The Laptop Father

January 25, 2016

One Saturday morning just before Christmas, I had the privilege of taking my grandson Nicholas to his little league basketball practice in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. His dad is a sea captain and was on his ship. His mom was taking care of his three younger siblings. He’s seven years old. On this morning, it was just him and me.
It was a scene taking place at about the same time all across America. Young mothers or fathers dragging little ones, some still wiping sleep from their eyes, to the school or youth center for recreational basketball. These were young boys only a few, scant years away from Pampers. The varying skill levels of this age group range from the ability to dribble with one hand without looking at the ball, to closely examining the basketball to see if they’d met before.
I eased onto the bleachers next to several young fathers to watch my grandson perform. I’m intensely interested in several things.
First, I’m curious of what kind of coach would care enough to give up his Saturday morning to come and try to orchestrate a practice session of such young neophytes which would have some semblance of order and instruction. After all, I’ve read horror stories about some youth coaches who are frustrated Bobby Knights, dressed in a little brief Saturday morning authority and take out their frustrations on innocent, defenseless children. A person teaching basketball to children of tender years should know something about basketball. But, more importantly, they should have character.
This coach did a great job. He conducted the practice with calm and kind patience and discipline. The one hour exercise had been well planned and thought out. He ran the little ones through basic drills and instruction, including the clever use of plastic cones to help the beginners know where they should go on the floor. For the entire hour, he kept them busy with a lot of movement and helpful instruction. Most importantly, he kept it fun.
Then, of course, I wanted to see how my grandson stacks up with the rest of the kids. I needed to be able to take word back to his dad as to whether we can start thinking college basketball scholarship or start doubling the amount of money his parents are putting into the higher education savings. Of course at that age, it is impossible to tell. Michael Jordan didn’t even start on his high school basketball team till his senior year. Pretty much the same with Dan Issel and scores of other super stars. These children are diamonds in the rough. Very rough. And of course, most of them will never even be diamonds—in basketball at least.
Nicholas did just fine.
But my main reason for being there that morning was to let my grandson know that I wasn’t just his chauffeur for the morning. That I was his grandfather, intensely interested in him; in what he did; how he conducted himself; how he got along with his team mates; how much effort he gave; what sportsmanship he showed. In short, I wanted him to know that I was there to size him up. I wanted to send him the message that this singular hour of the week we were together, was as important to me as it was to him. It was important to me only because he was important to me. While I didn’t consciously think of it in those terms that morning, that was the essence of the mission.
Seated only a few feet away from me on the bleachers was a young father of one of the boys playing. I could not keep my eyes off of him. He had a computer unfolded on his lap into which he peered intently as he worked the keys. Not once did I see him raise his eyes to follow the action on the floor, or show a modicum of interest. He was a nice enough guy, politely answering a couple questions I asked about the practice.
There were a few other fathers on the bleachers with me. All of them with cell phones in hand and dividing up their time and attention between what their son was doing and what was coming in on their I-phones. I pulled out my I-phone too—to take a picture of my grandson playing basketball.
I couldn’t help but wonder several things. First, what could have possibly been more important to these fathers than their seven year old son playing basketball on a Saturday morning just before Christmas? How many men were, at that very hour, searching with their wives for hopeful advice from their doctors on how their childless union could be solved? How many fathers in the far flung corners of the world defending the interest of our country would be missing this important rite of passage of their own children? Did this inattentive father with the laptop have a clue how fleeting these important hours were, and how fast their innocent young sons become grown men, their character and destiny shaped to a large degree on whether they knew their father, and knew how much their father cared?
But the following question haunted me more than any other. What would their offspring of such tender years think when he eagerly searched the bleachers for his father, and finds his father not even watching? That his father’s mind and soul are somewhere else? What pain is realized by that little heart that just for that one hour of his weekend, his hero in the bleachers, could not be in rapt attention to what he was doing?
Having raised five boys myself, all of them grown and gone, I wanted to snatch the laptop away from this father and say to him, “there is nothing more important in your life than being a good father. And this morning is slipping away.”
But, I didn’t. I just watched my grandson with pride and thanksgiving.
My grandson’s Dad, who is a Master Mariner, defends his fellow father. “He may have been under the gun, Dad, to close a deal or take care of business which is part of taking care of his family.”
Maybe so.
But he could have been more comfortable working at home and sending his son to basketball practice in a taxi.