I was 10 or 11 years old and a member of a travel baseball team. It was a dark, wet night somewhere in Newtown, CT. I was riding the bench after having been taken out of the game in the middle innings. My hometown team was up by one against our rival in the bottom of the sixth and final inning. With a soft rain adding a metric melancholic ratting along the metal bench, Newtown scrapped across two in their final at-bat, snatching victory away from my team.
The teams lined up and I was in the middle of the line. Everyone outstretched their arms and began clapping fives. Everyone but myself. I kept my arms folded, head shrugged down into my collar bone, trying to bury my anger and disappointment with losing like a turtle burrowing away from a predatory creature. The only difference was that this thing hunting me wasn’t anything tangible; it was my youthful and hubris filled pride.
I remember my coaches looking at me with an expression I didn’t comprehend. If memory serves correctly, a few member of the opposing team glancing over their shoulders at me. I didn’t understand. I just recall thinking to myself: “I’m upset about losing. I’m pissed off. What’s bad about that?”
Then I saw an appearance I recognized immediately. My father was standing near the fan’s bleacher, drenched in a windbreaker, staring sharpened daggers into my youthful soul. At the moment, I knew I had messed up, even if I didn’t know what for.
Before I could finish zippering my bat bag, my dad grabs my arm and we begin walking to the car. We trudged through the soaking wet outfield at a pace my small steps can’t quite keep up with. The impending sense of dread covering my body with a colder feeling than that of the whimpering rain. Now just outside of earshot of the other parents and kids, my dad looks down and me and simply says: “You’re in trouble.”
At the car, he tosses the bat bag in the trunk. I trudge into the car, knowing I was getting inside the one place where there is no place to run. The driver’s side opens, and my father slides in and slams the door shut.
Soaking wet and sulking in the back seat, the next thing I remember is the only memory of the car ride I have. My dad turns around and manifestoes, “You will never embarrass me like that again. If you ever do that again, you will never play baseball again.”
Not the most uplifting story, I know; however, it stands as one of my most profound childhood memories. In the moment, I’m sure I tried persuading my father that I was in the right and that I was upset because I wanted to be in the field and make the plays. 10-11-year-old me was just as competitive, only my balance of respect and winning was clearly off balance.
That rainy, horrid, non ideal day was the moment sportsmanship and losing with grace was etched into my mind as a concept. The reason it started the foundation for competitive respect I have today is because I realized I’m not just representing myself out there, but also those who care and watch me play.
With father’s day sneaking up around the corner, and my dad’s birthday being June 20, this memory creeps into my mind around this time every year. Recalling it, I find myself respecting my dad more as the years go on. It wasn’t about what I did at the plate that day, if I made a play on the field, or if we won or lost the game; it was about doing the right thing, and that was the bottom line. As I am still growing as a person, I feel myself learning more and more that it’s the tough lessons taught in the moments of extreme disappointment are the ones that stick with you most.
I could share my happy memories with my dad and I golfing and sharing in the joy of a fantastic shot. Or his timeless hours donated to my never-quite motivated youth baseball self. Or his fantastically lovable awkward moments of whenever we say goodbye to one another, we never know if we are going to pound it or go handshake. Seriously, there’s a late hand adjustment every time.
The job of a parent is impossible. I don’t know if it can be truly comprehended by anyone who hasn’t gone through it. I like to think I have a sense of the dedication it takes, but then a family moment happens and my equilibrium on my understanding is thrown off once again. The one thing I do know is that what I am most scared of whenever/if I ever become a dad, are moments like the one I described above.
How do you approach such a disrespectful gesture by your son or daughter? How do you go about trying to teach a lesson while also wanting to wring their naïve little mind into a thousand pieces? How do you maintain the patience to accept that your son or daughter will eventually learn the lesson you are trying to teach them?
I am still trying to adhere to the lesson my dad began teaching me that day in Newtown, CT. My love for winning and competition has not died down; however, I like to think my ability to accept defeat has become adequate and admirable. You will see disappointment on my face. I think that’s just reflexive at this point. But I’ll look you in the eye and give you a job well done.
So to my dad, and all dads out there. I think I can speak for many when I say Thank You for teaching me and us the tough lessons that I didn’t and still don’t want to hear. It’s really crazy how the traumatic moments in both childhood and adulthood are easier to remember, but I think it’s because it’s such events that shape our mindset at their lowest points.
When we are riding high and on top of our world, it’s hard to want to make adjustments.
But then there are moments when we are grounded in transaction-filled nature of reality. We see ourselves as the bottom rung, the buried layer, in life’s totem pole. It’s during those moments when we think we are in never-ending quicksand that we crawl out with the lessons bestowed upon us. We learn things that stick with us forever moments we were least willing to listen.
Thank you Dad. Never stop teaching me lessons.