I recently had an episode that was very, very humbling as a father. Though there were no witnesses, it was still one of the most embarrassing moments in my recent history. I may have been the only one to perceive it at the time, still I swore I heard a collective sigh escape from even the surrounding furniture in the room. Perhaps it was just as well that no one was around to offer absolution; no one to dilute the sense of secret shame.
The exchange started out innocent enough. I turned to my youngest son and asked if he would like to go outside and play catch. It had been some time since I had thrown the baseball with him, and the spontaneously open afternoon before me left ample time to resurrect that practice (I couldn't recall the last time we had played catch). He said that he would like to throw the baseball with me, but then added that he didn't know where his glove was.
Now at this point it's important to remember how normative it is for young boys to sleep with their baseball gloves under their pillow. Such vital equipment is practically an extension of their body. You might sooner ask a policeman where they have misplaced their firearm than ask a little boy where their sports gear has disappeared to. Nevertheless, the eleven year old male in front of me didn't know where his glove was, and as a result I began to shrink inside.
"Go check in your room," I commanded. "It's got to be in there." To this he responded by immediately excavating through his bedroom rubble. After three to five minutes he emerged empty-handed. This was getting less pleasing by the moment. The next phase was obviously to check in the garage. I couldn't believe I was directing him to search for his baseball glove in the garage, but at this point I was determined that this would end with us play catch if I had to buy him a new one.
Dutifully, he ventured into the wilderness of our stored belongings to seek out the wayward mitt. I could hear my son rummaging through boxes and tools, around bicycles, rakes and shelves. He came back with something in his hands, presented it to me and asked, "Is this it?" To my horror he held in his little palms an unused baseball glove. Still retaining its original rigidity, the basket was even stuck spread open. I looked down and saw that the palm of the glove had collected cobwebs.
I swear I am NOT making this up. COBWEBS!
To say that I took the image of this personally is an exercise in understatement. Instead of having a baseball glove worn and weathered from frequent use playing catch with his brother or his father, my son had a glove filled with cobwebs languishing out in the garage. My paternal instincts had been subjected to a "pass/fail test" and come up short. It was painful.
Walking outside, I grasped the baseball intensely, feeling its stitches dig into my palm. "OK, let's go play catch," I whimsically added, trying to shrug off my shame.
"I'm not sure I know how," he sheepishly countered. Really kid. Do you have to twist the knife in my heart THAT much?
"We'll figure it out," I assured him. We started pretty close, tossing the ball lightly. Slowly we bravely moved away from each other so that the throws could become more powerful and the catches more difficult. With each subsequent catch and throw he seemed to grow in stature and pride. Though it was a delight to witness him exult in the new skills developed with his father, it did not absolve me from the guilt of time lost up until now. The image of a baseball mitt covered in cobwebs is burned into my brain. Not only did that event leave me with a resolve to never again be confronted with that type of neglect, but perhaps my humiliating moment, confessed here, will be beneficially instructive to some other father that has just gotten too damn busy. By God's grace and with his help, we will keep the cobwebs out of the baseball gloves.