Features: Training Sam

When my son wanted to quit the gym, I finally realized it — as a parent, I was doing everything wrong

Now this is parenting:

I am driving Sam, my 15-year-old son, to his regular workout at Summit Sports Training Center in Bryn Mawr, one raw Wednesday evening in late January. He is not happy with me.

“It’s not doing any good! It’s not making me any better!”

“It is, Sam.”

“It’s not!” he returns, at higher volume. When I say nothing — Sam is frustrated that the workout regimen he started last summer has not immediately paid dividends on the basketball court — he builds his case in a different direction: “Plus I have a test tomorrow. I don’t have time! I’m going to be up all night studying!”

When even that yields only silence from me, Sam becomes still more lathered: “FINE! I’ll flunk! I’ll work out and flunk the test! FINE!”

“Enough — that’s enough. You’re not going to flunk — ”

“It’s not doing any good!”

“Enough, Sam! Enough.”

“Fine,” he says, under his breath. “It’s a waste of time. I don’t care what you think.”

“Just shut up.”

“It’s not helping,” he burbles.


Ah — success. I have bullied my son into silence, for the last few lights on Lancaster Avenue. Parking, I give him another bon mot: “And I expect a good attitude when you’re working out.” No comment save a slammed door.

This is a new high in my Richter scale of parenting. Summit has done this — Summit has changed my attitude toward Sam, my whole approach. I’ve suddenly become the Vince Lombardi of dads, loud and right — or, if not right, he’s got to do what I say anyway. Just last week, and all of Sam’s life before that, I was Mister Rogers. Coddling. Nurturing. Easy. The change has shocked both Sam and me. Though I am sure I am right. Summit and Steve Mountain, the brains behind the gym, have convinced me.

Long ago, my mother tormented me with the toss-off notion that my 15-year-old grumpiness was just a matter of “turning the light out” — as if I’d pulled a manhole cover over my psyche and wouldn’t let anyone peer in. For Sam at 15, it sometimes seems a matter of first getting that light on: My son is a smart, sweet (well, most of the time) guy with, in the current vernacular, some issues. He’s got ADD; words — both reading and writing — are a puzzle he’s cracking in the very hands-on private-school classrooms his mother and I learned he needed. We’re four schools into his education, with a year breather of homeschooling mixed in. The world is not Sam’s oyster, it does not open out to him as a rich curiosity, except in one arena — sports. The light shines bright there: football, basketball, baseball. Long ago, though, my wife and I decided that playing on sports teams was not a great idea for Sam, because he was the sort of kid who might show up at home plate wearing his cap instead of a helmet, or, just as likely, without anything on his head at all. An easy mark for the other, riveted seven-year-olds.