They got home around 5, just as the light was beginning to fade. Chris, 4, rang the doorbell to announce his presence with authority. Jay came in through the garage. Their faces always look older after a haircut. This time, Jay looked older and pensive.
Would there be enough light to squeeze in a meaningful amount of play time with the neighbor boys? Or, more to the point, were the neighbor boys even home? He spent his day planning the play date, which might or might not happen, depending on various post-divorce weekend kid arrangements that are frankly kind of tough to comprehend if you’re 7 and fortunate enough to have both parents still living under the same roof.
The neighbor boys weren’t home. Jay’s afternoon plans, so carefully constructed, were ruined. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes went wet. He flopped on the family room couch and started to mope. He does take disappointment to heart.
On a related note … I found my glove today. We’re trying to remediate the Hoarders-like atmosphere we’ve cultivated over the years in the upstairs office. That’s where my glove was, buried in an industrial-sized garbage bag full of sports gear.
While Jay tried to process the disappointment (we told him he can always play with them another time, like, tomorrow), I walked upstairs to get my glove. I called over my shoulder.
“Jay, let’s play catch. Get your glove and that soft baseball.”
He didn’t budge from the couch.
“I don’t want to play baseball. I want to play with Phineas and Ferb*.”
I continued up the stairs.
“Well, I’m going to get my glove,” I said. “I’d really like it if you came outside and threw a ball around with me. I’ll be right back down.”
When I reached the living room, there he was with his glove and the ball. He still didn’t look too happy, but he was ready to adjust his expectations downward for the afternoon.
“If you’re going to play baseball,” I said, “you’ll need a hat.”
I grabbed his USF Bulls cap off the hat rack and popped it on his head. And out we went.
Keep in mind, this was the first time. We might have tossed a little rubber ball back and forth together at Tropicana Field on Father’s Day, but never had we stepped into the back yard, gloves on hand, for an actual, father-son game of catch.
Of course, he only actually caught my underhand tosses a half-dozen times. (He tried every time, though, and didn’t even flinch that one time when the ball bounced off his hands and onto his face.) After indulging me for about 10 minutes, he decided he wanted to kick the soccer ball around, instead. But while we played catch, I thought of all those years of youth baseball, of the thousands of hours I spent honing my fielding ability and learning how to propel a spherical, seamed, leather object at a high rate of speed to a small, precise target hundreds of feet away. I thought of my dad.
And, hey … this kid, my kid, can really throw. (Scouts – in case you didn’t notice from that photo, this kid can really throw left-handed. I’m just saying.)
After we played catch and kicked the soccer ball and paused every few minutes to determine if those far-away bursts of kid laughter and shouting were Phineas or Ferb**, we gathered the sports gear and started inside.
Of course you knew this story had a kicker.
While Jay carried his glove under one arm and the soccer net over his shoulder, he said to me: “This was a sad and glad day. I’m still sad that I couldn’t play with Phineas and Ferb today, but I’m glad you wanted to play catch with me.”
OK, so maybe it doesn’t get any more clichéd for a dad, any more hackneyed for a writer, than a game of catch between a father and a son. Costner did it best in Field of Dreams. I mean, his dad came back from the dead to play catch. Can’t beat that***. But I don’t care. It’s not a competition. Maybe the next time the neighbor boys are AWOL, Jay will realize it’s not the end of the world, after all. And maybe he’ll want to play catch again. I’ll keep my glove handy, just in case.
* Not their real names.
** Again, let me reiterate, these are not the neighbor boys’ real names. But wouldn’t it be freaking awesome if they were? I mean, think about the implications of having a couple of super-genius engineers/interstellar travelers/friends to all kid-kind living in your neighborhood if you were 7. You’d sure as hell be disappointed if they weren’t available to play on a Sunday afternoon. Wouldn’t you? Yes. Yes, you would.
*** I tear up every single time.