My husband grew up like most American boys in the 70’s and 80’s – playing basketball and watching football and baseball. Until he met me, he didn’t know anything about soccer at all. He also grew up in a very tight-knit Armenian community in California, and while no question the women were strong, the girls didn’t often participate in tough team sports like soccer. Soccer and soccer girls were new to him.
But over the last 15 years, I’ve proudly watched Diron’s evolving respect for the sport and the girls who play it – and even his attempts at playing himself (although it still pains me to watch him kick the ball with his toe!). If you look at his Facebook feed today, it is populated with nothing but pictures of girls playing soccer, whether it be of his daughter and wife, or pictures shared by the charity he and I help start in Armenia, the Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS). He even recently flew from New York to California to spend an entire weekend promoting GOALS to his friends in Glendale.
Diron loves “soccer chicks,” as he likes to call me and our 13-year-old daughter. The other day we were at one of her games and a player on her team took a ball straight to the face. A full-on drive with a hard ball right in the kisser. Whack! We all held our breath, but the girl just shook it off, said, “I’m fine,” and kept playing. I got a giant poke and all I could hear was – “LOOK AT THAT! LOOK HOW TOUGH SHE IS! WOW!”
A few weeks ago we were invited to an (Armenian) family party, where the men and boys were invited to play in the annual touch football game and the women and girls to cheer on the sidelines. I showed the invitation to our daughter, Lily, who immediately said, “I’m not going to watch, I’m going to play.” They welcomed her totally, and she loved it – only later did we find out she was the first girl ever to play in the game. Her father was so proud.
When we traveled to Armenia last summer to play for ten days with Coaches Across Continents, an amazing NGO started by a friend of mine from Harvard Soccer, Diron was all in. CAC uses soccer to educate and inspire social change outside the classroom – an interesting and challenging exercise given that it utilizes a sport girls are not encouraged to play to promote equality. Not an easy task. Our son and daughter and I were playing – all of us soccer players. My husband is not, but there he was, out on the field, playing the best he could. His presence, as a man playing with the girls, was vital for the men and women in Armenia to see. Sad as those toe kicks were, they were perfect.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Armenia telling girls that change is possible – that I’ve seen it and lived it here at home. By home, I am usually referencing Title IX and the evolution of girls’ sports in America. But I also mean here inside my home. As it turns out, our biggest fans might just be the partners sitting beside us at the dinner table.