issue, but it is only a symptom of the larger problem.
These are issues that can’t be fixed by one word. We will never find the answer if we don’t listen to the kids who all too often find their lives in danger in a place that is supposed to be safe.
Plus, if you would just pay attention, you would see that those kids walking out are giving a textbook example of standing up to a bully. They’re staring eye to eye with the bully of money and influence that has brought the men and women of congress to their knees for decades.
Judging by the response, that bully is clearly a little nervous this time.
Those kids might not win their fight, and you don’t have to agree with their cause. But if you are cursing at them for fighting, then you are part of the problem.
Right now, we really do have a problem as a society, and I have a dilemma as a dad.
I can’t tell my son why he lost his friend, but I have been searching for answers to help him come to terms with it.
The only thing I could tell him was to remember his friend forever.
“When you’re 50 years old, remember Darian,” I told him. “If you do that, he can live in your heart forever.
“More than that, though, remember how Darian lived. Remember that even though he roamed in a world that clearly wasn’t fair to him, he still always treated you and the rest of his friends fairly.
“When you see somebody being mistreated, stand up for him. When you see a child neglected, call Family Services. When you see people who are hurting, lend them a hand. When you see someone without a friend, be that friend.
“Do that for Darian. Let that be the legacy of your friend.”
What I wouldn’t give if I could just tell him to keep his eye on the ball.
— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74