Out of Left Field
Parenthood throws this father his first big curve ball.
When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, I slumped forward in my La-Z-Boy and wept sloppily into the popcorn bowl. In that moment, I knew that my life would be blessed with children ... and more baseball.
I love baseball. No, I never played Little League — I wasn’t that good. I love baseball because it was my first sport. The mitt, the ball and the bat were the tools I used to launch the athletic years of my youth. So I looked forward to that day when I would ask my child the timeless question, “Wanna have a catch?”
Actually, I did more than look forward to it. I obsessed. Before my wife was even showing, I was prowling the aisles in Sportmart for baseball equipment. I wanted our unborn superstar to have the very best gear, including a glove that would serve him or her as well as my dear old $14 Wilson had served me. That reliable line-drive vacuum put in 17 years of service before a colleague of mine attacked an ump with it at a company softball game. In the bench-clearing brawl that followed, my dear Wilson was ripped in half.
So when it came to selecting a glove, I sagely opted for durability — the black leather Derek Jeter signature model. It bespoke confidence and, yes, machismo. A little machismo would make up for the wimpy, extra-squishy Safe-T-Ball that we’d be using for throwing practice. I put the gear on the top shelf of my closet and waited.
Four years later, I decided it was time. The air was crisp. A spring sun had turned the yard that magical ball-field green. Our son Henry’s athletic life would begin today!
I went to the closet and pulled down the equipment. The leather still smelled new. Shaking with anticipation, I showed Henry his new mitt. “Wanna have a catch?” I asked, choking back a sob. He looked at the glove, then at the Duplo structure he was building, then at me. “’kay,” he said with a shrug.
Henry’s lack of enthusiasm deepened when I helped him into his glove. He stared at it. What was this ungainly appendage? “Here we go!” I thundered, trying to ignite his competitive spirit. I handed him the ball, stepped back a few paces and told him to let it rip. Henry cocked his arm and threw the ball right to me. My heart soared. He was a natural! I threw it back. The ball dropped to the ground in front of him. Before I could ask him to pick it up, he casually kicked it at the fence and asked, “Dad? When do I get to wear leotards?”
An arrow of panic pierced my solar plexus. Henry explained that he had seen some girls wearing leotards at nursery school and they looked “cool.” When could he get some? My vertiginous reply was something like “Uh ... we’ll see ...”
On that sunny spring afternoon, I realized that expectation is the not-so-squishy ball that gets tossed between fathers and sons. I’d never be able to design my children to meet my expectations; all I could do is guide them. Whether I liked leotards or not, Henry was going to be his own man. And I have an unused, black leather Derek Jeter signature glove sitting on my shelf to prove it.