It’s a crisp evening in small-town Oregon, and the boys and girls of summer are out early, crowding the metal bench in numerical order from the white numbers on the backs of their navy blue jerseys. Aligned like this, they look like too many birds on a wire. They are first and second graders, and the game is coach-pitch baseball. There is no score-keeping, except the mental tallies running inside the heads of most of the players.
The golden-haired number three–that’s Sam. He’s mine. You can hear his voice above the others, leading the cheer for his comrade at bat: “Let’s go Ezra, let’s go! Let’s go Ezra, let’s go!” They’ll go on like that for every batter, unfettered by the grown up notions of monotony and self-awareness. Their voices sweeten the breeze. You can’t help but smile. When a kid gets a hit, they “Woo-hoo!” If he strikes out, they “Awww. Good try,” and raise up the chant for the next batter.
“I love how they cheer for each other,” I tell Gonzalo, my friend and fellow dad.
“It won’t be like this forever,” he says.
I sigh. He is right. Soon, these innocents will discover the ugly sides of humanity, and even baseball will look different. They will taste betrayal and mockery. They will feel the stings of their own failures. They will find that they do not measure up to anyone’s standards, least of all their own. And then, they will be tempted by jadedness. The ugliness of experience will pollute the evening breeze, and cheering will all die down.
As a dad, my first inclination is to keep my son here on this field of simplicity. I don’t want him to taste the temptations to vanity and lust. Not yet. I don’t want him to learn of the horrors of Auschwitz. Not yet. I don’t want him to find out he is more Clark Kent than Superman, made from the same deformed flesh as the father he still considers indestructible. Not yet.
I swallow, thinking of his sisters. In a month, they will both be teenagers, eyes already wide to humanity. I feel a pang of embarrassment the more they learn. “Yes, this is the world we have all prepared for you. We should have done better. I’m so sorry.” They take it all in, accepting. Knowing. Not as surprised as I would have hoped. The depravity of this world began its desensitizing magic long ago.
If a father’s job is to shield his children, we have all failed already. Their jerseys will be soiled by spots of blood and the stench of regret.
But what if a father’s job is not to prevent brokenness, but to show our children how to be mended? How to admit where life hurts, and to receive the balm of forgiveness and grace? What if a father’s job is to model the process of restoration?
I cannot prevent their hearts from aching, but I can point them toward true healing. I can let them hear my own regrets, and show them my own scars. I can model the words, “please forgive me.” I can teach them prayers of confession, for I am not strong enough or pure enough to overcome the world. There is only One who is. And He waits for them.
I am being mended. If my children will let themselves be mended too, we can all–with gloves in our hands, crutches under our arms, and ice packs at our ankles–limp back out to the diamond, laughing the laugh of the redeemed.
Sam is all shoulders at the plate. He swings awkwardly, prompting the coach’s wife to come out and adjust his stance. A little closer to the plate. Bat a little higher. There. He hears his name chanted from the bench, but misses again. The coach has one more ball at his feet. He tosses it. Sam swings.
The ball dribbles down the first base line. He takes off running and kicks up dirt all the way to first base. He is safe. For now. Today is a gift that will not last forever, so I breath in the innocent air and say a prayer about tomorrow.