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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Parenting Series Blog – Issue #1, The Hunt for Happiness: Brush Back

By Matthew Williams, Administrative Coordinator

I am engaged to a wonderful woman with a young son. I am often asked, “How does it feel knowing you entered a relationship with a family already made?” Well, the answer is simple; it feels a lot like a “brush back.” A brush back is a term used in baseball that signifies a pitch that is intentionally thrown close to a batter to intimidate or misdirect, i.e. to "brush him back" from the plate. Some call this tactic “chin music” which I have witnessed firsthand on several occasions since little league has started. Most people’s reaction to me is summed up with other questions that include, “Am I sure I am capable of being a (soon-to-be) step-father?” eluding that I may be in over my head.

Let me clarify something as we get started. Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Andrew McCutcheon, all struck out when they were at the top of their game. They have all been hit by a pitch or two but this did not stop them from knocking a few out of the park! Parenting is a 24 hour game with unlimited innings that is packed with a wide spectrum of emotions. Even as a man, it is hard to remain strong when you have a nine year-old looking at you for help because he just took a ball to the face!

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to use a lot of baseball comparisons. The reason for this is baseball is a game of patience and mental fortitude (and sometimes just some good ole plain luck). These are traits that a nine year-old slugger, my fiancée’s boy, is starting to understand and develop--traits I wish to instill in him so he can achieve everything he ever dreams of. As a soon-to-be stepfather to a talented young baseball player, nothing brings me more joy (and anxiety) than watching "Biff" take the field game after game. It’s a joy because I get to see that bright smiling face as he hits that ball into deep left field, or that intense focus when he is on the pitcher’s mound followed by that beaming glow of triumph as he sends batters back to the dugout strike after strike!

As I mentioned earlier, parenting comes with a wide spectrum of emotions. When the child is happy, you’re happy. When he hurts, your heart breaks. With Biff, I am utterly exhausted after his games. I can’t help but think, “Is he going to get this hit…? Is he going to throw this strike…? DID HE JUST TAKE A BALL TO THE FACE?!” I believe it's how you handle these situations that determine how your child will feel or react.

For my fiancée and I, this is often where we differ. This was most prevalent when Biff took a fastball to the collar bone. Did it hurt? Oh, it definitely sounded like it did! My immediate reaction was to assure the boy was ok. I let the coaches check him out. He was good enough to take first base and continue the game. As he walked to first, I simply asked, “Are you ok?” His reply was brief and to the point, signifying he was ok.

Now, for my future wife, she jumped up and was all over that fence, like a baseball manager in the umpire’s face after a missed call. She was all over this kid, making sure he didn’t have a scratch on him. At that moment, for the first time ever, Biff uttered those words that a parent never wants to hear, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me!” The painful brush back that your kid is now embarrassed, and you are to blame!

As parents we all get that brush back pitch. This does not mean that we have failed, or that our child is doomed. It means that life has thrown us an inside pitch and we need to be ready for the sinker right down the center. Since those famous words have been uttered by Biff, my fiancée has taken a more laid back approach. Granted, we still worry. We are raising another human being. In fact, we are raising another human being to be a productive member of society. How we raise our children plays a vital role in how they will turn out. That's a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, your children know they are loved. You have provided them everything they could ever need. How do you know this? Personally, here is how I know.

That same night that Biff took a ball to the collar bone, he was faced with one more challenge, a potential grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, down by one run. He hits this ball and they win! Now here is a nine year-old with an average batting percentage. The game is on the line, his team is counting on him. He is scared—you can see the look of dread as the ball whizzes by his face, STRIKE! He looks over at his mother and me and we give him our supportive smiles. He squares up in the batter’s box, the pitcher throws an inside pitch, brushing Biff off the plate—BALL. The kid has already been nailed twice tonight, he is not in the mood to get hit again. He swings at the next pitch that was low on the outside, STRIKE 2!

Nothing has prepared me for trying to lift up a child’s spirits after they have been crushed. I sat there, holding my breath, as well as my fiancée’s hand! I had to be prepared to be strong for him. The pitcher winds up and throws a sinker right down the center. Biff grounded it to first base. I will stop there because whether he was out or not is irrelevant. What was important to me was his reaction. After all was said and done, did he give it his all? Was he happy with his performance? The answer was a resounding yes!

As a step-father, I walk a fine line as a parent--especially to a young boy who knows and loves his father. I face brush backs every day. Sometimes I have to be the disciplinarian, sometimes I am the one sneaking out with him to the ice cream shop. Biff knows I love him, he knows I care for him, and that I will always be there for him. I remind him of all those things every day.

I also remind him what is truly important in life. On that particular evening, he learned several things; patience, mental fortitude, luck--and with luck, sacrifice. That resounding “yes” came from sacrifice. See, Biff was called out at first, but the runner on third was safe at home and they won the game. My fiancée and I could not have been more proud.  Because at the end of the night, after all that emotion, we learned that Biff is one resilient little slugger.

We can all learn an important lesson from this--parents and children alike. No matter how many times you get brushed back, hang in there—you never know when you will face that sinker right down the middle and knock it out of the park.

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