There it is. Proof we've crossed over into cliché. Though we're two gay dads living in Greenwich Village, our fridge suddenly features one of the most typical suburban items: A magnet emblazoned with a picture of our smiling 6-year-old in his official baseball uniform, holding a bat.
This Father's Day — which will kick off with an 8 a.m. Little League game — I'll reflect on the joys of parenthood, but also, the ironies. Over the past year, it has become clear that our Lucas' love of sports is no "phase" (a phrase with deep meaning for most gay men). The kid is a natural athlete. An alpha male in the making. A possible jock, even.
My partner Jack is fairly sporty. But what the hell am I going to do?
Ill-at-ease with athletics while growing up, I was the proverbial Last Boy Picked. During second grade soccer, I never got beyond goalie. And as a chubby pre-teen, I cringed when my elementary school P.E. teacher suggested we play "shirts vs. skins" in basketball — I've blocked out all further memories of that day. At home, I never wanted to watch games on TV with my father, who taught me to ride a bike but gave up early on training me to throw a ball. I read the newspaper at age 10 but happily skipped the sports pages; for all I knew (or cared), summer was football season, and baseball occurred with snow on the ground.
Watching Lucas take so easily to sports has opened old wounds and forced me to readdress aspects of myself that I thought I'd come to terms with — and frankly, stopped thinking about — decades ago.
On Sunday mornings when we have Little League, Lucas eagerly dons his uniform. Though we teach Lucas to celebrate the differences in others (duh, he has two dads) he seems to love looking identical to the other boys, all dressed in the same white caps, orange jerseys, and black-and-orange socks (ick). As they chant, "bases loaded, we need a hit," I get goosebumps for two reasons: It's a poignant scene out of a Norman Rockwell portrait, but also one that I never experienced.
Soccer two seasons ago was easier on me, because Jack — who's comfortable playing and watching sports — was the team’s assistant coach. But last fall, I took Lucas to practice in a new soccer league without Jack. And, once again, our son belonged — and I felt like an outsider.
Lucas arrived that first day barely knowing any of the boys. But a minute later, he was on the field, raising his hands, telegraphing "pass to me." He smiled and high-fived the other boys, getting along so easily. That was never me. And still isn't. Throughout the season, I didn't even try to be part of dad-pack hanging out in the corner, holding their identical Starbucks cups, talking about whatever straight dads discuss. I'm sure if I'd approached them, they'd have been friendly and cool, but my inner fifth grader emerged on those mornings. And he was victorious.
Lately, Lucas has been delving deeper into my disinterest in athletics. I am always honest with him, but these moments are challenging. I'm proud of my journey and the adult I have become — but also must admit my shortcomings. Lucas has started teasing me, too, which I both love and hate (welcome to parenthood). In March, we went to an Upper West Side seder and sat across from two guys in their mid-twenties who’d rowed crew at Yale and who kept disappearing from the table to sneak time in front of the Kansas-Villanova basketball game. Lucas was delighted to join his new role models. "Papa," he said, "Villanova is winning. That's 'Vill-a-no-va'."
I did, however, find solace on a weekend away last winter, when Jack and I journeyed upstate on a ski trip with Lucas and a few other families. I hadn't been on skis for ten years, but the thrill came back quickly. It was the most fun I'd had exercising in a long time, and I'd forgotten I was decent at it. An intermediate, even. Finally, I'd found a sport where I felt natural, talented, and a part of something bigger than myself.
Trouble is, there's no snow on the ground on Father's Day.