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Having a Ball

April 15, 2012 | by Mordechai Schmutter

For his Afikoman present my son asked for a football. But I can’t play for the life of me. Help!

I should have figured, when I bought my 6-year-old son, Daniel, a football for his Afikoman present, that he would want me to play catch with him.

I’ve been trying to avoid this day for years, and not because, as an adult (at least as far as clothing size), I have no desire to chase the ball around on the ground.

I have no desire to chase a ball around on the ground.

I also was not trying to avoid it because I don’t want to spend time with my son. I love spending time with my kids that doesn’t involve counting to three or telling someone to pick something up. I do homework with them; I read them books and don’t complain that, out of the literally hundreds of children’s books that we own, they always want me to read the same five books; and I play board games that require me to crawl under something called a “Trick-a-ma-stick”, and games that require me to collect colored pieces of fake jewelry and put them on and forget to take them off when someone comes to the door.

No, the reason I was trying to avoid playing sports with my kids was that I’d always hoped not to have to show them how much I stunk.

I’ve never been very athletic. I did play some sports as a child, mostly in summer camp, because the rule was that if you were in camp, you had to play sports, or else the teams would be mismatched. My argument was that any team that had me on it was already mismatched.

When I played baseball, for example, I would always stand way out in left field, because that was a good position to play if what you wanted to do was watch airplanes. Occasionally, the ball would come near me, and, I’d have to go chase it, which I dreaded, because I had no idea what to do with the ball once I was holding it. It probably would have been a good investment on the counselors’ part, since they were always putting me in left field, to actually take me to the side and tell me, “Look, once you get the ball, you throw it to that guy.” So I’d be standing there, holding the ball, and everyone would be yelling, “Throw it! Throw it!” And I would yell, “WHERE?” and no one would answer, and five or six runners would score.

In addition, I never saw the appeal of crawling through prickly bushes and under parked cars to chase a ball that I didn’t even want in the first place. If you ask me, I think the ball was trying just as hard to escape and be free. So to help the ball out, I never actually threw it to anybody. I just hurled it in a random direction, and went back to looking at airplanes.

I also never understood how some guys could be so into sports that they were willing to purposely injure themselves. Whenever I played soccer (I liked soccer, because, even though I never actually made contact with the ball, I realized that as long as I ran along with everyone else, no one would know the difference), I noticed that there was one kid in my bunk – Natti, I think his name was – who would bounce the ball on his head. Why did he do this? As far as I could tell, it never helped him score. Did he think that, if he ever twisted his ankle, that he could just crawl around on the field, knocking the ball with his head?

It’s not like my father never tried to teach me. Once in a while, he would drag me out to the middle of a field, and then he’d throw a ball at me, and I of course would duck. And then I’d have to run after it. Then I would throw it to him and miss spectacularly, and I would have to go off and chase it again so I could hand it to him.

“Don’t hand it to me,” he would say. “Throw it to me.” Which was silly. It was obviously far more efficient for me to walk up and hand it to him. And actually, in my opinion, if he wanted the ball so badly, he could just keep it. (This was my opinion about almost all sports: “Why don’t they just buy a second ball?” I think a lot of these games started during the Great Depression.) So it was really just a lot of my father standing in one place and me chasing the ball around until he got tired of watching me, and then I’d be free to go back to the swings.

So yes, I do a lot of things with my kids, but I was hoping that showing them how much I stunk at sports would not be one of them. And then I went and had three boys. What were the chances that they’d all be as uncoordinated as me?

So far, chances aren’t very good. Daniel, my oldest son, is incredibly into sports, and for his afikoman present, at his request, I got him a football. And then I thought I would be done with it, and he’d stop bugging me. No way. Not more than two minutes after we got home, he started asking me to play catch with him. These kids are never happy.

The truth is that I have a lot of knowledge of weird subjects, but sports isn’t one of them. I’ve evolved to the point where, when the ball comes toward me, I can anticipate where it’s going to be and stick my hand out in approximately the correct general direction, so that, most of the time, the ball will ricochet off my hand. But I assume this is not what my son wants me to teach him. I think he wants me to teach him how to hold the football (from what I’ve heard, you hold it like you hold a baby – I’m guessing over your shoulder while patting it on the back), and how to throw it so it spins (not like a baby), and where to put your fingers in regards to the stitching. I have no idea. I don’t even know why, in today’s day and age, the thing needs stitching in the first place. Most other balls don’t have stitching. Also, all the other balls are round. Who designed this thing?

Now I bet a lot of you are thinking that I’m writing this article solely so I can say to my son, “Sorry, I can’t play now. Can’t you see I’m writing an article?” But I’m not. I actually went outside and played catch with him.

And guess what? He didn’t notice that I was bad, because he’s not better than me yet. And my 4-year-old, Heshy, was more than happy to be my helper, and run around retrieving the ball and handing it to me. And my baby, Gedalyah, was content to sit on the sidelines and laugh whenever the ball almost hit him in the face. So, thanks to sports, I got to spend time with all of my sons on three different levels at the same time! What a great bonding activity!



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