By Reggie Connell
Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
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 curve ball.”
The answer was always the same.
“No, you’re still too young,” he said. “You’ll ruin your arm because your muscles aren’t fully developed.”
A few months later I made my boldest plea yet.
“Teach me how to throw a curve ball,” I demanded. I pleaded. I persisted. “My fastball isn’t fast enough to make me 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, unravels his coat of shining armor. When it first hits, when you first realize the man who brought you into the world isn’t perfect – it’s crushing.
We didn’t play catch very often after that, and my interest moved from baseball to golf a few years later.
But we played a lot of golf together. It’s a sport I excelled at. Thoughts of the curve ball disappeared when I won my first junior golf event. Occasionally I would ask my father for golf advice, but he would usually say “dig it out of the ground like 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 I asked about…never considering the wisdom his withholding style contained or the compliment of being called a great golfer he slipped in.
A father calls them like he sees them. He gives pep talks and forks out cash for baseballs and bats and golf clubs and overpriced golf balls and memberships to fancy golf courses to see his children excel at their interests. He supports the Little League because he wants his son to have a good outlet for the release of youthful energy. He gets up early and plays golf with his son when he could be playing in a more challenging game with his friends. 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 and then 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 blurted out… “He was the best damn baseball player around when we were 12 or 13 years old. 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 speaks eloquently about love in his letter to the Corinthians. I think a father’s love is less eloquent but just as durable as the descriptions in that famous verse. 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 a rich person’s 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 Apopka.