In a world of elaborate touchdown celebrations, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s spike may not seem like a big thing. But for the star player, it was an expression of his frustration as a father.

As ESPN reports, ever since the Pro Bowl wide receiver entered the league in 2004, he has been known for being reserved and decorous after scoring. No big celebrations, no spikes.

But after more than a decade of play and more than 100 touchdowns, Fitzgerald broke his tradition. On Sunday, after a two-point conversion in the final seconds of the game that put the Cardinals in the lead, Fitzgerald unleashed a monster spike. It was the first time in his career that he spiked the ball.

And people noticed.

“That would be first time I have ever seen Larry spike a ball after scoring in all the years,” his brother tweeted, adding, “It’s about time you show that real emotion.”

But as Fitzgerald revealed after the game, the emotion that prompted the spike wasn’t about his investment in the game. It was about his disappointment in his son.

Fitzgerald said oldest son, Devin, “didn’t want to come support us.” The 10-year-old chose to go to the Arizona State Fair instead of coming to the game to see his dad play. According to ESPN, Fitzgerald admitted he was angry and disappointed that his son didn’t want to be there, hence the spike:

“I was a little frustrated and had a heavy heart today. My feelings were a little hurt, so I was carrying that around all day. So, when I got in there, I kind of let it out. To all the kids that are watching, I’m sorry. I set a bad example today.”

As a parent, I found Fitzgerald’s words surprising … and a little humbling.

One of the unexpected burdens of parenting is that you’re not supposed to admit that your children have the power to hurt you. But they do. In fact, few people have the power to hurt you more.

And to make it worse, they do it without knowing it, just by being themselves. Kids live in a world of perfect selfishness. It’s an unusual child who ponders whether their actions could make mom or dad feel sad.

I doubt Fitzgerald’s son knew how important it was to his dad to have him there. We’re talking about a Pro Bowl wide receiver. Someone who is likely to go to the Hall of Fame. He has the adulation of football fans around the country. There are millions of people who watch him play every week.

But there was one person who mattered so much to Fitzgerald that it hurt not to have him at the game. And I bet Fitzgerald never even told his kid how much he cared. He probably tried to do the “adult” thing and assured his son that it was OK to go to the fair.

And then he stewed about it enough that he spiked the football for the first time ever, just to let go of the disappointment and frustration.

Fitzgerald said he was a “little disturbed” by his son’s choice but added that he’ll “get over it.”

As a parent, I know exactly how he feels. We’re not supposed to admit that our children can hurt us. And we’re supposed to be too mature to get upset when they pick their friends over us.

But it does hurt. So we go back home and slam a cabinet door or yell at the cat or (if we happen to be a star NFL receiver) spike a football. And then we try to remember that we’re the adults here and that it’s on us to act that way.

And Fitzgerald did exactly that. As he told ESPN, “I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I have to be a better father.”

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