Related Bible Verses:
And behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the Lord will take me up.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The boy looks exactly the way I did at 10 years old, only far handsomer.
Blue eyes. Blonde hair left a little too shaggy and yet somehow managing to frame his face. And one dimple, impressed deeply in his right cheek.
We share the same loves I had at that age, too: Star Wars; superheroes, especially Batman, Superman and the entire DC comics lineup; and baseball – a true love for playing the game and also for being on the same field with the best friends he’ll ever have.
As his father, who comes from a long line of miserable failures in the realm of male role models, I have almost too carefully weighed every decision and plotted out the course of his life since he was born.
I volunteered to coach Charlie’s youth baseball team four years ago, after my divorce, as a backhanded way to steal a few extra nights a week with my son. I knew a little something about baseball. Only a little. Baseball was the only game I loved to play as a kid (organized football was too militaristic and track and field felt like punishment at times.) I figured if I had my set nights with the kids on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings, I could schedule practices on Mondays and Wednesdays. With games on Saturdays, I would be spending most of the week with him.
We practiced on the fields behind his school that first spring. The boys were well behaved with only one exception and, to my surprise, they listened to what we coaches said. We won every game that season, and the next. And while I enjoyed instructing all of the players and watching their friendships build, another factor also became apparent to me: my son was a ballplayer. He had a natural swing, great hand-eye coordination and it was easy to see he was going to develop sprinter’s speed.
We quickly outgrew the elementary school fields and coach pitch baseball. We graduated to larger parks and machine pitch, then kid pitch. The summers passed in a flash and soon the boys were staring down 50 MPH fastballs. Charlie’s abilities continued to grow and strengthen. What I truly loved, though, was his attitude. He was in love with baseball – at times, he almost seemed to surprise himself with how much he cared about the game. The kid was fiercely competitive and he rooted for his teammates to compete. I’d never really seen a boy fly so high.
Then a realization dropped on me one late summer afternoon as subtly as autumn shadows fall on a ball field: my son’s game was evolving … and so was the need for his coaching. I wasn’t able to offer much by way of coaching anymore, at least not in the area of skill. He’d mastered what I had taught him. So last fall, we turned him over to a new team and disbanded ours.
I could still choose my moments when something was obviously wrong with his technique and anytime he struggled with failure I could offer words of encouragement. He doesn’t know, but I was afraid – scared that deciding not to coach would negatively affect our relationship. I wouldn’t be waiting for him at first base after a single or advising him how to steal on a pitcher anymore. The conversations we often had driving in the car or at dinner were about moments during games, on the field, about another player on the other team, or something the opposing coach said. With the game conversations removed, what would talk about?
Something miraculous then happened between the two of us I wouldn’t have guessed was possible a summer ago. Baseball talk faded into the background. His commitment to the sport hasn’t waned – not even slightly – and yet we’ve been able to relate to each other about topics that never arose before.
We’ve deepened our love for comics and science fiction. Now he tells me about the feats he achieves in gym class and with the violin in music class, which he has managed to turn into the same sort of competition with the other fifth-graders, in the same fashion boys turn tests and other classroom assignments into races. And the subject of girls has come up once or twice. He’s not interested yet, but I’ve advised him to be polite with their advances.
We have a night together once a week – Wednesdays – just he and I, and we have talked about some deeper topics: his fears, what direction he wants to take his life career-wise, and his faith in God. The venues have changed for these conversations. They come sitting on the edge of his bed in serious contemplation, or in our final talk before he falls asleep. I see so much of myself in him – and his mother too. I can’t help but imagine myself at that age, my dad freshly out of the house and my mom left to take care of my brother and I with no help from anyone. The boy I was then needed a father, but not one like the one I had. A good father. And I see the boy I was – knowing there wasn’t one on the way.
Still, as a grown man, I often wonder how my life might be changed if I had a decent dad. While I used to wait for the arrival of a father in my life, instead I assume that role every single day, hoping that what I teach my son can permanently alter a bad line of fathering. I’ll receive an answer to that when I turn my boy, Charlie, over to the world. Regardless of what happens with his athletics, I’ll be able to look Charlie in those blue eyes and see a man far different than me.