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Beyond the Little-League Dad

A thirty-something father asked to speak with me. He said he was having doubts about whether he was doing a good enough job at being a dad. Instead of exploring what precipitated his doubts, I asked him, “Lee, what’s your strongest positive experience of fatherhood?” He thought for a moment and replied, “I’m not sure if this is the best example but what comes to mind is a particular Little League game I took my youngest son to.

“I remember the day was overcast and humid. In fact, I was hoping it would rain to cool things off a bit. Alvin asked me if his team would automatically lose the game if it rained. He hadn’t been playing well all season. I was afraid he might be looking for an excuse, so I reminded him about the difference between forfeiting a game because of a no-show and rescheduling it due to bad weather. I told him all he had to do was play his best. I wanted him to learn values like good sportsmanship, team spirit, being responsible, and not looking for an easy way out or running away from commitments. He was only nine. Maybe I was expecting too much, I don’t know.

“Anyway, midway through the game, the rain came down in buckets. The infield got soggy and his team lost. But it’s what happened after the game that I’ll never forget.

“I had parked our van on the grass at the far end of the field and a visitor had parked about three car lengths in front of me. He was slightly older than the other parents and he had to use a wheelchair. After the heavy rain, he must have struggled to get back to his vehicle because I remember seeing two deep ruts in the ground that were obviously the tracks left behind by his wheelchair. As Alvin and I walked by his car, I noticed that he had managed to fold his chair into the back seat. But somehow, as he was trying to maneuver himself into the front seat, his feet got crossed and twisted together. So there he was, struggling to get his own two feet apart, but he couldn’t. They were all tangled up and dangling outside his car door.

“The poor guy looked so embarrassed when I approached him, and I felt pretty awkward myself because I had never knelt down in the mud before to untangle someone else’s feet for them. He was so grateful. He even offered me some money afterward, but I wouldn’t take anything. I couldn’t.”

I could see Lee was reliving the experience as his eyes filled up. “I got into the van and I started to cry. I kept telling myself I shouldn’t be crying in front of my boy but I couldn’t help it.”

I waited until Lee regained his composure to ask, “Do you know what your tears are about right now?” “Yes,” he whispered, “that I’m grateful for my own health; that I’m a good person and a strong man but also very caring; and that my son was there to see all that in me. At least I hope he thinks about me that way.”

To all the dads who ever doubted their paternal advice, chauffeured kids to games so they could learn the deeper values of life, knelt in the muddy waters of trying to untangle other peoples’ problems or stood up tall with watery eyes full of compassion. Happy Father’s Day.

Adapted from Holy Homework: Putting Our Interior FaithInto Exterior Practice by Fr. Bob Pagliari, CSsR (Liguori Publications, 2022), 828638.
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Published inReflections