DUBLIN — On Father's Day, I have some simple advice for all those dads who regularly risk life and limb trying to keep pace with their sons on the basketball court or (in my case) hurling field: Get real.
As I see it, perhaps the hardest part of being a father is acknowledging that one day your male offspring are going to surpass you in personal looks, academic achievement, and pretty much every other realm of human experience. One can take the poet’s advice and rage against the dying of the light, but no amount of chest-thumping or cosmetic modification will alter this fact. From the dad perspective — if you’re honest with yourself — it should be the most natural thing in the world, this passing of the torch from one generation to the next. (Whether it’s wise to bequeath your twitchy batting stance or ungainly jump shot to your nearest male heir is another question.)
In our Dublin home, the day of reckoning is approaching faster than I thought imaginable when our son Brian was born 14 years ago this month. Already, “the boy” has shed his childish build and demeanor and assumed the confident strut of an emerging young man. In the face of such robust youth, I’m beginning to understand the significance of the colloquialism every guy has used at some point to describe his father: the old man.
As befits this weekend’s Hallmark moment, I’ve been entertaining thoughts about my own father, Phil Coronella, and the occasional athletic outings my brother Paul and I shared with him.
Growing up in Medford, we were luckier than most of our friends because we had our own personal basketball court. With help from my uncles, my father put up a simple backboard and hoop at the edge of the flagstone patio in our Corey Street backyard. For my brother and me, it was as good as having the Boston Garden’s parquet floor at our disposal.
Years before Kareem Abdul-Jabbar laid claim to the skyhook, my father possessed a wicked left-hand hook shot that he used with deadly efficiency against his pint-sized offspring. If sufficiently pestered, he’d sometimes join us straight after work in his shirt sleeves for a casual but energetic game. It’s all there on our home movies: my dad dribbling skillfully around us, avoiding our flailing attempts to steal the ball, then stopping and popping, to paraphrase Johnny Most.
By the time my brother and I were tall enough and quick enough to get the better of my father — and even swat away his trademark shot — we’d graduated to the full-size court at Barry Park.
That time has nearly arrived for my son Brian and me. On a good day I have been known to show comparable skill and speed whenever we go for a “puck-around” — the hurling equivalent of playing catch — at our local field.
The difference is he’s able to walk back to the car without worrying if that twinge in his lower back is a sign of big trouble on the way.
Sometime soon I’ll get the message. And that’s the way it ought to be. Dads are meant to walk beside their sons as guides and mentors, not to run alongside them as rivals and contemporaries.
So all you dads out there: as you’re accepting those well-deserved plaudits on Father’s Day, remember that a small measure of humility comes with the position. And in the weeks and months ahead, remember to choose wisely those moments in which you intend to show your teenage son “how it’s done” on the basketball court or baseball diamond.
Your health care provider will thank you.