The Greatest Game Ever Played

I was busily working in my office yesterday when a colleague barged in for an emergency meeting.  By his demeanor, I could tell it was urgent.  He was short of breath.  Rapid pace.  High volume.  In my face. And he was wearing a pirate outfit.  Complete with plastic hand-hook and swashbuckling sword.

* For your visual, here's Jake in full pirate garb a few months ago

“Daddy, daddy, daddy!  My eye patch keeps falling off when I’m fighting.”

Such are the joys of working from home.  You’re in your office on a conference call and there is a three-foot tall pirate in the office next door screaming “AAAARGH” and swinging his sword at the family dog.  She isn’t fighting back.  Bailey is 98 in dog years.  She can’t hear anything softer than a freight train, and had her fetching merit badge revoked for lack of use.   She’s like a soft bathroom rug that makes guttural noises and eats 45-pounds of kibble per month.

“Jake.  Can you go play in the playroom?  I have to send some emails and I need to concentrate.”

“How long?  I want to go play in the front yard.” He begs.

“Five minutes,” I say.

Miraculously, he walks away with a newly-tightened eye patch.  I know he’ll be back soon.  Kids don’t understand that parents work in order to provide for the family.  Gabby tried to explain the concept to them when I was away on a business trip.  Jake was in the bathroom, using far more bath tissue than one human being needs, even after eating a bad meal.

“Jake, stop using so much toilet paper!”


“Daddy has to work to buy things like toilet paper.  When you waste it, daddy has to work even more.  Do you want that?”


Now when I’m out of town, the kids tell everyone that daddy is off working so he can buy toilet paper.  They must think the entire family has Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Anyhow, back to the story.  I continue working at my computer, quickly typing and clicking.  Reading and organizing.  Printing and filing.  Preparing for this week’s workshop.  Jake comes in a few minutes later.

“Are you done yet, dad?”

“Not yet.” I bark, quite frustrated now.  “Just two more minutes.”

I stare at my computer screen as if I’m looking for it to give me instructions.  This kind of information work is very odd when you think about it.  How many people get paid to simply transfer information from one place to another every day?  Responding to requests.  Asking for clarification.  Scheduling stuff, and re-scheduling.  For someone who actually produces real, tangible items like houses, cars, and landscaping, it must seem like fairy dust.  I’m sure that’s what it seems like to my kids.

“Dad, are you done yet?”

“Not yet, son.”  I was really on a roll, and these interruptions aren’t helping at all.

“But dad, you said five minutes.  And that was ten or eleven minutes ago.”

He’s right.  I curse myself for teaching the kid to read a clock at age four.

“Actually, you’re right, Jake.  Let’s go outside.”

I look in his hand and see something that makes me shudder.

A football.

I have never been a physical guy.  In my entire life, I have never been in a fist fight.  When the neighborhood kids got together to try out Theron Brown’s new boxing gloves, I put them on, climbed into the makeshift ring, and fell to the ground before the first punch was fully thrown.  It was like watching a bad karate movie where people react to fake jabs and kicks.  One kid thought I had fainted, and suggested I go see a doctor.

In seventh grade, I was one of two guys in a class of roughly one hundred and fifty boys who didn’t either play football or participate in the school marching band.  The other guy was a soccer stud who went through puberty at age six and was being groomed for the high school varsity team.

I had no excuse.  Fortunately, the soccer god could only handle three or four girlfriends at a time, and there were no less than ninety or a hundred lovely starlets surrounding me in the stands.  Unfortunately, junior high girls find football players far more attractive than skinny kids with big heads that go to Gifted and Talented class in the portable classroom outside the school.

To top it all off, I am a little OCD about being dirty without there being a specific purpose for the dirtiness.  I have been known to shower three-to-four times per day to get rid of a few beads of sweat or the faint smell of smoke from our backyard grill.  Granted, I’ll get in the muck for household projects and honey-dos.  But getting thrown on the ground just for fun?

I’ll pass.

“Let’s play football!” Jake exclaims.

“Football?  OK.  We can throw the football.”  I subtly try and guide the play to something that won’t involve me falling down.

“No.  Let’s play it.  Like on TV!  Let’s tackle!  Like the game with the white team against the blue team.”

This past weekend we had watched my beloved University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Jake knew the game was something I must enjoy.  But watching football on TV is much different than playing.

“But Jake, I don’t have a long sleeved shirt that can get dirty,” I hedged.  “And it’s cold outside!”

Then I realize how absurd this must sound to a kid dressed in a pirate costume.

Undeterred, Jake bellows, “Yes you do!”

He runs to the laundry room, reaches into a basket, and pulls out a gray, long sleeved T-shirt with holes in the armpits.

Once again, he’s right.  I change into the t-shirt and we march ourselves out onto the front lawn.

“Let’s play right here!” he shouts, positioning our field markers.  “You gotta’ run between my bike and Audrey’s pink car to get a score.”

Looking out toward the yard, he sees as a perfect football field.   I see as a patch of dead grass, slightly damp, strewn with leaves, harboring allergens that could overpower even the strongest of prescription medications.  The thought of laying on the grass instantly makes my skin itch.  I feel a sneeze coming on.  I have visions of Theron Brown barreling down on me.

Jake throws the ball at me.

“OK, dad.  Try to get a score!”

I jog around in a circle, dodging him, and run past him to the end zone.  He’s having fun.  And I’m happy that I didn’t have to touch the grass.  Dad is up, 7-0.

“My turn!”

Jake runs around, darting this way and that.  I run toward him, grab him, sling him around my shoulders, and set him down on the ground.

“I missed!” I yell.  He runs to the end zone for a score, giggling the whole time.  Tie game 7-7.  I feel a bead of sweat forming on my upper lip.

I think I need a shower.

He throws the ball back to me.  I do the same dance as before.  But Jake darts in front of me when I least expect it.  Trying not to bowl him over, I zig when I should have zagged.  I trip over my own two feet and tumble to the ground.  It’s as if the whole thing is in slow motion.  I see dust and dead grass puff into the air.  I feel myself breathing in the smell of fall, complete with allergens and chiggers.

In an instant, Jake is on top of me.  Laughing hysterically.  Like I’ve just given him tickets to Disney World.  His smile is painted with joy.  Without a care.  He is bathing in the moment, and savoring it.  There is no place he would rather be.

“I tackled you daddy!”

“You sure did.” I say.

I forget about the dust.  I forget about the dirt.  I forget about seventh grade.  I forget about boxing gloves and the wet spot on the butt of my jeans.

I forget about the worries and the responsibility.  I forget about the reasons why I can’t play because I’m too busy earning money to buy expensive things that have no real value.  I forget about the shiny junk that gets in the way of the stuff that really matters.

I forget about being a father just long enough to be a dad.

Jake recorded seventeen tackles yesterday in an epic battle for football domination on Ramble Wood Circle.  Seventeen.  The stats won’t show up in the box score in the newspaper.  In fact, there was no score to keep.  But the game meant the world to those who played.

As I sit here in 7C, happily nursing a runny nose somewhere high above the Midwest, I’d like to close by sharing a few snippets from a passage our pastor read this weekend.  It sums up the idea of selfless giving very well.  Focusing on what’s truly important.  I do a lot of writing about service to others, often forgetting that we must start by serving at home, not as we would like to serve, but as those in need intend for us to serve.

And that, my friends, is the definition of love.

Excerpts from  If I found a Wistful Unicorn by Ann Ashford

If I found a wistful unicorn and brought him to you, all forlorn… would you pet him?

If I picked a little flower up and put it in a paper cup… would you smell it?

If I found a secret place to go with you the only one to know… would you be there?

If my cricket coughed and got the flu and needed warmth and comfort too… would you hold him?

If my rainbow were to turn all gray and wouldn’t shine at all today… would you paint it?

If I ran backwards up a tree and called for you to follow me… would you do it?

If I said that I could dance for you as hard as that would be to do… would you watch me?

If all that I would want to do would be to sit and talk to you… would you listen?

If any of these things you’ll do I’ll never have to say to you… “Do you love me?”