Realizing That Your Father Was Much Better Than You Ever Gave Him Credit For
I come from a large family — 8 kids total: 6 girls, 2 boys. I have an older sister, but I was my father’s first son. My dad, I think, was hoping that I would turn out to be an athlete. But it became apparent, early in my life, that I was not destined to play center field for the Kansas City Royals. I was almost comically, painfully, unathletic. I preferred reading and building Legos to practicing layups in the backyard.
My dad pushed a little, but quickly realized that our relationship was probably not going to involve sports, no matter how bad he wished it were so. I played little league baseball, soccer, and basketball until I finally realized that nobody was making me play sports. I could quit and my parents would put up only mild protests (I think they were actually relieved that they no longer had to watch me play sports that I so obviously and desperately hated). I was about 10 years old.
But while we were still all operating under the fantasy that sports were my thing, my dad would go out in the yard with me almost every evening and play catch. Although I didn’t care much for little league baseball, I loved spending a few minutes every evening with my dad, chucking the ball back and forth. It was one of the few moments growing up in which I had my dad all to myself. In a home full of eight children, it was rare to have one-on-one time with my parents. I didn’t think about playing catch with my dad much after I quit playing organized sports.
In my twenties, I began to resent my dad. All I could think about were the times that I felt like he had failed me as a father, the lack of attention, the perceived favoritism to my (many, many) sisters, his lack of sensitivity, etc… It caused a (mostly one sided) rift in our relationship. I had this feeling that if my dad and I were not related by blood, we likely wouldn’t even be friends. I perceived that he didn’t really even like me all that much. My wife and I moved several states away from the state my parents live in the month before I turned 28 years old.
When we moved, my oldest child had just turned four years old. I was amazed at how much I loved this little boy. From the moment he was born, I knew that I would do anything for him. I looked forward to introducing him to all the stupid things that I enjoyed — Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, science, history, comics, etc… As he grew older and developed his own personality and preferences, it became apparent that he couldn’t care less about the things that I was interested in. All he wanted to do is play sports, any sport, any game that involved a ball and a set of rules.
In a show of cosmic irony, the universe had sent me the son that my dad always wanted. A son that lived and died for sports. Every night he wanted (and still wants) to play catch, or go to the driving range, or have me help him with pitching or hitting drills. On top of all of this, my son is relentless and seems to have boundless energy. Some days I come home from work exhausted, both mentally and physically. I just want to lie down for a while. But there he is, begging me to go do something, anything with him (generally things that I don’t particularly enjoy doing). I do it, not because it’s one of my favorite things in the world, but because he’s one of my favorite things in the world. So, I smile, change my shoes, and play catch with my son.
Being a dad has given me much needed perspective on my own father. Almost every day my dad came home from work, physically and mentally exhausted, and went out in the backyard with his painfully uncoordinated son and played catch, not because he necessarily wanted to play catch with me, he just wanted to be with me. My father wasn’t perfect and it was easy for me to focus on his shortcomings (which are legion), but he got it right more than he got it wrong. That’s about as good as anyone can ask for.
I understand now that my father was and is a good man doing his best to raise his children to be honest, self-sufficient, and happy. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his best. I suspect that, like me, my son will go through a period sometime in his life when he resents me for all the stupid things I’ve done as a father (they are legion). I can only hope that one day, he has a son of his own.