My husband ... a soccer coach?

We had been married for more than 10 years when my husband agreed to coach our son's soccer team.

I was proud of him for volunteering, but I was also a little nervous. OK, a lot nervous. I've always seen my husband as serious, driven, and passionate about his work - not the sort of guy who'd enjoy spending his free Saturdays with a horde of small boys.

A coach? I just couldn't see it.

When we met, my husband was a graduate student who never stopped studying. He had flashcards that he carried everywhere - a huge stack of cards he'd written by hand that summarized every pertinent fact about Russian literature from the beginning of time. He forced himself to learn every fact on every card.

In his spare time, he went running (never jogging) and wore headphones that piped in Russian verb conjugations.

When we first married, I would come home every evening to find him typing his dissertation at the kitchen table. He would work on his own during the day, even though there was no one there to catch him if he took a day off and went to the beach. After he finished his PhD, he became a federal agent - and that's when he became really serious.

He seemed to fray around the edges, as though the seriousness of his job was weighing him down: so many threats to investigate, so many people to protect, so much work to be done. It was daunting, even for a hard-working guy like my husband.

So when he announced his plan to coach the team, I got nervous.

I pictured him standing in front of a group of 5-year-olds, scowling and telling them he'd accept no less than their best effort. I pictured the boys with fists full of flashcards about defensive techniques, running laps until they collapsed, crying and exhausted. And still he'd push them, the way he pushes himself, always one step farther.

I know he's a great father to his own sons, always available for a hug or a wrestling match, but still I could only picture him drowning in a sea of crying boys.

And then it was day of the first practice. I had almost forgotten that the reason for this was our son's first soccer team. We slipped on his shinguards, laced up his cleats, and headed to the park together. I carried the baby. My husband held a clipboard with a list of well-planned games and exercises.

I realize that I know my husband so well that I sometimes focus on his faults and forget the rest. He's a fantastic dad and a wonderful husband - but that scowl! That purposeful stride through life! Sometimes he thinks he can smash his way through a brick wall if he just tries harder.

Who, then, was this man standing there, surrounded by small boys in their new soccer shirts? He looked like my husband, but he was ... smiling.

He had the kids shout, "Alligator, alligator, can I cross your swamp?"

Then they would run, laughing, as each boy kicked a soccer ball past this grown alligator man, who dove for the ball but missed it every time.

He told the kids to form a choo-choo train (He really said that: "choo-choo train") and dribble the ball around an imaginary train track.

He formed two teams and ran around with them as they bolted up and down the field, chasing a ball. He gave a "high five" to each and every one.

When the hour was up, he sat on the grass with the kids while they ate their snacks and shouted their ideas for the team name. He seemed thoroughly involved in their world of play, laughing and shouting along with them.

I stood outside their circle, staring in confusion at this man, my husband.

Before they could settle on a name, it was time to leave. The kids all went home with their parents, chatting as they left the field.

We stayed behind, collecting cones and stray balls, and listening to our own son's excited talk.

"See?" my husband said. "That wasn't so hard. Now who wants a milkshake?"

We raced back to the car, laughing.

I thought I knew everything about my husband. He is my best friend, after all.

But that day on the soccer field, I saw a different man. And this new guy, this casually happy soccer coach? He's the husband and father who's always been with us, but that I didn't know nearly as well as I thought. I've fallen in love with him again.

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