My father and I played catch almost every afternoon when I was in Little League. The ball popped back and forth in our gloves in a rhythmic cadence, and I asked the same question over and over.
“Dad, teach me how to throw a curveball.”
The answer was always the same.
“No, you’re still too young,” he said. “Your muscles aren’t fully developed. You’ll ruin your arm.”
A few months later, I asked again, but this time with more urgency.
“Teach me how to throw a curveball,” I demanded. I pleaded. I persisted. “My fastball isn’t fast enough to be a great pitcher dad. I need to throw a curveball.”
My father looked at me and then down at the ball nestled in his glove, then back at me.
“I don’t know how to throw one,” he said.
Time is a father’s worst enemy. His children begin their lives thinking he’s the greatest man who ever lived. He can do it all. Then time exposes him, breaks down his coat of shining armor. When it first hits, when you first realize the man who brought you into the world is only human and has limitations – it’s crushing.
We didn’t play catch very often after that, and my interest moved from baseball to golf a couple of years later.
But we played a lot of golf together. Thoughts of the curveball disappeared when I won my first event. Occasionally I would ask my father for golf advice, but he would usually say, “dig it out of the ground as every great golfer did before you.”
That answer frustrated me and made me think he probably didn’t know the answers to my questions, just like he didn’t know how to throw a curveball. So I went off to “dig it out of the ground” and eventually learned the technique… never considering the wisdom of his withholding style or the complement of being called a great golfer he had slipped in.
A father calls them like he sees them. He gives pep talks and forks out cash for baseballs, bats, overpriced golf equipment, and memberships to expensive country clubs to see his children excel at their interests. He gets up early and plays golf with his son when a round with his friends would probably be more fun and challenging.
He knows how to share disappointment and hide embarrassment. He’s got just the right look when his son snap hooks a ball out of bounds and ruins what would have been his lowest score ever. He picks up chins from the floor, knocks someone off his high horse when he seems to be getting a little too arrogant and lays down rules that work.
A father teaches his children it’s only a game, but reminds them never to forget how important that is. He teaches them the game and then gets them ready for bigger ones.
A few years ago, I attended a Connell family reunion back in North Carolina. My father was not in attendance, but one of our relatives asked about him.
“He’s doing well,” I said without giving it much thought. “He lives in upstate New York. It’s a little too far for him to drive.”
“Know what I remember best about your old man?” he asked.
Without waiting for an answer, he said, “he was the best damn baseball player around when we were kids. Still the best pitcher I’ve seen for someone that age. My God, he had a curveball like you’ve never seen. That thing would drop like it fell off a table. I got him to teach me how to throw it, but it was too much strain on my elbow. I still can’t straighten it after all of these years.”
The Apostle Paul writes eloquently about love in his letter to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
–1 Corinthians 13:4-7
I think a father’s love may be less eloquent but just as durable as the descriptions in those famous verses. A father’s love is sometimes silent, sometimes tough, and hard to discern at first glance. A father’s love is sometimes taking a second job so that his son can compete with rich kids at an expensive sport. And sometimes a father’s love is withholding a truth that may tarnish his own shining armor in order to help his son pursue a future dream.
I will be calling my dad today to thank him for all he did for me, whether I was aware of it or not. I hope you do the same, or remember him for all the things he did for you.
Happy Father’s Day, everyone.