With the sweltering summer days officially winding down, it was evident that the transformation to fall would soon be underway. The true shades of autumn had yet to arrive, however the early signs of seasonal change that generally go unnoticed were becoming more apparent. Large green leaves were beginning to break loose from the tall tree behind our neighbor’s home. They would slowly drift down through all of the branches and then float out over the fence, taking residence in our backyard. Every afternoon’s window of humidity continued to shrink. The loud clamoring of the numerous air conditioning units humming up and down our street, often harmonized with the sound of dripping water, suddenly seemed less common. Each day has gradually become more peaceful. The morning sun seems to unfold more sluggishly, while the evenings have become refreshingly crisp and cooler. Nightfall descends upon us much more rapidly than weeks before. My passion for the days of summer is tried and true, but fall always seems to arrive at just the right time.
One evening as I stood on the sideline watching my eight year old son, Evan, work through his drills at Tuesday night football practice, I was slowly becoming irritated. The month of August had been exhausting and frustrating for our entire family to say the least. In that month alone we had made 3 stressful trips to Johns Hopkins Hospital for our youngest son David’s required treatments for his condition. We had visited urgent care on numerous occasions. After working my late shift one week, I spent the following night sitting in the ER with my youngest son for 5 hours. Our luck continued to run out throughout the month, with our refrigerator breaking down, our microwave going up and the electricity in our downstairs bathroom mysteriously cutting off. My two oldest sons came down with a nasty bug right before school started, which lead to one of them having to miss their first two days of school. To top it all off, my wife was working a ridiculous amount of hours. Our last real date night was in December of 2015, so needless to say, I was becoming mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Watching my son’s football practices usually helps me relax for a few hours, but on this night, even that wasn’t going well. Evan was still slightly drained after having just recovered from a 48 hour bug. As he moderately resumed practicing throughout the week, not returning to full pads until this evening, he still just didn’t seem like himself. He wasn‘t focused, often forgetting to put in his mouth piece and continuously hesitating before every tackle or play. I was honestly worried he was going to get hurt. Each water break I would ask him how he felt and give him some advice on what he needed to improve on if he wanted to have a successful practice. As practice began to wind down, he just seemed more and more out of place. Instead of getting childishly upset or shouting at him, like some of the parents do to their children, I decided to just start packing up my chair and gathering my things. I could sense that Evan knew I was frustrated with him, so I thought it would be better to just take a break. As the sun sank rapidly and the field lights lazily powered on, the team began their tackle drills. Knowing that this was just going to frustrate me even more, as well as stress Evan out, I began carrying our things back to our car.
After packing everything up, I briefly leaned against the front bumper of my car while checking the text messages and emails on my cell phone. A few minutes later I began to hear cheering. I looked up to see the players and their families beginning to disperse from the football field. Practice was over. As the field quickly emptied, I had trouble locating Evan for a moment. I finally noticed the silhouette of a small football player standing at the bottom corner of the field. With his helmet lying on the ground and his voice sounding heartbroken and filled with disappointment, he yelled to me….“Where were you?!”…..“You missed the best tackles I’ve made ALL season!!!”
If there was ever a time for a dad to feel like he just let his son down, this was definitely it. Apparently Evan decided to put everything he had into the final drills of the day, motivating and impressing his teammates and coaches, but most importantly for him, trying to please his dad. I originally thought I was being thoughtful by just walking away. Instead of being the type of dad who constantly screams at his son like a drill sergeant, I decided to walk away so Evan wouldn’t feel so much pressure. Now, the more I think back, I also walked away to hide my own frustration, which probably came off as just plain selfish. I should have just supported my son by keeping his spirit and confidence high. I could have just bottled up all of that frustration in a jar and thrown it out to sea. I could analyze every should-have/could-have scenario until I am blue in the face, but the reality of it all is I simply screwed up.
Evan is the type of son that is obsessed with wanting to be like dad. My favorite bands and movies are his favorite bands and movies. Whether it’s football or baseball, games or practices, anytime Evan makes a good play, he always looks to me over on the sideline for some sort of positive fatherly feedback. Anytime he has the opportunity to do something with me, without his brothers, you can see the sparkle in his eyes. It doesn’t matter what we do, from sports, to chores, simply going for a walk, grocery shopping, etc…etc….Evan always wants to be my little mini me. In short, he makes me feel like Michael Jordan, and that’s exactly what made this moment at the football field so hard to swallow. The day when he no longer looks at me as his idol is not far off, and when that day comes, I sometimes wonder if I’ll feel like I gave him enough attention. Unfortunately, when you have three sons, your one on one attention time is often limited, so you tend to use it sparingly.
With his tears causing the eye black on his cheeks to slowly run down his face, I stood before my little boy, completely speechless. There was no walking or talking my way out of this situation. Who knows how long it would be before he no longer looked over to me on the sideline after each play he makes, before he no longer wanted to be like dad. As all of the other families packed up their cars and pulled out of the parking lot, Evan and I stood at bottom of the football field. With my arms wrapped around my son, I simply apologized. Fortunately for me, this came at a time, a season, in my little man‘s life, when hugs and ordering a pizza for dinner would help clear dad’s name by the following day. Next time, dad might not be so lucky.
After the large green leaves break loose from the trees in our backyards, they slowly drift down through all of the branches and float out over the fence. Sometimes these moments completely pass us by. Just as easy as neglecting the beauty of seasonal change, there are many significant occasions that our children experience that are often overlooked, or missed out on, by us as parents. Let us always remind ourselves, that those moments in our little one’s lives are like seasons……seasons which take place……once in a lifetime.