Life has a way of revealing ourselves. Events, chance encounters, long-term relationships all present opportunities along our way for self-reflection. Self-reflection always opens to the opportunity for growth. This weekend reminds me of just such an opportunity that came my way when my oldest son Jacob turned eight years old.
At the time I was emersed in my love of outdoor pursuits. During the week I was working hard and long at a job that I did not enjoy. I found release and some temporary happiness on the weekends doing what I wanted to do – namely hunting or fishing, depending on the season. I especially loved trout fishing and I anxiously awaited the first Saturday in May and the trout fishing season opener. Nothing was more important to me than fishing for trout on opening day. It was an obsession.
Jacob turned eight in March and around the time of his birthday he came home from school with information about Little League baseball. Jacob said that he would like to play. The first thing that popped into my mind was this was a chance to allow my son to do something that I never had the chance to do. See, my father worked at the paper mill in a job that had supported the family very well, but I am sure he didn’t particularly enjoy. His passion was camping and that is what our family did on all of his summer long weekends and all of his vacation time. I had come home once with information about playing Little League baseball but it became very clear very quickly in my father’s stern silence when I broached the subject that asking to play was the question that must not be asked. Obligations to play ball would have interfered with family camping trips. My baseball career ended that night at the dinner table in my father’s silence and my silence. So, my first reaction to Jacob’s request to play baseball was, “Great!”
Then he handed me the paper with the details. The first thing I noticed was that because Jacob had never played organized baseball he was required to come to “Try Outs” so the coaches could evaluate each boy’s skill level. And the Try Out date was the first Saturday in May – opening day of trout season. I couldn’t back out now, but I wasn’t happy about it. Missing opening day was devastating. I went into an immediate pout. Life was not fair!
The first Saturday in May that year was bright and sunny – so much the worse for my continued sullied mood as it was a perfect day for trout fishing. Instead, we headed to the ballpark. Jacob was excited; I was dejected.
I took a seat in the bleachers with the other parents as Jake ran out on the field. The first thing they had the kids do is line up by third base. The coach was going to hit a grounder to them; they were to field the ball and then throw the ball to the assistant coach who was standing on first base.
I was working hard at being bored and even a bit angry. Watching the kids miss the ball or boot the ball and them make throws that were off target or bounced to first base didn’t help my interest level. Then it was Jacob’s turn. He pounded his glove like a pro and got set. I leaned forward and unconsciously held my breath. Jacob fielded the ball cleanly and made a nice throw to first base. What I remember most clearly is that he looked for me in the bleachers; his eyes locked on mine. On his face was the biggest smile. In that smile was the fun of baseball, the thrill of playing the game, a sense of accomplishment, a budding of self-confidence. In that smile my self-centered heart instantly melted. I suddenly realized that there was no more special place for me to be that day than right there to experience that moment with my son. I was no longer pouting. I was grateful in and for the moment. I became a much better, still far-from-perfect, but much better father that day.
Jacob and I both attended “Try Outs” that day, and both of us learned something about ourselves. We both, felt a bit more ready for whatever was coming our way. Life. Pound your glove like a pro. Get set. Play Ball!