During the course of the last 15 years or so, I had the privilege of coaching my children as they played a number of sports. My son was one of those boys who wanted to try every sport — constantly wanting me to play catch with him, kick a soccer ball around, shoot hoops in the driveway, compete at ping pong, and go to the tennis courts for a few rounds. Never did he allow me to take it easy on him, especially when it was tennis. Rarely did he care that I was tired or fried. He wanted to play. Not wanting to be the father from Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle, I rarely turned him down. He always had me to be his partner in whatever activity he wanted to practice.
Having a strong boy who wanted me to compete benefited us both. He was better because he has a father who is a decent athlete, able to show him a few things and compete well enough to cause him to improve his skills. Constant activity kept me sharp, strengthened my throwing arm (just ask any first baseman who has taken a throw from me at third base) and improved my athletic ability even in my late fifties. That said, I am beginning to wear down a bit, especially as my midsection grows. During the last 15 years, I spent a good portion of my time and money supporting my children in their endeavors. If I wasn’t coaching them, I was taking them to an event or watching them.
I wouldn’t trade those days for anything in the world.
Despite some rocky times with my son as he grew up, especially during the years when my marriage to his mother began to fail, all the time we spent together developed a bond. Do I wish it was a little stronger? Yes. To be honest, the rocky times stunted that bond a little. But as time goes on, the investment is showing. Respect is returning, honor beginning to become a part of our relationship. He is giving back to me, slowly, but he is doing it.
A few weeks ago, my condo association announced that they would be hosting a doubles tennis tournament. I mentioned it to my son, hoping that he would show some interest in playing as my partner. Nate was a talented tennis player, a standout in singles on the high school JV tennis team and in doubles on the high school varsity tennis team. If he played as my partner, he likely would be my ‘ringer’. I am a decent tennis player, won an intramural singles tournament in college, but it has been a few years. In reality, it didn’t matter if we won. I just wanted to see how would play together, wanted to spend some time with him. Reluctantly, he agreed to play. He was pretty sure that the competition would be an older crowd, plus he felt a little rusty since it had been over a year since he has competed at any level.
He showed. Our first two matches, he held back, didn’t hit many serves hard, just took it easy. We won those matches easily. It helps that Nate is 6’4″ tall and very strong. With him at the net, we had a wall that made our opponents lob the ball, setting me up to place the ball down either line. In the championship match, Nate crushed several serves, some real aces that evoked several WOWs from the people watching. We won the tournament.
It was nice to have some time with my son, time I really haven’t had in the last year since the separation and divorce. We had a great time. Now we get to share our prize — a gift certificate to a local restaurant! And yes, the kid is just a tad taller than I am now. I swear he grew 2-3 inches in the last year.