The tension in Free! has slowly risen all season long, with the stress involving Makoto’s and Haru’s futures even more pressing than the races the show focuses on. It all came to a head in episode nine as Haru has a meltdown, both in the pool and out, as he literally stops in the middle of the race and stands up in his lane, and then yells at Rin afterward.
Haru apparently has no parents, but he’s still felt pressure about his future all season long. Episode nine emphasizes through both current-day dialogue and dream sequences that almost everyone around Haru is reminding him that scouts are watching his swimming, and that he’d better swim well to impress them and secure his future. Haru doesn’t want any of that (or maybe isn’t sure if he does), and succumbs to the pressure of it all.
The episode made me think about my own children and how I parent them. I never intended to be a typical Asian father, expecting straight A’s (or A+’s, rather) and perfect obedience from my kids, but I’ve had to realize that even at a young age, I’ve put a lot of pressure upon them. And for what reason? Basically so that they can have the world at their fingertips, even though that’s precisely what I don’t want for them.
And so, I’ve tried to change my parenting – to be gracious and kind when they don’t accomplish what I hope they will and to really mean it when I say that their “personal best” is more than enough. Even so, it’s difficult, because my experience has taught me that doing your best in school does matter. And frankly, because I’m selfish and prideful, and it’s hard for me to understand that my feelings and thoughts aren’t necessarily God’s way, the right way.
And so, I’m working on achieving some sort of balance in answering the question, how hard should I push my children to succeed?
But as this entire season has shown, there isn’t always an easy answer to this question, though one thing I know is this: however we parent, we must approach our children with a love that’s focused on them and not on what we want of them.
And who knows? Maybe episodes ten and eleven will surprise me and give me an answer. And if it does, I swear, I’ll start telling people that I “only parent freestyle.”