One Winter Saturday Afternoon > All the Seasons of a Lifetime

 

One Winter Saturday Afternoon > All the Seasons of a Lifetime

It is my firm belief that my mission as a father is tied to my overall life purpose (I believe you can have more than one).  My purpose as a dad has always been about doing a better job than my father did with me.  I have read books, listened to tapes, gone to parenting classes, listened to my children, gone to therapy and done just about everything I possibly can to try and get it right--or at the very least do a better job than my father (which essentially means working on me).

I have amassed close to 6000 photos of my children since their birth, and approximately 500 or so of them have me in the photo with them; --an incredible amount when compared to the poultry 7 pictures that I have with my father during his short lifetime (he died in 1969 when I was five years old, 4 months after his 28th birthday.   To add insult to injury, I have an even shorter list of memories and life moments shared with him.

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A memento from my dad; photo taken by Grandma Gladys
Circa: 1967

To two most vivid memories I have of him are; 1) When I was 4 years old and my mom was hospitalized after a miscarriage--my father (Tyrone Hayes) was commissioned to take care of us for a few days (as they were separated at the time).   This felt very odd and uncomfortable, because although we were happy to see him (which was rare)--we had grown accustomed over the past two years or so--to momma's way of doing things.  One morning as my brother and I slept head to toe in our twin bed--he tried to wake us up for school, and when we didn't respond he proceeded to pour cold water in our faces.  For as long as I live, I will never forget that momentary feeling of 'drowning' in my own bed that fall morning.  

2) At a party one night, all of the kids were told to stay in the back bedroom with the door closed.   I made the mistake of repeating a curse word that I had heard (and at 4 years old I had no idea what it meant), and one of the kids in the room went into the living room and snitched on me to my father (Back then 'snitches didn't get stitches'), at least not in my house.   About two minutes later, my father (who was fairly liquored up) came bursting into the room and started beating me mercilessly with his belt.  I only remembered the first few blows, and after that I guess I blacked out.   The bruising was so bad that my grandmother (my dad's mom) considered reporting my dad the police.

So this is his legacy--as well as the emotional backdrop, for which set up the events of last Tuesday evening; one which found me cleaning out my office--while watching some family DVDs that I had shot back in the winter of 2007.   I was preparing my sons for their first year of T-ball, and it was quite a challenge considering they were so young at the time.  As a matter of fact, in all my years of coaching it was the most challenging job I have ever experienced.   Chad was only 5, Matthew was 2 months shy of 4 and Ross was 3 months shy of 3 years old.  Even though they were young, they were all so eager to learn something new.  There is a certain beauty in a child's curiosity.

As the video began, I was amazed at how small they were relative to now (their current ages are 12, 11 and 10);  and yet in retrospect I was shocked at how much of their personalities had already formed at such a young age--much of their traits were just as they are today.  Chad was already interested in how things worked and were put together--and he demonstrated as much by moving the video camera on the tripod, which I had set up to film them swinging the bat off of the T.   It was so cute watching them take their cuts, and my only regret was not having smaller bats for them to use (they used the equipment of their older brother and sister). 

I also noticed how difficult it was to coach and manage three small children effectively, and I was amazed at the level of energy I was expending with them at 1pm on a cool Saturday afternoon.  Once we finally got all the equipment organized, it was time to teach them proper stretching and warm up techniques.  One of the benefits of coaching, is that you get to take home the baseball equipment bag, and over the years the park would throw/ and or give away old equipment. 

We circled up and I walked them through all of the stretches; from hamstrings, to quads, to groin stretches--we did it all.  Not perfectly, but we made an effort.   Although they didn't get it right, it was so beautiful watching them try.  What stood out to me was how Matthew was 'difficult' even at that age, and his stubbornness showed in his lack of full participation at the beginning of the stretching session.  I had to repeatedly remind him in the beginning, until he finally 'got with the program'--- which actually is not much different than it is with him now.

Once we broke the stretching circle and did some agilities, I told Ross and Matty to go out into the field, and Chad was supposed to bat first.  I turned my head for one moment, and you could hear off camera the sound of an aluminum bat dropping and Matthew crying.  To my dismay, Ross had been taking practice swings and accidentally hit Matthew in the head--barely grazing it in the back, but grazing it none the less.   I rushed over to comfort Matty, and Ross can be seen slowly tip toeing away--passing home base and heading out into the field, trying to act like nothing happened.

I immediately felt the emotion of guilt as I watched the video, because I know now that I never should have left them un-attended with bats nearby; unfortunately a lot of parenting is learning on the fly.  We all learn from our mistakes, and that particular mistake reminded me to be attentive to them now--even though they are older, especially when they are in the vicinity of power tools and yard equipment.   In fatherhood--'attention to the moment' is all that counts.

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My son Matthew and I: in the batter's box.
Circa: February 2007
Chad stepped up to the T, and got to take three swings.  After the third swing, he was supposed to take off and run the bases--- and his brothers were supposed to get the ball and try and tag him out.   I was proud to see him take really good cuts at the ball, and the third hit he smacked into the outfield and took off running.  The bases of course were off camera, but you could hear Matthew and Ross yelling and scrambling for the ball.  By the time they tossed the ball in to me, he had easily rounded the bases and had a smile on his face a mile wide as he yelled out "home run!"   I had let him go first because I knew that he would be modeling for his brothers, and that they would do whatever they saw him do.

Next up was Ross, and sure enough he stepped up to the plate and took some good swings at the ball (although the bat appears to weigh about half of what he does at the time).  On his third swing he smacks the heck out of the ball and takes off running, initially running straight forward until he realizes where first base is--and then he makes a sharp right turn landing safely at first.  Chad throws the ball to me as if I am seven feet tall, and it sails over my head; Ross takes off running from first and gets all the way home.   Ross (to his delight) has hit his first home run, and he yells out "yay daddy!"

Now it was Matthew's turn, as he was the only left handed hitter in the bunch.  So it took a few moments to get him settled into the batter's box on the other side of the plate, and his brothers started to get a little antsy.  Although he writes with his right hand, he throws and bats with his left.  He too steps up and takes three really good swings, making solid contact with the ball on the last two.   On his first one he swings so hard and misses the ball completely, and his momentum spins him completely around a full 360 degrees.  I stopped play, and took advantage of this mistake--and turned it into a teachable moment (which I have discovered is also one of the great joys of fatherhood).  I instructed him to keep his head down on the ball, and see what he was hitting--and he immediately hit the next two balls harder than both of his brothers (driving the ball all the way to the fence).   On the third hit, he takes off running like a dog is chasing him.   It was clear even at this age, that athleticism came easy to him--and that his brothers would have to work at it a little bit more than he did.   As I watched this unfold, it brought a smile to my face as I realized how athletic he is now as an 11 year old.   My only concern for him now is his work ethic, and the fact that he knows now how good he can be.   I don't ever want him to become complacent, and lose the desire to work hard in the process of preparation.  I could only smile as I reflected on our time together.  My how the moments do go by, and I am so fortunate to have them on DVD--so I can relive the beauty and joy of this shared life experience.

Once Matty was done, I was foolish and naïve enough to think that we could do another round of batting for everyone.  After all, baseball tryouts were in two weeks and I wanted them to be prepared.  But my sons had other plans, and the excitement was starting to wear off for Chad (the leader of the pack), and thus Ross followed suit.  Matthew however, would have hit all day long if I had let him.

So Chad steps up to the plate and hits the ball, and on the third hit he takes of running.  Halfway between first and second base Matthew tackles him, and once he gets him down-- Ross piled on top of both of them.  As I watched the DVD I started cracking up, as I heard my voice in the background  yelling; "Hey this isn't football, you don't tackle in baseball."  But they ignored me, as was evident by their giggling and rolling on the grass.  So I rushed to the camera to capture their giddiness on tape, and it made for quite a site.  I panned the camera around just in time to see the pile of bodies on the ground just beyond the lemon tree, and halfway in between first and second base.   I could only laugh now and shake my head, as the tape comes closer to the end of it's two hour run.  "What a day that was," I thought to myself.

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Dad & I sharing a rare moment.
Circa: 1966
I paused the DVD for a moment, and my eyes began to water as I took great fatherly pride in knowing how many thousands of hours I had spent engaging my boys in various activities over the course of their lives.  In stark contrast, I came to the realization that the two hours that I had spent with them on that magical Saturday afternoon not so long ago--was more time than my father had spent engaging me his entire life.  I was reminded that the overlap of our life lines had been tragically shortened by his death.

In that moment I had an epiphany that I was on track to achieve my life purpose, which I have come to identify as breaking the cycle of absentee fatherhood in my family.  Going back on my dad's side for three generations, no man had been around to raise his children into adulthood.  My mom's side wore no parenting 'badge of honor' either, as her father had delivered her to live with an aunt at the age of three--after her mother had died from cancer.

So in this moment of self-realization (amidst the normal emptiness that usually accompanies late Tuesday nights as a single dad) I began to see my legacy unfolding right before my eyes.   Although I had successfully taught and guided my sons on that Winter Saturday back in 2007--in a way that would alter and impact their lives forever; there was something deeper underlying the whole experience.  Something enchanted happened that day, an experience that goes beyond words.  In much the same way that the dreadful experience of my father's death in 1969 had left an 'indescribable mark' on my soul--but in opposite form.  I had experienced what Dr. Deepak Chopra calls 'the play of opposites', which says that all life experience is by contrast--and one experience gives meaning Text Box:  
My three sons and I
Circa: July 2014
to the other (I only wish I had been taught this natural law as a child).  It was true bliss to finally reach the opposite end of that spectrum, and in that instant any lingering pain that I was suffering in missing my dad my entire life dissipated like smoke into thin air.  I understood that it was well worth the wait, as I had achieved in one afternoon that which my father couldn't achieve in his life span.  That one afternoon was greater than the seasons of his lifetime, for I had created a new legacy of love and hope with my sons that would echo throughout eternity.  It was a reminder to tap into that which I am:  a spirit, who has occasional human experiences.

I sat down on the couch, took a deep breath and smiled--as I knew that this milestone moment that I had reached would give me the strength to overcome any and all obstacles (i.e. custody and visitation) to being a good single father.  Those moments with my sons can never be taken away, and have carved a place in their hearts forever.

As I stilled my thoughts and found the gap between them---I found an inner peace.  I was in that space that I was reminded of a quote read to me by Sydney (one of my Continuation students), which had touched my soul.  She said; "In the end everything will be okay... and if it's not ok, then that means it's not the end."  Her words echoed in my mind, and thus my faith was renewed---and hope for a better tomorrow had been restored. Everything was as it should be in the universe.

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