“Dad, I don’t want to play baseball anymore.”
It didn’t exactly come as a surprise. To be honest, I don’t think he’s ever liked baseball. It’s too slow, too boring, with too much time out in the field doing nothing. Soccer? Basketball? Will loves those. But not baseball. Which is tough for me because baseball is the first thing I thought of when I found out we were having a boy. Field of Dreams, fathers and sons, and the “Dad, you wanna have a catch?” moment of pure hardball bliss for which every red-blooded American dad yearns.
I tried telling him it’s a learning process. That the games would be faster and more exciting this year because he’s older now. I showed him Red Sox games on TV and tried to explain how much baseball means to me. That last part he understood. And with a pained look of worry at the thought of disappointing his old man, he agreed to give it one more shot.
And then it was my turn to frown at the disappointment I felt in myself.
See the little kid circled in that picture? That’s me circa 1992 or so. On a Sunday. At church. Singing in the church choir. See my face? I’m not at all happy to be there.
The reason I’m there at all is standing on the left. That’s my grandmother, whose transcendent musical talents were truly extraordinary. She was a masterful pianist who taught many a neighborhood child out of her home for many years. But her true talent? Singing. Grandma Ga-Ga (as I called her, much to her chagrin) was a classically trained soprano and member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus. And as she would have no problem telling you herself, that was kind of a big deal.
Now guess who showed early vocal prowess as a young kid.
Yours truly was taken under her wing as a toddler and immediately given voice lessons at every turn. And not to toot my own horn, but I was good. So good, in fact, my grandmother had me try out for an area chorus. Not only did I make the cut, the choir director was so impressed he invited me to join an elite boys-only choir in Providence that paid me, a 10-year-old, to sing.
This place was no joke. In the fifth-grade I was spending at least 10 hours a week rehearsing. Most of the time we weren’t even given music, because the choir director would make us learn the songs bar by bar and commit it all to memory. When he heard someone out of tune, he would make each one of us sing individually until the out of tune culprit was found and shamed.
OK, to be fair, he probably didn’t shame us. But it sure felt that way to a nervous 10-year-old trying to live up to his grandmother’s high standards.
It didn’t take long for me to start hating singing. The time commitment was absurd for my age, and the pressure was often debilitating for me. I obsessed about pitch, memorizing the songs, my diction, and I guarantee I was the only little kid petrified about diphthongs and having a “lazy mouth.” Add to that, I had really started getting into sports and I loved playing basketball, soccer, and baseball.
But whenever I mentioned quitting singing and piano, my grandmother would lay such a guilt trip on me and start talking about wasted talent. I didn’t want to let her down, so I simply piled sports on top of school and the absurd rehearsal schedule.
Then one day I came to a realization that changed my relationship with my grandmother forever.
She was very interested in the piece my choir was singing and she wanted to hear us rehearse. I told her that’s impossible because our director closed off practice to parents and outsiders, but still she insisted. It was summer and therefore the windows would be open, she said, allowing her to sit in the car with my mother and listen to our voices drift down from on high.
And suddenly I realized my grandmother had never come to any of my sporting events. Ever. Not a single game. Yet she was more than happy to sit in a hot car in a church parking lot just to hear a few notes of our rehearsal.
I loved my grandmother very much, but if you didn’t share her interests then you were of no interest to her. You served no purpose because you were of no use to her as she sought to further her love of music. Even when she met my friends, the first thing she’d do is force them to sing. If she thought they had promise, she recruited them. If not, she dismissed them on the spot and away we went.
I’ll never forget how that made me feel.
December 13, 1991.
Hardcore Boston sports fans might remember that night as noteworthy because Dennis Johnson, the Boston Celtics legend and Hall of Fame point guard, was honored at the old Boston Garden on “Dennis Johnson Night.”
And my sports-crazed dad had tickets.
But what history has forgotten about that date, is it was also the day of my 6th grade concert. Specifically, my chimes concert. Yes, that’s right. Yours truly was also an esteemed member of the Norton Middle School Hand Chimes group. Why didn’t I mention that before? Look, I don’t like to brag but let’s just say the early 90’s hand chime scene was vastly underrated.
I’m kidding of course. It was terrible. I only joined because I had a HUGE crush on one of the girls who was in the group, and that was my pathetic attempt to make in-roads. Because ladies love the chimes, right? Ugh.
Anyway, my father found out Dennis Johnson Night was the same evening as my chimes concert. I saw the look of guilt and panic on his face immediately. He started asking me if I even liked the chimes. I told him I didn’t. He asked me how upset I’d be if he missed it. Not at all. He asked me if I had another concert in the future? No.
And that was it. I fully expected him to go to the Garden and see a little piece of Boston sports history, and I didn’t blame him for it at all.
But that’s not what happened. He skipped the game and showed up at my concert instead. Sure, to this day I still hear about how he missed that game in order to attend a godforsaken chimes concert and I’m sure my mother played a part in forcing his hand, but it ended up meaning the world to me. It told me he (and my mom who was ALWAYS present) didn’t just care about me when what I was doing was interesting to him. I saw him sacrificing something meaningful to him simply because his kids — no matter what they’re participating in– are MORE meaningful.
It’s a moment I swore never to forget.
Fast forward 24 years to my teary-eyed son who hates baseball but is willing to play solely because he knows it means a lot to his dad.
Baseball was my thing and I’ll miss going to his games and watching him on the diamond. But this isn’t about me, it’s about Will. And as a father, I’ll be damned if I ever make my kid feel like I’m not interested in his interests. So we decided on karate and cooking classes in the summer.
Do I like or know anything about cooking? Hell no. To me, cooking is Kraft mac & cheese. But you know who’s going to be at every single one of Will’s cooking classes taking an interest and rooting him on? Me. Big time. 100%.
Whatever he’s doing, I’m going to be there and I’m going to be into it. I’m going to support him and let him know what he’s doing is important to me. Because he is my interest. And always will be.