Playing Catch

Hey Dad?  Want to have a catch?”
Ray Consella to his father in “Field of Dreams”

Lisa and I drove to Zanesville, Ohio this past Saturday. I have said before that Zanesville is to Cambridge as Mt. Pilot was to Mayberry – a little bigger, a few more places to waste time and spend money but, more importantly, a place to go that makes us feel we actually went somewhere.  If some of our nosey camp neighbors ask what we did yesterday, we can say we went to Zanesville. For some reason that tends to satisfy their desire to know our boredom was different than theirs. 

Anyway, we have at least two options in driving to Zanesville. We can take interstate 70 west and be there in about twenty minutes. Or, we can drive what they call “The National Road” or highway “40”. The two lane drive down 40 takes closer to thirty minutes but does provide a little more scenery.  We almost always take the two lane. 

Driving into Zanesville from that direction, we pass through a very impoverished area of town that has row after row of dilapidated houses and apartments.  Much of what we see in Zanesville is pride worthy with soaring ancient church sanctuaries mixed with new commercial and residential developments. Like every city in America, Zanesville must deal with impoverished areas and, unfortunately, this poor part of town is the first thing we encounter upon entering the city. Often we see children playing in the trashed yards of these places and feel sad for anyone living in that neighborhood.  To imagine living in such conditions makes me feel extremely fortunate for Lisa, myself and our family. We may not have the biggest or most expensive home, but, we should fall to our knees in thanks every time we walk through the door.  May I never forget how fortunate we have been in our lives.

On our drive into Zanesville this past Saturday something surprising took place.  The same run-down houses, trashed front yards and junked cars still littered that same neighborhood. But, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimmer of hope – something that made me smile.  A father and son playing catch with a football.  Perhaps I am jumping to wrong conclusions, but, my hunch is that little boy could not care less what his house looked like or how poor his living conditions may seem. In his little world, one that included a father taking time to throw a football with him, he might as well be the Prince of Siam. 

I remember throwing a football with my son when he was little.  We would go out into the street in front of our house and spiral passes back and forth until my arm was too sore to continue. Our daughter, Heather, would occasionally stop doing her gymnastic routine in our front yard long enough to join us. She loved watching football and could throw a ball with above average velocity.  But catching was another matter. She would bat her eyes and slap the ball from her face and after taking one too many in the chops, would soon return to her back flips.  Throwing the football was really a father-son thing at our house.

In all of my experiences as a father, I cannot think of a more personal time spent with Justin.  It was those moments that I could encourage his abilities in an immediate and gratifying way.  Was it important that he could throw a football?  Not really. He never played in college or professionally and throwing a football has zero to do with his life now as a husband and soon to be father.  But, my telling him in those moments he did something good and expressing how pleased I was with him, meant more to him later in his life.  I know this to be true because once, a long time ago, my father threw a football with me and told me how good I was.  That feeling of accomplishment never went away and I never felt as connected to my dad as in those moments.  It is why I cried like a baby at the end of “Field of Dreams”.  Now you know.

I wish the leaders of Zanesville could do something about that poor neighborhood.  Maybe plans are in the works to build new, affordable housing.  That would be great.  But, I know what would be even greater – seeing father’s in that place throwing footballs with their sons.

Now that would change everything.

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