The Catch

Leaves change colors. Evenings require layers. Snow graces mountain tops. Candy corn returns to the shelves. And… the weekends give us football. It’s that time of the year.  

Whether your favorite flavor of football is Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, my top football game of the past year happened at high school. My wife and I joined the “parents” section, while the students overran their side of the stands. The evening was cool, the energy was up, and we were excited to see our team compete for the win. Our kids were out there under the lights, savoring the high school experience that they will tell their own kids about someday. 

Without giving you the play-by-play, it was an exciting back and forth contest. We scored first, then again, but allowed the other team to catch up. They took the lead after half time, but our team pulled ahead again, only to turn the ball over with a few minutes left. 

Beyond the competition, this game felt different in the stands. The parents were engaged, but playful, tossing comments like water balloons and sparing jests like pool noodles. I don’t remember the jokes, but I remember laughing. I don’t remember their names, but I remember their smiles. 

The other team had one last drive to score and win the game. First down… pass incomplete. Second down… dropped ball. They were definitely trying to score through the air. Third down… the quarterback drops back, pursued by the defense, and spies an open receiver. The ball soars, and the parents gasp. It’s woefully underthrown and headed right to the strong safety. 

I can still see it in slow motion. The green turf glowing under the glare of the LED stadium lights, wide and spacious and inviting glory. The receiver outrunning the defense, then desperately cutting back for a chance to make an improbable play. The ball spinning in a sloppy spiral, then wobbling as it loses velocity, then dropping in a tantrum to the wrong team. The safety scrambling for position, arms open, opportunity availed. The catch would yield an unmarked sprint to the end zone and a touchdown to clinch the game. 

These are the moments we dream about, are they not?

I am rising out of my seat. Because the safety on the field is MY KID. And while I never played football myself, I can feel the potential building as the play unfolds. The catch, the run, and the touchdown for the win. Players running and lifting and cheering and celebrating the victory! 

But that’s not how it played out. The ball lands right on the numbers, wiggles through and skips across the field. Incomplete. OHHHHHH!!! The stadium groans!!! We are laughing, loving and celebrating despite the drop. Affable water balloons splash all around me. 

I am dad. So I, too, must comment… “If this happened in a pool, she would have made the play! She’s a star swimmer, not a strong safety!” 

Other dads high-five me. Moms smile and empathize. The moment passes, and the final play ends in another miss, giving the junior girls the win over the senior girls in the annual Powder Puff game.

At the end of the game, Anna’s friends encircle her and discuss nothing except “the play.” As she approaches, she exclaims… “Dad, I had it! It was right in my arms! I can’t believe I dropped it.” I smile and embrace her, generous in the moment. “I love watching you play!”

As dads, our opportunity to make the “game-winning catch of fatherhood” happens in the stands. We need to show up. This requires our attention (physical presence and gaze), but also our intention (internal presence and blessing). I certainly felt it in the stands that night. Without the pressure of “YOU MUST WIN” that can come so easily in competition from dads on the sideline, the Powder Puff game was played for fun. Collectively, we simply watched and cheered. 

For me, I am counting now in months, not years. She will soar with her own wings from our home next fall, and I will hold 18 years of memories dearly as she departs. I am proud and amazed at the young woman she has become. In many ways, she is ready for her next step, even while I hope to slow that threshold. 

This last leg of fathering will still have some challenging moments, but it feels more like the glorious 10-yards before the goal line with no one to stop the score. What is needed is my gaze, my blessing. See and celebrate. Therefore, I will try to physically attend every event, and I will emotionally engage every opportunity with my words. She needs not just my eyes, but heart as well. 

As we walk off the field together, I am thrilled. I tell her how much I loved watching her and how proud I am of the woman she has become, even if she drops the ball at the end of the game. We get dessert “just because,” and for twelve more months, I get to do this again, and again, and again. I will always be her father, and she will always welcome my attention and intention.

How many opportunities do you have left? Do some math (it’s not hard, dad, you can do it)… how many games/meets or concerts/activities per month? What about the family dinners, movie nights, or quiet moments at home? Do you have 3, 5, or 10+ total opportunities a month? Then how many years (or months) do you have on his/her runway? 

If you are in a different stage of life, what does this story stir in you? Pay attention to that for a moment.

 


Bart Lillie, Key Volunteer and Core Grove Member

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