"Dad, could we go to the field and practice a little more pitching?" Our Astros Little League baseball team had just won the Northwest Washington, D.C. championship game in the last inning. The kids and parents were all excited, and we had just finished the big post-game and end-of-season party at our house -- passing out both trophies and pizza. Everyone else had gone home, and Luke, my son and dependable clean-up hitter and pitcher, wanted a little more baseball. "Sure," I said with a smile. "Let's go!" What else can a coach, and a dad, say?
It was a very short walk, which is why our family moved just a month ago to live on the edge of Friendship Field in Turtle Park. I think it's the best ballfield in the city, with four adjacent diamonds on this field of dreams. For a baseball family like ours, this is like living on the beach. And this is where our sons, 10-year-old Luke and 6-year old Jack, will spend much of their next several years.
There was nobody else on any of the four baseball fields, because by this time it was almost dark. So we chose the one on which we had just won the big game. Luke walked to the mound, and I bent over as best I could to be his catcher. But it wasn't many pitches before I said, "Luke, if we keep pitching in this darkness, one of us is going to get hit in the head, and it will probably be me! Let's just go for a walk around the field, and talk about the game." Luke thought that was a great idea.
So two guys, a father and son, slowly walked around all of Turtle Park -- in the dark -- making sure to carefully touch home plate on all four fields. Nobody else was there. We talked about baseball and other stuff. At the end of the walk, as we were heading home, my son looked up at me and said, "I love you, Dad." And suddenly the whole world was just about perfect. When we got back, I was surprised to see little Jack still up. But he met us at the door and said, "Dad, could you and me practice pitching tomorrow? I'm getting pretty good!" My morning had just been planned.
Becoming a father rather late in life has indeed taught me many things. In fact, many of life's most important lessons, I would have to say, have come to me by way of finally being a dad. These two boys have become a spiritual anchor for me, and being their dad has been a kind of contemplative discipline that my busy life sorely needs. I began to build my speaking and travel schedule around things like Little League baseball, or even just putting them to bed at night -- which I now do most nights of their lives. After a while, I realized I wasn't just doing this for them -- but also for me. I simply can't bear not hearing the daily reports about what happened at school, or after school, or with their friends. And their prayers before going to bed at night (my job) are surely not to be missed. They now help shape my theology.
Jack's latest pearl was praying for his mom and dad and brother and cousins and classmates -- as usual. Then he and his brother often pray for "poor people," but this time Jack added, "And God, there are a lot of poor people, hungry people, and homeless people -- any questions or comments?