I can help but think we all have more time to think. Maybe it’s just staring at the gold of the years to come. Who knows? But here is a piece that I’ve adapted from a larger work on fatherhood. Seems like it has been bouncing around for ages…
There is something magical about a ball. Unlike most objects in our life, it is not built for stability, for stationary utility. We enjoy things that do not move, that will be in the same place when we get home, and even better if these stable shapes fulfill another purpose: a place to plop our bodies down, to put stuff in or to make stuff. Most of these stable objects are defined by the space they create, while a ball is defined by the space it moves through, the connections of its arc.
I’m pretty sure my youngest son’s first word was “ball.” Parents feel much better when it’s “Mama” or “Dada,” but “ball” is pretty good, too. The hours spent rolling a ball back and forth in the early days with my sons remains a priceless treasure. Movement. One to another and back again. Smiles. Joy. Giving and receiving. Intent gazes. A sense of awe.
I wanted to be a ball player when I was a kid. Baseball was it for me, sunrise to sunset and beyond in the dream world eyes open or closed. I went to sleep with a ball cap on, my glove close enough to smell the leather. I was born the day my father’s hero, Ted Williams, retired from baseball. My baseball “career” ended around the age of 16. I still recall the dirge of my metal cleats scraping and tapping the asphalt parking lot. No other sound in the fading light of a fading summer. No last-at-bat home run like “Teddy Baseball” as a coda. Just a solo ride through the streets with the radio off.
“Ball” is both an object and a theme along this father’s path. I would venture this is true of many fathers as well. For ball is intimately connected with playing. And trying. And practicing. And getting better, winning and losing. And peaks and pinnacles and perfect moments. And heartbreak.
In other words: Life.
Life wasn’t telling me to be a baseball player. This understanding matters because many speak of a “Boy Crisis” and that young men are wallowing without purpose. Each generation negotiates each life stage differently and the same. A boy finds out who they are and where they belong in the current of life. It looks different but at the heart it’s the same. Without others, without a “field”, without some rules and a few boundaries, without a model of excellence, without risk, without practice and effort, without desire and gratitude for the ups and downs— we falter. We get stuck. We wear a uniform, ball cap, and glove that no longer fit.
Baseball filled a void for me. It served as teacher and parent. It offered the question: What gives us life? And baseball had the answer although I didn’t know it at the time. That’s fine for the journey mattered. It got me outside the box and provided enough space for me to see that the essence of playing ball had provided the answers. It’s not that I wanted to be just a ballplayer. I wanted joy, freedom, team, connection, purpose, and to be excellent, to give my best and grow each moment. None of these are truly given, but the current provides the means. You step into its life-giving force and the question fades with a wordless answer and a knowing embrace.
I still wear a ball cap. The joy of catch has not left this heart. The field is different, but I still smell the grass and the sweet summer air, feel nature beneath my feet and all around. And the current is both new and the same, never failing to remind of what is good and true, ready to provide the means to connect the arc of your wonder.