Father Playing Catch With Son

 by Michael Maynard

September 9, 2013

“My father and I played catch when I grew up. Like so much else between fathers and sons, playing catch was tender and tense at the same time. He wanted to play with me. He wanted me to be good. He seemed to demand that I be good.

I threw the ball into the catcher’s mitt. Atta boy. Put her right there. I threw straight. Then I tried to put something on it; it flew twenty feet over his head. Or it banged into the sidewalk in front of him, breaking stitches and ricocheting off a pebble into the gutter of Greenway Street. Or it went wide to his right and lost itself in Mrs. Davis’s bushes. Or it went wide to the left and rolled across the street while drivers swerved their cars.

I was wild. I was wild. I had to be wild for my father. What else could I be? Would you have wanted me to have control?

But, I, myself, had the control on him.”

(Source: Donald Hall, “Fathers Playing Catch With Sons,” page 28. 1984, North Pont Press)

My father’s real name was Lloyd. But, for reasons still unbeknown to me, everyone called him Jack. He seemed happy, he seemed content. But he had a difficult life. He was one of a family of fifteen, living on a farm in Eastern New York, not far from the Massachusetts border. Because of the Great Depression, he quit school at age 14. So did many of his older brothers.

A lot of men did, at that time.

He later found permanent employment working for CK Williams, the paint manufacturer, in Adams, Mass. He worked at that location for his adult life.  He and his coworkers mined lime in the hill above the plant and, many times per day, drove the truck full of lime down to the plant to be processed in making paint. The mining of the lime by pickax was hard physical work. My father was small in height – 5′ 7″ – but sturdy and strong. He was a good and reliable worker, seldom missing a day of work.

I worked in that lime quarry during two summer vacations, while I was in college. It was brutally hot. There was no shade because the trees had been cut down to mine and transport the lime. One very hot day, I made the mistake of taking off my shirt and wearing cut-off jeans. Since I was 50% Italian, thanks to my mother’s family, and 12% Mohawk Indian (how was never explained to me) on my father’s side, I thought I was impervious to the sun and heat. I came home that night with a very bad sunburn, except where I wore my shorts and boots. I was in agony. But I went back to work the next day, and got severely teased by my father’s co-workers in the quarry for being “a dumb college kid.”

But I was the first in my father’s family go to and complete college. I paid my way by working after school in high school and college, like my father would have done, if he had the chance.  My father was very proud of that.

The work was demanding. He worked shift work. One week: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The next week: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. The third week: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He worked shift work the rest of his working life. When he worked afternoons, I saw him for 5-10 minutes each day that week, when I was going to grade and high schools. If a co-worker took sick or went on vacation, the other co-workers worked overtime. My father always took the overtime, when available, because my mother didn’t work while taking care of me, and we had no other source of income.

Because of his small size and lack of play time, my father never got much chance to play sports, except pick up baseball with his brothers and sisters on the farm. He was always the last one picked, and yes, he was put out in right field. He wasn’t good or a natural athlete, but he loved sports.

He fought in The Great War, the “War to End All Wars”, except there have been so many wars since then. He joined the army, went to boot camp in Georgia. He and his battalion were sent to the front line in Anzio. He caught shrapnel in his stomach and right leg storming the beach, but he didn’t stop. He won heroic service metals for carrying one of his fallen comrades to safety during the invasion. He never talked about the war, but had headaches and nightmares about it for the rest of his life.

A lot of men did because of that time.

I have his medals on my desk, next to my computer.

But when he was home in the summer afternoons, like Donald Hall and his father did, we would play catch every day in the backyard. My father’s son grew up to be taller and very athletic. I was a very good baseball player, and, I was told, he used to brag about my exploits to his co-workers.

Then I blew out my throwing shoulder and couldn’t play baseball well again. So I no longer played at all.

My father and I drifted apart after that happened. What bound us together was gone. His and my dreams for me to be a professional athlete were gone. It was a long time before we reconciled, but only after he was forced to retire for health reasons.  Shortly after, he died of heart failure, caused by years of inhaling lime dust. I miss him so much now.

President Barack Obama has to make the toughest decision of his Presidency, whether to send young men, like my father was, off to fight a war against another brutal dictator. Like then, there is considerable opposition to not fight in this war. Obama and I are about the same age.  Neither of us had to fight in a war, though I just missed being drafted twice in the Selective Service Lottery, during my junior and senior years of college. My father counseled me not to go, if I was selected. He did not want me to go through what he did in combat.

I’m very sure that the President has agonized over whether to send young Americans, men and women, to intervene militarily for humanitarian and prevention reasons in Syria.  I believe he will make the correct decision. But, who am I to judge, never having served in combat? My life is not on the line. And it never has been.

Possibly, many young American men and women might never get the opportunity to play catch again in their backyards.  But too many young Syrian children, and men and women, – over 200,000 thus far– will never get that opportunity, either. Two million more are displaced and may never see their backyards again. Hopefully, others who might otherwise not, if Syrian President Bashir Assad does not stop, or is not stopped, will.

Rest in peace, Lloyd Winford Maynard. You deserve it. Your son is so proud of what you did for him, our country, and the world. I wish I told you that when you were alive.

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

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