My son Nick, 9 years old at the time, had gone the entire baseball season without a hit, and he found himself in the “on deck circle” at the end of the championship game. The season had already been filled with frustration and discouragement for him. Nick was playing on a very good team, and he found himself up to bat in the last inning.
The team was down a few runs and Nick was facing the best pitcher in the league. The team had not fared very well, with very few hits. I stood behind the backstop as he was called up from the bench to the on-deck circle. My heart sank. Nick sluggishly grabbed his bat and helmet, and he walked slowly to the waiting place. He looked up and said, “Dad, I can’t do this. I haven’t gotten a hit all year.”
As a dad, my heart hurt for him because there’s nothing more a father wants for his son than to be successful in all that he does. I was at a loss for words. What do I say? I offered up a quick prayer for wisdom and then I shared something with him that we still remember to this day:
“As a boy and man, we will all face our Goliaths throughout life. They will come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing that matters is to show courage and to trust God in those moments. In fact, it doesn’t matter what happened before this moment…all that matters is now. Do your best, trust God with the results.”
We said a quick prayer as the batter in front of him struck out. It was his time.
Nick had one of his best at-bats all season. He hit a sharp grounder between the shortstop and third baseman, and the shortstop made a great play to get him out at first, barely. Nick was disappointed but he was also optimistic as he stated, “Dad, I hit it hard and almost got on!” I let him know how proud I was of him for giving his all.
That was the last time Nick played organized baseball, but occasionally, when he faces obstacles and challenges, we go back to that time behind the backstop. It was a defining moment for both of us. For me, that on-deck circle was an opportunity to love and support my son.
Since that time, I have had plenty of on-deck moments with him, as well as with my two daughters. Being an intentional dad is about seeing those moments in life and taking full advantage of them. In some ways, our children are constantly in that on deck-circle while they live in our homes. We are preparing to send them up to the plate of adulthood.
Now that Nick has graduated college and is living on his own…I continue to find myself to be Nick’s biggest coach as he enters adulthood. Recently, Nick drove from Omaha (where he lives and works) to Lincoln and we spent time on a Saturday together. We played a board game, went to Scheel’s, shot my handgun at a local gun range with his sister, grabbed a burger at Honest Abe’s, and we finished our day doing something we love…watching a Donnie Yen martial arts film. We talked about life, work, relationships, and faith. It was a great day. There are many tips out there about seeing and recognizing those “on-deck” moments. But there is one I believe is key for men and fathers: Emotional Warmth.
I get tired of the excuse that men are unable to “emotionally relate” to their families. Whether in society or in the church, I constantly hear this message that men are buffoons when it comes to emotions, as if we are unable to tie our own emotional shoestrings.
As men and fathers, we are “wired” for emotional intimacy, especially when it comes to our families. Obviously, that is expressed in very different ways for men, but it is not that we are incapable. In the book “Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations,” Vern Bengtson shares a survey done over the course of 35 years, studying more than 350 families (3,500 individuals) from different faith beliefs. It is the largest study of its kind, specifically looking at “faith transmission” from parents to kids and to grandkids and great-grandkids. This is one of the key findings:
“Our study indicates that relationships with parents that are felt to be close, warm, and affirming are associated with higher religious transmission than are relationships perceived as cold, distant or authoritarian- regardless of the level of parental piety. Moreover, this is particularly true for relations with fathers.”
In other words, you want to recognize those on-deck moments to help your children grow into adulthood, especially our sons who are seeking positive role models, and what that looks like relationally and emotionally. Be intentional. Be present. Catch the moments. The more you invest in truly knowing your children, the more you will recognize those on-deck moments where faith, courage, responsibility, and character will be present. They are some of the most rewarding moments you will ever experience. Don’t miss them.
p.s. I have also missed my share of moments. I haven’t been there. I have been distracted. I have been harsh.
As a dad, put in the work (self-care, being emotionally healthy, being physically and emotionally present, asking and offering forgiveness, rebuilding trust, and being dependent on Jesus). Too many men live in the shame and the hurt of the past. DON’T? Because “…it doesn’t matter what happened before this moment…all that matters is now. Do your best, and trust God with the results.”
Portions of this post originally appeared at Roy Baldwin’s Sincere Religion.