I watched from a distance as you stood a few yards away from your young son. Holding a football in your hands, you called out to him, “I’ll try.” In that moment, I felt an instant connection to you, so I kept watching and listening. You pulled your arm back, aimed (or maybe you didn’t), and let that football fly towards your son. Only, the ball flew toward your three o’clock, not your twelve o’clock where your son stood, waiting expectantly with arms outstretched.
And then your body language pantomimed the story you must have been telling yourself. “What an epic fail, how embarrassing. I hope no one saw that, but my son saw it, and now I am diminished in his eyes, on top of already losing part of my little boy to his dad lately, to their shared big boy-ness that I can’t compete with, this will make him pull further away from me, this is why I don’t throw balls, ugh!” At least that’s what I told myself when the same thing happened to me.
You gave up pretty quickly after that, and went to sit down with the bigs in your group. You left your son to play catch with the other littles instead. And I get that. But, I hope you shake off that last play and get right back in the game.
I don’t know why you can’t throw a ball. I only know why I couldn’t. Being taught to throw and catch is not always a “dad thing” but it often is, and I didn’t have a dad. He checked out of my life very early on. I did have a string of stepdads that followed his departure, but exactly none of them were interested in fulfilling the dad role. It’s a position that remains vacant to this day.
I did have a wonderful mom who did the best she could for me, but that mostly entailed working several jobs at once to make ends meet while I was growing up. I also had a very special grandfather who taught me to fish, to waterski, to play pool, and how to finally trust a man. But not to play catch. And youth sports were not the obsession back then that they are today, even if we had possessed the money and means necessary for me to have taken part. So I never felt like I was missing out in that arena like a kid might today if they lack the opportunity to participate. But I never did learn how to throw a ball.
Many years later, I stood a few yards away from my young son with a baseball in my hand and said, “I’ll try.” I pulled my arm back, brought it forward again, released the ball and watched it fly nowhere near my son. Oops. Dang it! More of that went through my head but my final thought was, “No! This is not going to be my story.”
I think my son chuckled at my lack of form and at the crazy place the ball landed compared to where he stood, he might have even seemed a little disappointed in me. And I had an aching desire to make playing catch as a doable thing for the two of us. His dad already owned hunting with our son, and it didn’t bother me, but I didn’t want my husband to own playing catch with him, too. I didn’t want to sit that out.
So I told my young son my truth. I told him I’d never had a dad to teach me how to play catch like he did. That it wasn’t one of the things my mom was able to teach me either. So I just plain didn’t know what I was doing and I was sad about it. He looked me in the eye and said, “That’s OK, I’ll teach you.” And then, he did.
“Ok, Mom, point your front hip and your front arm towards where you wanna throw the ball. Now bring your arm all the way back, break at your elbow, and bring the ball right past your ear and then follow through. Like this.” It took a few repetitions on his part, and many more attempts to comply on my part, and then, I had it–I could throw a baseball. To my son! Like, straight to him!
And it was such a beautiful, poignant moment for us and especially for me. I went from feeling sad and lacking and sorry to feeling elated and hopeful and capable, just like that. All because I stayed put in the middle of that uncomfortable situation, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and told my truth. And my big-hearted young son responded the way he still does to real and raw people in the midst of their struggle; he got it and he helped.
This whole scenario would repeat itself with a football. Because you do not throw a football like you do a baseball (who knew?). And that became another beautiful moment, one that helped me let go of some of the pain and frustration of not having a dad and all that means to a girl and a woman. Instead, I was able to grab hold of the fact that I have a son, and all that means to a woman, to a mom.
So, to the mom who can’t yet throw a ball, that’s OK. Stay put, hold your head up high and tell your son your truth. Then let him be the one to teach you. The beauty of this act will liquify your heart. If he doesn’t make the offer, don’t let that rob the two of you of the moment. Ask him to teach you if you have to. Show him that you can shrug off what you don’t know and why you don’t know it and that you welcome the chance to learn it from him. Get back in the game and make that your story.