Fathers and sports are inseparable, which, of course, can be good and bad.
We all know fathers who are wonderful coaches and supportive fans and terrific role models. We also know fathers who are loud-mouthed louts that embarrass everybody as they yell at the referees or try to coach their kids by screaming at them from the sideline — although it’s actually good to have a couple of those fathers on your kid’s team, because you can always point to them and tell your daughter or son, “See, at least I’m not as big a loser as that guy.’’
For better or worse, there’s a special bond between fathers and their children when it comes to sports. Mothers share that bond, too, and often log the most miles driving everybody to practice and games. But Father’s Day is this week, so that’s our focus.
And speaking of Father’s Day – a few years, the American Film Institute listed its 100 most inspirational movies of all time and included in that group was the baseball film Field of Dreams. And the scene they showcased came at the end of the film when Kevin Costner says, with a lump in his throat, “Hey, Dad, you wanna have a catch?’’
Fathers and sons — and daughters — can relate to that Norman Rockwell scene because it’s been painted not over years, but generations. The only thing that’s changed is the quality of the equipment and the size of the signing bonuses.
But, at some point, fathers and their kids stop having catches, and it’s not because they’ve quarreled or grown distant. They just stop. One day they go out to the backyard with their mitts, just as they’ve done hundreds of times before, and for some reason, they never do it again.
Obviously, the kids get older and their interests change and hanging out with Dad is the last thing they want to do. Dad is older, too, and his hamstrings have changed and he knew this day would eventually come. But it’s a sad day, nonetheless.
And the saddest part is that you have no warning. Nobody taps you on the shoulder and tells you to savor the moment because it will never come again. You have no chance to come to grips with the fact that a big part of your relationship – playing games together — has changed forever.
It’s not just sports, of course. Just as dramatically, you stop playing with the G.I. Joes and Ninja Turtles and you don’t make forts out of cushions and blankets anymore – basically, you can’t use the kids as an excuse to play like a kid anymore.
It’s not until much later that you realize how much time has passed since you threw the ball around or shot hoops together and, come to think of it, you don’t even know where those gloves are right now. Maybe in the shed…
But even though this melancholy milestone sneaks up on us, we have been warned about it, and hopefully fathers everywhere heed the message delivered by the late, great singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.
You know the song. It’s one of those tunes that gets in your head even if you don’t like it. In fact, you’re probably humming to yourself right now (“… And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…’’).
It’s dopey, but it’s hard to ignore the message of the song, which is about a father who is too busy with his career and doesn’t spend enough time with his son, which he finally realizes when it’s too late to do anything about it. And I have to admit that song was always a prime motivating force for me whenever my son came into the room dragging the bag that held our gloves and bats and balls. He’d have that eager look on his face, but I’d be tired or just lazy and not feel like it. And then I’d hear that darned Harry Chapin (“… Little boy blue and the man in the moon…’’) and the next thing you know, I’m in the backyard trying not to strain my rotator cuff.
Now, of course, I’m grateful I did, even though I didn’t realize at the time that one day it would all stop and I wouldn’t even notice. Just like the song says.
Fortunately, sports can still serve a useful function for fathers and their children even if they don’t play them together anymore. When your kid won’t talk to you about school or friends or pretty much anything that requires the use of more than two syllables (and one of them is a grunt), the two of you can still sit down together and watch a Phillies game and rip Maikel Franco for over-swinging and missing another breaking ball in the dirt.
Some things even time can’t change.