Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Most Disturbing Thing I've Ever Seen at the Track. Period.

This is probably the most serious post I've ever written. I'm still a bit shaken, not to mention sick to my stomach, as I'm writing it.

Tuesdays are speed days for me so I went out to Kezar Stadium to run 8 x 800s. I had a really fantastic workout in spite of only taking one day off after my epic 16 miler and a few lingering pains here & there. All of that seems totally irrelevant, though, next to what I had to watch and listen to while I did it.

In spite of the overcast & drizzly weather, there were a reasonable number of other folks out on the track. About halfway through my two-mile warm up, I kept thinking I could hear someone crying. When I stopped for my dynamic warm-up, I realized where the crying was coming from. A little girl, maybe nine or ten, was jogging down the straightaway towards me with her dad. She was the one crying. And I don't mean kind of weeping a little; outright sobbing.

Here's what I heard as they approached and passed:

    Dad: "What's the perimeter?"
    Girl (through choked sobs): "The perimeter--the perimeter is--it's the outside...the outside of something."
    Dad (angrily): "No."
    Girl: "I don't remember!"
    Dad: "It's the same thing I told you the last time around. The perimeter is the shortest distance around the outside of a shape. You find it by adding up the total lengths of the sides."
    Girl: (more choked sobs)
    Dad: "Now. What's the perimeter?"
    Girl: "The perimeter--the perimeter--is the distance around the shape..."
    Dad: "No. I guess we're going to run some more."
    Girl (racked with sobs): "Nooo..."
    Dad: "We're going to run until you get it right."

I listened to variations on this conversation for literally half my workout.

    "Now. What's the perimeter?"
    "It's--it's how far around the outside..."
    "Are you sure? Maybe we need to run another lap."
    (still sobbing) "Nooo...I can't...I can't run anymore..."
    "Then you better get it right."

I must have watched them run at least eight laps this way, and they were out there running when I arrived. I could hear her crying even from the opposite side of the track, and it made my skin crawl.

    "Alright. What's the perimeter?"
    "The perimeter is the distance--it's how far on the outsides--"
    "Nope. Guess we're going to keep running."
    (sobbing) "No, please! Please let me stop!"
    "We can stop any time you want. All you have to do is get it right."

After twenty minutes or so of this they moved onto the infield and started jogging laps around the football field.
    "What's area?"
    (Again, through choked sobs.) "How much is inside. Can we stop now?"
    "Not until you get it right. Area is the amount of space contained within a figure. You find it by multiplying the base times the height. What's area?"
    "Area is the--it's how much space is inside."
    "No. Guess we're going to run some more."
    (More abject sobbing)

Later when she started to fall behind...

    "You better run, girl, or we're going to be out here even longer."

And after that, still running...

    "I guess you better study hard next time, huh? And if you don't, then guess what? We're going to come back out to the track and run in the rain some more. Won't that be fun?"

Finally--finally--they stopped running. The girl followed her dad out of the stadium, limping, still sobbing near-hysterically. As they left...

    "This isn't going to get any easier, you know. Do you think I'm always going to be there to help you with everything?"

I'm still at a loss about the whole situation. Partly because this man (who is clearly the biggest ass-wipe / leading candidate for Dick-Father of the Year on the planet) somehow managed to take two of my greatest loves, math and running, and turn them into some horrific two-pronged instrument of torture (and probably cause his daughter to develop a life-long hatred of both). Partly because he may have been causing her physical harm in addition to what seems like a pretty hefty dose of psychological & emotional harm. Partly because I didn't know what to say or do about the situation while it was happening, or what I should do, or could do. I don't even know who they were. I kind of felt sick to my stomach throughout most of what should've been a really fantastic run. I have a vague memory of seeing a father & daughter of a similar age running on the track together in the past, which makes me wonder if this is a regular thing.

What would you do? How far can you go in terms of confronting parents about the way they're (mis)treating their children, particularly when you don't have any parenting experience? Is this abuse? Is there even the slightest possibility that I've somehow misunderstood / misinterpreted the whole situation?

I need a drink.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me so sad! I am a parent of two, but couldn't tell you what to do here! Doesn't sound like the DB dad would have appreciated any intervention. When I've seen hysterical kids even with their parents, I have asked if I could help in any way. And a couple of times I have. Maybe just that? Break up the moment? This one is tough. And so sad.