I cannot throw a ball.
If grade school P.E. had been taught as reading was when I was a child, I would have belonged to a small group called, perhaps, the bluebirds. Everyone would have known what "bluebirds" meant, but still, it might have been somewhat less painful and possibly helpful.
But there was no remedial P.E. group. Bluebirds were right fielders, far right fielders. When I finished my last required high school P.E. class, I thought I’d escaped right field and all its anxieties forever.
Now I am the father of a 3-year-old boy. Clark loves to play ball. So here I am, the definitive right fielder thrust onto the pitcher’s mound.
When my partner Greg and I were preparing to adopt, we took a number of classes to help us understand open adoptions, the questions adopted children often ask, the challenges of "conspicuous families" (gay or mixed-race families), infant care, child development and the risks of alcohol and drug exposure.
But there was no class about overcoming one’s own latent childhood anxieties about sports.
The Cradle, the private adoption agency we used, has an open adoption process in which birth parents choose the adoptive parents. Therefore, we had no choice about whether we would adopt a boy or a girl. And like all parents, we simply hoped for a child.
That’s not to say we didn’t have our worries. Greg worried about our raising a daughter. He was thinking about the ability of two men with no practical experience with female anatomy explaining breast development, the menstrual cycle and sex. I was confident we could figure that out.
I worried that I wouldn’t be a good father for a boy. After all, I could throw a tea party, but I could not throw a ball.
Of course, I’m not the only parent in the family, and Greg can throw a ball. At least, he says he can. I’ve never actually seen him throw a ball to anyone other than Clark, as we don’t play catch or toss the ol’ pigskin around for the heck of it. But I believe him.
But children learn from observing. Because I’m the stay-at-home parent, Clark has a lot of time to observe me. What if he learns ball throwing from me rather than Greg? When Clark throws a ball, will it go anywhere near where he intended? Will his arm swing wildly over his head? Will he pull a muscle even when the ball lands just a few feet in front of him? I worry about these things.
I am quickly learning that my anxieties are most likely unnecessary. Like his birth mother, with whom we keep in contact, Clark is athletic. He wears us out.
He climbs, hangs from monkey bars and runs. He runs around kicking a ball without breaking his stride. And he throws. It’s, in fact, a powerful throw.
And I throw. I throw the ball to Clark and I’m smitten by his joy in playing ball and playing ball with me.
I still don’t really know how to throw a ball properly. I’m not quite sure where to put my arm at the beginning, how to move my arm and when to release the ball. And as far as I can tell, a guy who knows how to throw ends with his wrist bent. (When I was in high school, my frequently bent wrists elicited pejoratives from the same boys who in grade school had said I threw like a girl.)
I suppose my ball-throwing anxiety will always linger a bit. Recently, Clark has become interested in basketball. This creates a whole new set of challenges and retrieves other painful memories—dribbling, dribbling while running, throwing, two bent wrists.
I’m fairly confident Clark will figure out basketball, in spite of my skills. I imagine he’ll be teaching me something about basketball, baseball and soccer in the next few years.
I now have to help Clark learn the most difficult lesson in sports—how to be kind to boys and girls who throw like Daddy Jay. Our occasional and fabulously fun tea parties with stuffed animals may help with this lesson.
Jay D. Lenn is a stay-at-home dad and sometime freelance writer living in Chicago.