Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Giant Fathers

Last week's entry about the drop in testosterone in men intimately involved with their children's upbringing presents an interesting challenge to a professional baseball playing dad.  A key to success in baseball is "explosiveness." Players, managers and students of the game constantly talk about a player's "explosive" fastball, "explosive" bat, "explosion of speed" needed to steal a base or catch up to a drive deep in the alleys.  The physics of baseball features explosiveness at its very core, with a hardball thrown 95 miles an hour towards conditioned athletes swinging seasoned bats with hitting  techniques perfected over a century-and-a-half by craftsmen such as Cobb, DiMaggio,  Kaline, Clemente and Bonds. 

But who wants a father to be explosive?  A General, a courtroom lawyer, a corporate CEO or a professional athlete has to learn to leave his – or her -- work at the office, or at least at the front door.  To be a tough hombre out in the world and a testosterone-receding dad at home requires a masterful balancing act of competing existential demands. 

It's not an easy task.  Check out this video from Showtime's unusual reality baseball show about the 2011 San Francisco Giants – The Franchise.  These are wonderful stories about character, ambition, love, family.  And here are some shorter clips from the same Showtime series, which focus on particular points of the season or key relationships in the

players' lives.

Check out Giants' pitcher Matt Cain, the 6 foot 4 "work horse" of the pitching staff with a 94 mile an hour fast ball, cooing like a kid when he's greeted after a game by his children. Once he walks in the door, Cain's concerns obviously shift from his ERA to his DPH – Diapers per Homestand, or BPF – Burps per Feeding.

These are fathers, sons, husbands, sons-in-law ... partners in life.  These are baseball players. Spring Training runs from mid-February to the first of April.  Half of a team's 162 games are in far flung cities, and even for most home games in the age of night baseball Dad doesn't click open the garage door until after midnight, long after the little folks have gone to bed. 

Yes, baseball takes a man away from his family for long periods of time, but not forever.  Several works have dealt with this challenge, most notably the film "The Rookie" with Dennis Quaid and my own novel Home, Away.  Besides regulating his testosterone, a baseball player must learn to segregate what fosters his success on the ball field – strength, speed, explosiveness – with the gentleness, patience and love needed by his kids.  Even when they're on the road, a lot of these guys try to "be present" in their children's lives in creative ways – by phone, Skype, YouTube, FedEx.  This is beautiful stuff when it's done right, as these videos show. 

Work and family – how does a father do it all? Thankfully, more fathers than ever are struggling with that question, which is half the battle.  Previous generations of dads simply ignored it, at great cost to their kids and themselves.  This generation, thankfully, is holding itself to a higher standard – a Giant one.

Note: Look for New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey's upcoming autobiography from Penguin Books.  As yet untitled, Dickey promises to recount "the simultaneous frustrations of a pitcher trying to carve out a career in baseball and a husband and father with a short fuse and difficulty in separating his marriage from bad pitching performances."  You can follow him on Twitter: @RADickey43.

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