by David Anderson
It’s not Father’s Day, as in the day set aside to honor fathers, but there’s never a day when not to remember the importance of being a dad.
At Pacific Beach on the Washington coast there was one camping site left. Probably that was because you wouldn’t know it was there since the sign post for Space 123 was partially buried in the sand dune and tall ocean grass with no neighbors on one side. It was the last in a line marking the end of campers and the start of endless miles of beach. It was perfect for our family given the memory that was to be made there.
There’s a lot you can do at the ocean with your kids – walk the beach; build sand-castles; dig clams if they’re in season; fish in the surf; see who can find the most interesting treasure washed in among the kelp; build little boats using only materials lying about and sail them in the tide pools; look for sea creatures; fly a kite.
Or play Caveman Softball.
Caveman Softball is a game my son and I invented out of necessity. After a couple days at the beach, we’d already done all the above (clams weren’t in season) and upon discovering three softballs in the trunk we took the axe and went in search of a suitable, shapeable bat.
These are the official rules for Caveman Softball: after a couple of practice swings draw a circle in the sand – one for the father, one for the son – the circle’s location determined by whether each can reach the fence with a mighty swing of the bat. The disparity in circle-to-fence distance is to keep the game somewhat fair and competitive. If there isn’t a fence your tent will do although you probably want to make sure no one is in it.
Scoring runs: each gets three turns – there being three softballs. (Just put these in your car now – and a hatchet – even if you don’t have vacation plans.) If the ball reaches the fence on a roll, score one run. If it hits the fence on a bounce, score two. Should the ball strike the fence in the air, that’s three. And of course clearing the fence, that’s a homerun, worth four.
The score was 41 to 38. Sure that’s high for baseball but see ‘scoring runs’ under the official rules in the paragraph above. It was the bottom of the ninth and I had one swing left. To tie my son I just needed to reach the fence in the air. But I was tired. And hot. After several barefoot-and-sun-burnt games, we’d taken a break for lunch and now it was late afternoon. With the game on the line I tossed the ball in the air, took a mighty swing and as soon as contact was made I knew it was well-hit. The only question was whether it had the distance.
As I recollect now after these many years something happened that as it turned out never happened again.
As the ball soared skyward, the seagulls that had been flying by began circling, watching. The families on the beach pursuing all those other activities turned to look. The roar of the crowd as they stood to their feet – which I may have mistaken for the sound of waves crashing on the beach – was thunderous. The sand fleas . . . well, you get the picture.
The ball became a tiny white speck as it entered the world normally occupied only by the circling gulls.
It was a Kodak moment.
Then with a single, sand-scattering thud the softball landed.
On the other side of the fence.
Like those old Toyota commercials, I leapt into the air to be interminably suspended. My son threw himself face down pounding his fists on the sand in mock disappointment.
It was the greatest moment in its then-brief history – winning the inaugural Caveman Softball Father-Son Series on the final swing.
Years later our family returned to Pacific Beach. Though this time there were plenty of camping sites available we took the one others knew nothing about. And once again we played the sport we’d invented. But never again did I win a single game.
And this time I realized why.
My son was standing in my circle.
He lives some distance away now so we communicate mostly on Facebook. The other day he recounted – with words and a picture – how he’d showered, shaved, and otherwise prepared for work, just like every morning. But as he bent down to slip on his shoes there he saw that in fact he wasn’t quite ready to face the world. Not yet. Not without a reminder. For there in his own big shoes – tucked neatly, placed carefully, shyly and lovingly – were the little shoes of his four-year-old foster-daughter.
She was standing in his circle.