My Dad loved sports, but by the time I really knew him, he had been a skid row alcoholic for some 35 years and his involvement was reduced to watching television heroes. He used to come to my Junior football games as a kid but only sit in his white cargo van and “beep, beep” his horn if I ran for a touchdown, or got an interception. I knew he was there but he would always leave before the games were over, while other dads came around and high-fived their boys, or got involved. I longed for Dad to say “proud of you, son” or something like that. But my Dad… never expressed any moments of fatherly pride for either myself or my older brother, except for the occasional “beep, beep” of a distant horn.
Fast forward. Now married. Got kids of my own. Was playing football in a local men’s Flag Football league, and guess what, Dad would still show up, still sit in his van, and still honk now and then. As was his custom, he never ventured to the sideline and usually left before the game was done.
But that’s when it happened.
One autumn afternoon, my brother and I were playing against our arch rivals in a semi-final match; we were down by four points. Time was running out. Less than a couple of minutes was all we had. I was the quarterback; my brother played wide-receiver. We were Fourth-Down with about two yards to go. Needed that First Down to carry on any comeback attempt. I called a play, and walked up to the line. Then everything went into slow motion for me. There’s no other way to explain it. I realized the opposition seemed to know exactly what I had called, and had crowded around the very player to whom I was going to throw the ball to. I turned to the right and looked out at my brother. He was standing all alone out on the wide side of the field. No one was around him. No one was guarding him. “Down!” I looked again; he was still out there. “Set!” I made eye contact with him. “Hut Hut! The ball came to me in slow motion; I pivoted toward my brother and then soft-tossed the ball to my brother like a big pancake. “Just catch it!” I thought and we’ll have the first down.
Well, he did catch it. And we did get the first down. But he did more than that. My brother ran some 30 yards, dodging and spinning his way into the end-zone for a touchdown! It was a beautiful thing!
All of a sudden, my line of vision was altered. I was lifted up from behind and spun around. I looked down at the big arms wrapped around me, thinking — my running back? Nope. My massive guard? No. The Canadian Merchant Navy tattoos were unmistakable. My Father. He had not only got out of his newer-but-still-a-van and not only had ventured to the sidelines, my dad ran out onto the field of play that day and picked up his son and spun him around in two wide circles. My dad! He then dropped me and ran (clutching his cigarettes in his shirt pocket of course) but ran to my brother and gave him a hug too! We yelled, “you have to get off the field dad, the game’s not over.” Many players on both sides sort of stood in silent awe.
That afternoon, when the dust had settled and everyone had gone home, Dad said to me, “son, I’ve never learned how to throw a football. Can you teach me?” And that day, literally just a few months before a massive heart attack sent him home at 64 years of age, I taught my father how to throw a football. I won’t lie. There were tears.
God knew I needed that. He is the best Father, who knows what I need before I ask Him. He also knew my Dad needed that. Small moments that brought huge healing. Thanks Dad, for that bold step onto the field. Thanks God for nudging him.