ULTIMATE DAD

ULTIMATE DAD

From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Ultimate Dad

I recently turned fifty, which is young for a tree, midlife for an elephant, and ancient for a quarter miler, whose son now says, “Dad, I just can’t run the quarter with you anymore unless I bring something to read.”

Bill Cosby

It was a typical early April weekend in the western Massachusetts college town of Amherst. A few piles of snow still lingered in the yard as I threw the baseball around with my two sons in preparation for their annual baseball tryouts. My boys, Spencer and Jordan, had been playing baseball every spring and summer for the last six years. After a long baseball-free winter, it was almost time again for registration. We checked the cleats for size, tightened the webbing on the gloves, and began to dream of the season to come.

Little did I know of changes that lay in store for our family beginning the next day when Spencer walked in the house after school and announced, “There’s been a slight change of plans. I’m playing Ultimate.”

We were a little puzzled. “Ultimate what?” my wife inquired.

“Frisbee,” he gleefully replied, and thus began our transformation from a baseball family to Frisbee fanatics. We had much to discover along the way about the game of Ultimate Frisbee, ourselves, and for me, “ultimately,” about what it really means to be a dad.

I received a “crash course” in Ultimate Frisbee from our boys that spring. As I learned, Ultimate is an exciting and rapidly growing sport combining elements of football, basketball, and soccer, and requires tremendous speed, endurance, and agility.

Sounds like an exaggeration until you actually witness a game as I soon did one evening under the lights. I watched our highly ranked high school varsity boys Ultimate team take on one of their local rivals, the University of Massachusetts varsity team. Not often do you see high school kids playing against college kids!

I was amazed by the athleticism, skill, and grace I saw on the field, and was puzzled by the strange vocabulary of chants erupting spontaneously from the sideline. As my boys patiently explained, throws that start the play are called “pulls.” The long leading throws to receivers running into open space are “puts.” And the diving catches we witnessed all over the field are called “bids.” I also got to see the mother of all Ultimate plays, a diving catch with the player flying horizontally to snare the flying disc out of thin air, the “layout.”

But what really took me by surprise about Ultimate was the fact that, despite the intensity of the competition, no referees were anywhere in sight. The game was governed by adherence to the so-called “Spirit of the Game.” Like golf and tennis, Ultimate was a game of honor and honesty. In fact, this self-regulation was an important part of why Ultimate appealed so much to my boys. When one player landed on top of another while both were diving for the disc, forcing a turnover, I watched in amazement as the two players calmly shared their versions of what happened, discussed it for a few seconds, and then agreed on how the issue would be resolved. All in the middle of a hotly contested point!

As we walked back to the car that night, I thought about this display of sportsmanship, and how a game in which this spirit of fairness was so pivotal could only be a good thing for the developing characters of my teenage boys.

I soon became as fascinated with Ultimate as Spencer and Jordan were and we began to spend our evenings in the yard with them patiently showing me the basic Ultimate techniques. As we worked on my forehand “flick,” my catches, and curved throws, it became apparent that a role reversal had taken place with this game.

At forty-nine years of age, I was trying to learn their game, one suited for those much younger and much more physically fit. But I felt like I needed to share this game with them, to be able to fully appreciate their enthusiasm, which bordered on obsession. “I’ll join the adult league!” I told them one night, surprising even myself. To be the best dad I could be, I needed to learn to play Ultimate!

And so with my boys coaching me, I continued my training in the lingo, rules, and throws of Ultimate in preparation for playing in the summer Ultimate League of Amherst.

When the evening of my first game finally arrived, I laced up my new cleats, grabbed my water bottle, and with some trepidation, headed off to join my new team. Even though I had registered for the “noncompetitive” adult division, I found players over forty were few and far between. As I took to the field, I was glad my boys were off at summer camp already so as not to witness my ineffective, haphazard, and I’m sure somewhat pathetic effort, sprinting in circles chasing a disc that always seemed just out of reach. Although I was constantly gasping for air, I did manage to catch the disc once or twice, and at the end of the night felt that I had done okay.

I had a little trouble walking the next day but proudly wrote a letter to both boys at camp detailing the difficulties I had on the field and asking for more tips. “I’ll keep you posted,” I wrote, promising to entertain them with the next week’s episode of “Ultimate Dad.”

I had almost recovered from the previous game and was warming up for my second when I began to feel a little tightness in my hamstrings. I did my best to stretch and went into the game only slightly more oriented as to the action than I was the week before. Fairly soon, I noticed my twenty-year-old defender was slacking off, probably because he was pretty sure I was not going to be much of a threat. I decided to sprint for an open area in the end zone and asked my increasingly tightening hamstrings for “high gear” in the hopes that someone would see me. Mr. Hayes, my boys’ math teacher, spotted me cutting and floated the disc perfectly so that I could get to it as long as I continued at a dead sprint. At this point, I ignored the pain in my thighs, splashed through a puddle, and snagged the disc for my first goal. As I limped off of the field, I was smiling and thinking about my boys! “I did it!” I wrote to each of them later that night, hoping that in this continued role reversal they would be as proud of me as I have always been of them.

I always wanted my sons to follow my example. I never thought I’d be following theirs. Even though I will never be able to compete with Spencer and Jordan on the Ultimate Frisbee field, I am happy to be able to share their love and excitement for the game. I can now stand on the sideline shouting encouragement in their lingo, watching proudly as they diplomatically settle their own disputes on the field, fully appreciating their skill and the beauty of our game. And now that my hamstrings have fully healed, I have registered again for the upcoming season. Who knows? Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, one day I’ll hear my boys shouting from the sideline, “Nice bid, Dad!”

Ted Diamond

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