Childhood doesn’t last long, but special memories will go the distance.
“Never stop playing catch with your kids.”
This is what a coach told me, my junior year of college, during his interview at a youth all-star game I was covering for a local community newspaper. He was likely in his 60s and said he still tossed the baseball around with his grown son and daughter, as well as grandkids.
This conversation took place around the same time I was hanging up my softball spikes for good. After 15 years of softball springs and summers, my time was up.
It made me think about my Dad. From a very, very young age he would take me outside to play catch throughout those years, just about every day that he could, even when I was being a brat.
Especially in my younger years, he wired me into the power of practice and repetition. It paid off when I could throw people out from third-to-first base in first grade.
Then there came a time where I started pitching fastpitch, and he’d field all of my wild practice pitches as the catcher. He served as my coach for several teams, as well as for my younger sister and brother.
He spent the majority of his evenings and weekends doing softball and baseball stuff with us, after long and hard days at his work.
Obviously tired himself, he’d strongly encourage us to head out to the backyard as soon as he got home. Often he wouldn’t even change out of his work clothes or eat dinner before going outside.
Little gestures then have made huge impressions in my life.
As the years went by, and my skills got stronger, we could increase the distance between us, until finally we were throwing from the backyard near the woods all the way into the cul-de-sac. By high school, with long practices and busy schedules, we didn’t play much at all.
And then I went to college, played a couple years, and lost the edge and drive to be a competitive player, replaced with career aspirations and internships. Part of me felt I was letting him down although he never said a word.
I always appreciated his time and dedication to making me a better player, and teaching lessons of hard work, persistence and discipline that I could carry in life.
But it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized it really wasn’t about the game.
It was his way of spending time with us and connecting as these precious years of childhood flew by. We admittedly had little in common (trust that I wasn’t the easiest tween and teenager to live with), but we did have softball and a love for his country music cassettes he’d play on ways to games and practices (although I pretended I hated it then; now I seek out those 80s and 90s country hits).
Our life brought me the fortunate opportunity to now live next door to my parents, and also have an aunt and uncle just a few houses down, who are close in age and have youngsters of their own.
When my seven-year-old cousin, who looks like I did when I was young, started playing softball a few years back, I would catch glimpses of my dad playing catch with her in my parent’s front yard while I walked my then newborn in his stroller.
It took me back decades, with visions of my young dad, probably the same age as I am now, taking me out there for the first times with my plastic glove and rubber baseball.
It was then that I made the connection of a positive reason for parents to give up so much of their free time to their kids’ pursuits. Parenting is incredibly difficult; combine that with work and life’s other stresses. It’s critical when you can find that common thread to find center, peace and balance among the chaos and share it with your children.
Now I have a son who’s four, and just started getting interested in learning how to play catch. I bought a velcro set with a tennis ball. I tell him, let’s start close together, to help build your confidence in seeing the ball in, and throwing it to reach me. He begs me to back up, “I can do it,” and I have to oblige. He won’t need me forever but I’ll take it for now.
He might not end up playing ball, but I’ll do my best to accept every chance for his undivided attention.
SO, WHAT’S YOUR ‘CATCH’?
Sharon Sobol Jordan made it clear in her moving post: The Decisions I Don’t Regret – One Parent’s Take On Impossible Choices, what she was willing to do and give up to ensure she would be there for the big stuff (spoiler alert: some of the big stuff appears as little stuff at first glance).
The wise words of that gentleman shared nearly 15 years ago means more and more to me with each passing year.
If there is any advice I would give to new dads and moms alike, it is to commit to playing catch with your kids, whatever that means in your life. Do it for their lifelong memories, but also for time spent that you’ll never regret.
My husband didn’t play baseball and doesn’t take great interest in the sport; he was a football player growing up. You can imagine his delight when my two-year-old comes running to him with a football in hand. The little bulldog that my son is, he seems more interested in the chasing and tackling part of “playing catch” and it couldn’t be sweeter to watch.
What’s the one tie that will transcend the busyness of modern life, and bridge decades and distances? Have you found it yet? And if/when you do, what will you do to make it last?