I remember watching Danny Ainge at a church youth activity. Baseball. Again. He stepped up to the plate, and the entire outfield (a couple of 16-year-old boys and the entire Beehive class) moved back 20 yards. And he hit it over our heads, out of the park. (To be fair, he did eventually play for Toronto in the majors, so it really wasn’t our fault.)
For the wimpy kid who was always chosen last, that was simply awe-inspiring. What I would have given to hit the ball out of the park… or to simply hit the ball.Let me tell you about something my dad said to me when I was a child. I guess, to be honest, I had better first admit that I don’t remember many things my dad taught me. Perhaps because I didn’t pay a lot of attention, and, well… I was a kid. In one ear and out the other. You know how it goes.
My dad was taking something apart under the hood of one of our cars. He had tools scattered far and wide, he was covered in grease (car engine compartments were a lot more accessible in those days, and a lot greasier), and an assortment of mysterious-looking, grease-covered parts littered the driveway. I wandered over to watch. I can still remember the smell of the grease–it has a definite smell.
When he noticed he had an audience, he thought he’d impress me by asking, “Well, think you could put this back together?”
Being the analytical kid I was (and a little perturbed at his disorganization), I answered, “Sure. I’d just put the parts neatly in order and keep them that way, and then put them back the way they came out.” Yes, there was an implied criticism in that comment. Something along the lines of, “How do you expect to ever even FIND all the pieces IN THIS MESS????” Being the tactful child I was, I didn’t say that part out loud. Being the transparent child I was (and still am) it was undoubtedly written all over my face, which probably made it worse.
Little did either of us know that in that moment, my future hung in the balance. If my dad had become defensive, if he had told me I didn’t know the first thing about fixing cars, and yelled at me to clear off and play with my Barbies or something… well, it would have been quite understandable, but my life might have been radically different.
Instead, he looked me in the eye and said, “You know, I believe you could. I believe you could do anything you put your mind to.”
That may have been the wisest thing my dad ever said, not because it was true , but because it could be true. Because it was possible. Because it was going to be true if I believed it.
I believed it. Somehow, the awkward little girl, who was always chosen last because she couldn’t hit a baseball to save her life, believed it. Maybe because it was so spontaneous, so un-premeditated on my dad’s part, I believed it. And down the road, when my piano wanted tuning and I had no money, but I did have a crescent wrench… I can do that. When I needed black formal shoes in a hurry and had only brown ones and a permanent ink marker… I can do that. When I needed a song on a particular topic but had only staff paper and a sharpie… I can do that. I’ve spent my life making things out of other things, or out of nothing at all, improvising at every turn, and every time I meet a challenge, the smell of automotive grease comes wafting in unbidden, and I hear those words again:
“I believe you could. I believe you could do anything you put your mind to.”
Childhood insecurities… teenage insecurities… some have come and gone. Some have hung around to throw me curve balls. That vote of confidence, in the middle of a mess on the driveway, has been my go-to bat. When I manage to hit something out of the park, that’s the one I’m swinging.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.