“If you can touch it, you can catch it”, I yelled across the backyard loud enough that neighbors to both sides could hear.
Lincoln scanned the yard for the ball. As he walked towards the shed where the ball had nestled up against, his bounce was gone.
So was his smile.
Just days before I played the same game with his older sister, Luca.
The game is simple. Find any ball. The softer the better. Today we used a volleyball belonging to our neighbor that found its way over our fence. The kids stand on the grass, and I kick the ball to them from 20 to 30 yard away as they try to catch it.
I know the game sounds boring, and it would be if I was able to kick the ball straight with any consistency. But I am no Lionel Messi. I spray the ball into the trees, neighbors yard and even Kim’s tomato plants.
But the unpredictability is the key to the game because the kids feel special on those rare moments I kick the ball in their vicinity and they are able to catch it.
My two oldest children go about playing the game in entirely different fashions. Luca likes me to challenge her. She likes to hear that I don’t believe she’ll be able to catch the next ball, and she keeps score as if her life depended on it.
Lincoln likes to keep score as well. But he wants to be encouraged instead of challenged. So telling him that he can catch it if he can touch it doesn’t go over well like it might with Luca.
I cherish this time with my son. It reminds of of those hot afternoons spent tossing the baseball around the yard with my father. As much as I enjoyed playing catch with my friends, nothing felt better than earning my father’s praise. But what I remember most are the talks we had. Most had nothing to do with baseball. But he was focused on me during those times. No TV, cell phone or sisters to distract. I learned a lot about my father on those nights where we played until it was dark or the mosquitoes were too thick.
The sun was setting and the shadows were making it difficult for Lincoln to see the ball. But he doesn’t want to stop playing.
He tells me he’s going to miss school but can’t wait to spend time with his grandparents at the beach and pool.
He describes the many friends he made at school this year and the books he’s reading. He asks me dozens of questions such as, “Who pays for the books at the library”.
I begin to understand why my father was willing to play catch with me until the sun went down after a long day at work.
“Last kick of the night”, I say.
Vision is limited and I wonder if I have one good kick left in me. Lincoln stretches out his arm as my best kick of the night bounces off his chest towards the shed. Lincoln pauses, expecting me to tell him that if he can touch it, he can catch it.
“Good try. You’ll catch it next time”, I call out as Lincoln bounds down the stairs towards the shed.