Dad sat watching in the stands as my second home run of the game sailed past the left field fence. Our team had just defeated the former Little League champions, and it was my hit that provided the margin of victory. I rounded third base and glanced up, hoping to capture a glimpse of him among the ecstatic crowd that pressed against the fence. My peek into the throng of onlookers lasted only a moment in real time but became a memory that replayed in slow motion in my mind for years to come. Dad sat at the end of the bleacher, leaning back with his elbows resting on the bench behind him. Among a fury of enthusiasm, he sat motionless, expressionless, as though he were watching a TV rerun he had seen countless times before.
When the game was over, the coach gave his final words of instruction, and the team was dismissed to an eager crowd of parents and friends. I had a great game – more than a great game. It was the game of my twelve year-old life. I belted four hits; two home runs, a triple, a double and made a diving catch. It was a day that most boys dream about before falling to sleep with their baseball caps still firmly in position on their heads. This was my day, one I would remember and retell forever.
I looked around for my dad and saw him out of the corner of my eye as he made his way toward the parking lot. The short walk to the car was filled with excitement for me as I relived every hit and catch I had made. This would be the day my dad would finally tell me he was proud of me, I thought. I had never heard those words from him before but was confident today would change all that. My teammates, their parents, coach, and my friends said I was the hero of the game. He had to be proud of me too.
Dad stood waiting while I ran to catch up with him. I looked like an anxious puppy next to him, wide-eyed and eager for his response. I had to bite my lower lip to keep a large, ridiculous smile from escaping. We walked a few silent steps before he spoke. “Don’t get cocky kid, you have another game this Friday.”
His piercing words shot through my heart and evaporated the events of the day. I could do nothing more than look up at him and force an agreeable nod.
A decade latter I was playing baseball in college. Dad stopped coming to my games years before, but I never ceased my efforts to win his approval. “We beat State University today, pops. I had three hits.”
He smiled and nodded while he read the paper. When I realized he was no longer listening, I made up my own story. With raised eyebrows I stated wryly, “Three hippos wandered onto the field during the third inning…one ate an umpire.” Dad just nodded.
For years I kept trying to hit the ball further with vocational and personal accomplishments and new academic degrees, but the fence kept being pushed back and the endearing words never came. Perhaps Dad never hit a home run and had difficulty relating to mine. More likely, maybe he did hit a few home runs during his lifetime but his father was never there to acknowledge them.
I only saw grandfather once before he died. The family rarely mentions him, but I overheard a relative say that he left my grandmother alone to raise five kids during the Great Depression. Dad doesn’t talk about it. Mom told me there were many nights when grandma fed my dad and his siblings from a single large can of beans. Grandma survived on what was left over, if anything. I imagine grandma was so consumed with keeping the family together and healthy that she had little time for anything beyond providing for basic needs. Dad was never given an opportunity to play baseball or even take a turn at bat.
Giving your heart to others by listening to their heart
When you grow a leader who values people you help the whole world