I played a cricket match yesterday- nothing unusual about that, I play a couple of matches most weeks at the moment. It keeps my aching bones lubricated and more importantly, allows me to spend some time playing sport with my son Will. I am acutely aware that there is a narrow window in which we will be able to do this as he is getting better and better, whereas my already limited abilities are being further eroded.
Until very recently, Will has been the rising star in most of the games he plays. Old men purr at his potential when they see a forward defensive stroke to a fast bowler, or in particular when this diminutive lad runs in and rips a leg spinner past a startled batsman. But despite his potential, until recently I usually did slightly better in the runs and wickets tally. This is changing however.
A case in point was yesterday. I went out to bat at number three and was run out without facing a ball (not my fault this time though- suicidal call from the club president!) I was not asked to bowl either, mostly because Will set about demolishing the opposition, who just scraped over the line to beat us after he had claimed 5 wickets for 49 off 13 overs. Half the balls he bowled beat the batsman who had no clue which way it was spinning.
Whether or not you understand what on earth I am talking about I am sure you get something of the way that this impacts on the relationship between father and son. Sport, as it often does, becomes a litmus paper for real life- it is hyper (un)reality in a world where everything else seems so darned complicated. It is also a way men and boys can express emotion which culture otherwise renders taboo. We are a family who try to transcend this taboo but still we are affected by it.
So, out on the field, between us there has been;
The Father who pushes, cajoles, encourages, who is a safe team member. The father who can hear all the lack of confidence, the upsets, the unjust umpiring stories etc…
The Father who is a role model, and against whom one measures performance. The Father who has to be defeated, overcome, surpassed…
The Father who is an embarrassment because he does awkward things, or because he shouts stuff that should be left unsaid, or because he is just there…
The Father who fades into the past, who watches from the outfield, from the pavilion, from the distance.
It is the natural order of things. It is as it should be. We have a journey yet to make, Will and I- but it will be no longer as immediate, no longer so dependent.
At least not today, tomorrow may well be different. That is the other thing about Fatherhood, it seems to change all the time. At one point we are on the verge of being adult companions, then we are back to adolescent discipline routines. One day I watch a carefully compiled innings, rich in ground strokes, then (as yesterday) I watch him run impetuously past a spinning ball to be stumped.
I think I have now flogged enough from this analogy, for today we play again- me with my sore ankle, dodgy back and strained thigh muscle. I will forget it all though in the curve of the ball and the joy of fatherhood.