It's rare that my son asks me to have a catch of the baseball anymore. Being 15 years old, and having decided correctly I'm not all that cool, and naturally seeking to become a more independent young man, this is not unusual. Kids drift from the parents as they enter high school. It's sad for the parents yet liberating for the kids. It's also the natural evolution of family life.
But yesterday he wanted to have a catch. Not just any catch, though. A serious one like he has with his baseball team that starts with a few short tosses back and forth and progresses to what's called "long toss" from about 50 to 80 yards away. Summer league baseball tryouts occur soon and he wants to be prepared.
The further he moved away from me-I stood in the same place-the harder it became for me to throw it far enough to reach him. This was not surprising and natural. But once he reached a certain distance, I could no longer throw it to him no matter how much effort I exerted. My tosses kept landed 10, 20 and then 30 feet in front of him. It was a little embarrassing for my son to see how weak my arm was.
A lame arm, indeed. Meanwhile, he hurled the ball all the way to me in the air no matter how far back he went. For me this moment moved my mind to reflection. My boy had grown up and now could throw a baseball much farther than me. Frankly, I assumed I could still throw it farther than him even though he's been working on his arm strength the past 10 years during several hundred baseball games and practices, whereas I had not hardly at all. Yet I figured I was bigger than him and was once a decent high school baseball player so I still had a strong arm. I think we fool ourselves about ourselves until one day reality tells us to stand down. This was my stand down moment.
The tables between my son and I have officially turned. It's as if a new contract between he and I has to be written. After we finished throwing, he asked: "I thought you said you were a great athlete."
I saw that hit coming. I deserved the jab for all the tales of my glory days he has had to listen to since we started having a catch when he was four years old. Touche for him. His wit is developing along with his arm strength.
Aging is part of the reason I've lost my arm strength. At 50 I no longer have as much energy as I did at age 15-not even close. My muscles are weaker, softer, and less defined. When I get out of a bed in the morning, I ache and am stiff. If I work out the treadmill for 30 minutes, the rest of the day I'm sore and have a slight limp. I am spent most of the time.
Reaching the age of 50 chills. As a kid you never believe you will be 50 years old. To even fathom it is scary because, well, 50 is old. Yet here am I where I never thought I would be.
Not being able to throw the baseball nearly as far as my son made me feel melancholy, longing a bit for days gone by when I was an energetic high school player, like my son, with my entire life in front of me. He has that; I don't. But as a parent I instinctively want my children to become better than I was at whatever they do if it's their desire (I have three children). If he wants to be a better baseball player than I was, I want that for him. If he doesn't, I want that. I want what he wants. If he doesn't want to compare himself to me, that's fine, too.
People who know me well will be skeptical of this statement because they think I want my son to be a better baseball player so that everybody who finds this out also realizes that I, too, was once a good player. While there is a little bit of truth in that, the bigger truth is I want him to learn about how to be successful in life. If you want to improve at anything, you have to practice. It won't just happen. In this case, it's baseball. Next time it might be learning to get along with his boss in a corporate setting, or working hard to improve his writing skills, or preparing and rehearsing a persuasive argument in a courtroom.
Learning this will serve him well the rest of his life in whatever endeavors he pursues. Learning this will make his life more fulfilling and rich. He will understand what it takes to be successful and that the path to that success, the hard, repetitive work, is the best-and most important--part of that journey. It's not being on the mountaintop as the best in the world at what you do that is so important; it's striving to get there with all your heart, mind and strength.
Then, when he turns 50 and has a catch with his Dad, he will have the perspective that I do now. He will want to teach his son these crucial life lessons.