Years ago I believed in "peace and love." Now I advocate "smashing" and "socking." I have become a Little League dad.
I spend most of my Saturdays and many weekday evenings urging kids to "clobber that ball." My transformation from believing that the secret of the universe wasn't "flower power," but rather a good level swing has been a revelation to me.
Before my kids started playing baseball, I told myself that I would be a supportive, but not an interfering dad. I would offer gentle, loving insights into the game I enjoy.
I reminded myself of this lofty thought the other evening as I heard myself barking: "Get that bat back!" to my 7-year-old as he stood at the plate.
A few days earlier -- while watching my 11-year-old play -- I found myself, hollering at an umpire. "That," I yelled in disbelief, "was a strike?"
As soon as the words left my mouth I realized I had done something wrong. I took a walk. I walked away from the umpire, away from the game, toward the fields of green. I returned to the sidelines, chastened and semirepentant. I promised I was not going to say anything about that %$ blind ump.
Fortunately, both nature and Little League have ways of mellowing out parents like me. For example, in the league my 7-year-old plays in, whenever a team gets five runs ahead of its opponent the inning ends. This rule keeps the kids interested in the game. And it reminds dads like me to loosen up and let the kids enjoy the game.
In the league my older son plays in, where the kids pitch to each other, tedium keeps emotions under control. An inning can last an eternity, longer even than a departmental meeting at work. At times I find it hard to pay attention, let alone get mad at what is happening on the field.
Another thing that keeps me on an even keel is that kids are great levelers. It is a rule of nature that your children pay virtually no heed to any advice you give them. I can, for instance, repeatedly tell my kids to "get that glove down" when they are attempting to catch a ground ball. They pay me little heed. But then a coach, or another kid's parent or a big brother will tell them the same thing, and my kids suddenly regard it as gospel.
Sometime when they do pay attention to me, I wished that they hadn't.
Last week, for instance, after repeatedly hearing that he should throw a ball by "stepping and throwing," my youngest son fired a strike through a dining room window.
The next day we fixed the window. I tried to make the repair job "a learning experience." As we worked I told my son stories. He, in turn, peppered me with questions.
Putting on thick gloves and using a pair of pliers, I wiggled the broken glass loose. "First," I said, "remove the broken glass at the top." Then I told him a story of how, when my dad was fixing a window I had broken, a shard of glass fell on my father's hand.
"How many windows did you break?" my kid asked.
"That is not the point," I replied. "The point is to always remove the top glass first."
"Did you break it with a ball?" the kid asked.
"I hit a baseball through a neighbor's window," I said and tried to move on to another window repair tip.
"Was your dad mad at you?" the kid persisted.
"Yes," I said. "But he got madder when he had to go to the hospital and have his hand stitched up."
That quieted the kid for a time. In the lull, I got him to help me measure the length and width of the sash. I got him to cut the piece of cardboard that we used to plug the window. Then we went to the hardware store and bought the replacement glass. We also picked up some glazer's points, small metal triangles that hold the glass to the sash, and a can of sealant called glazing compound.
When we returned home, we removed the cardboard. Then I put the glass in, and after using the glazer's point to hold the glass steady, sealed the glass edges to the sash by applying the glazing compound with a putty knife.
We stood back to admire our work. We had a brief discussion about how we wouldn't want to destroy the fruits of our labor by throwing a ball toward the house. We mouthed the words, but we didn't believe them. Later, my son announced that fixing the window was "so fun" that when he grew up he was going to break windows just so he could repair them.
I told him I disapproved. But in reality I regard window glass and baseballs as natural enemies. As we used to say back in the days of flower power, material possessions don't really matter. What does matter is when my kids hurl that baseball, they must step and throw correctly.