Tuesday Night Lights: Playing Catch with My Son for the Very First TimeSerge Bielanko
The other night I popped a beer and sat down in front of the TV to watch a little Wicked Tuna, which, if you have two kids under 4, then you know that is pretty much the same thing as me saying, “The other night I died and went to a glorious penthouse Heaven on the back of Scarlett Johansson’s Harley.”
I took my first sip just as a dude hooked into a fish. I was genuinely happy for him and ready to sit back there on my brown leather and let the ocean and a couple reality show producers tell the story when: here comes Henry.
At two, my boy is really talking up a storm. He knows way more words than his older sister did at that age, which is typical from what I gather. Anyway, right on cue…mid-tuna…three minutes into my feeble attempt to unwind…Henry shows up with his foam football.
Of course, I had no idea what I was in for. The monumental moments of a lifetime don’t send you a text before they pop in, do they? They just show the hell up when they feel like it.
They just unfold at random times disguised as inopportune moments and manage to change everything forever.
Henry was smiling at me, his Spider Man PJs hanging off his slinky frame. I smiled back.
“Hey dude!,” I greeted him. “Whatcha doing?”
“Pway wif me, Daddee! Pway fooball!”
I stared at him hard as it sunk in, what he was saying.
You move through life thinking things are going to go one way according to all the Norman Rockwell crap rammed down your throat and all of the TV sitcom family b.s. that you have absorbed through your skin down through the years, by choice and by default; you get to thinking that maybe you are writing your own novel and that you are the protagonist, and that you might be able to steer your life, steer the mightiest/heaviest ship on the big bad sea, toward events that will unfold kind of like you pictured them in your mind.
But because we are humans, we are 100 percent fool at least 85 percent of the time.
Then, through my murk, it hit me.
My son was asking me to play catch with him. For the first time. Ever.
I put my bottle down and held out my hand. In my mind-novel I’d always pictured this whole thing as him and me out on the green grass of summer somewhere, in the yard or maybe down at the park. And, selfishly I guess, it had always been a baseball we threw during that first catch, him in his little Mizuno glove and me in mine, a slight hot wind coming down out of the sky.
He handed me the football. “Thwow it to me, Daddee! Thwow it!” I looked at the serious soul twinkling out of his eyeballs and I realized that this was it; the first catch was here and it wasn’t leaving to come back later when the weather changed or anything like that; it was here and it was ready and I was holding an enormous three-ton monument to my life right there in my lap when I least freaking expected to be.
“Thwow it to me, Daddee!” His voice landed on me like it was dripping down off of the high side of a stack of the kind of pancakes you’d probably find God and Marlon Brando eating together first thing in the morning.
I flipped the ball at him, at my boy standing there three feet away from me.
The football did a few end-over-ends, like a punt, and hung from the invisible chandelier that hangs just a couple feet above our life together, no matter where we are or what we are up to. Then it slipped off the shelf of air and descended down down down
Henry was smiling so big when he closed his open arms; I’ll always remember that.
The ball thumped against his the Spider Man on my boy’s chest and went still.
He’d caught it.
I roared, of course, not for any reasons beyond the pure either. I could care less if he plays sports or roller skates to disco music or builds volcanoes out of mashed potatoes and car batteries or reads graphic comics or ballet dances or just stares out the back window and sketches the distant ridges for the next 25 years or so, just as long as he finds something, his very own something, and that it makes him happy. I’m gonna love that boy for the next two million years/I’ve already decided/ so that’s that, really.
But, the way the story ends is the way that the story ends and he caught the damn thing anyway. Then I roared and grabbed him and pulled his overgrown armadillo-ass into my chest and kissed his hair as I ruffled it and told him how awesome of a catcher he was with my pale ale breath.
And I could feel him smiling against me, like a hot moon rock burning through my shirt.