From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Strong Arm Needed

Our son, Erick, had a ball glove even before he was born. At six months, his dad was rolling a ball to him; at a year, he was tossing it to him. As Erick grew up, I would look in the backyard and see father and son throwing a baseball, a football, or a Frisbee. Inside they would tone it down and toss a Nerf ball, respecting my request.

For a time, Rick coached Erick’s ball teams, and we lived through the tensions between coach-dad and player-son. Why is Rick often harder on our son than on other boys? Why does he expect so much out of him? I hope this won’t have a negative effect on their relationship. Rick worked with Erick to help him develop basic sports skills. They still maintained an upbeat relationship after all the practices and games, for which I was thankful.

When Erick was older, Rick stepped back to allow others to coach him. Although he was careful to stay out of the way, I could tell that in his heart he wished he was Erick’s coach.

Erick particularly loved football, although he was better at other sports. As a high school freshman he was small. We encouraged him to run cross-country, since he had the build of a natural runner. His friends wanted him to play football. So, to frustrate everyone, he chose to do nothing. Ugh! I thought the season would never end! He bugged me after school instead of being with the other boys at practice.

By his sophomore year, he had grown some and wanted to give football a try. Okay, give it a try. It’ll be only one year. Just as Erick was beginning to improve, he broke his arm and was sidelined for the rest of the season. I knew this would happen! I wanted to say, “I told you so!” I wondered if maybe now he would get this football thing out of his system and he wouldn’t go out again. On the positive side, the disappointment led to some great opportunities for father-son talks on dealing with setbacks.

The junior year came, and Erick had an intense determination to make up for lost time in developing football skills. What? Another year of football? Do you want to get hurt even worse? I resigned myself to the idea, and watched with curiosity and some fear as the season began. Will he have the same determination demonstrated by his father’s work ethic? Or will he be all talk and no action, like so many other teenage boys?

Early in the season, Erick came home from practice tired, hungry, and looking for his dad. Rick had also just come home and was tired, hungry, and wanting to unwind.

“Dad, would you throw some passes to me in the backyard?”

Rick looked over to me as if to ask for permission to stay in if supper was ready. Instead, I nodded and gave the go-ahead.

He took a deep breath and sighed. “Sure, son. We’ve got time before supper.”

They headed out to the backyard, where the crisp autumn air invigorated them both. I’m sure Rick thought that after a few passes he could come in and eat.

Time passed; it was getting dark, and supper was getting cold. Where were the guys? I looked out back, heard Rick shout, “Go deep!” and saw the football fly past.

Finally, I heard the backdoor open. Their father-son banter entered the house along with my two men.

Rick’s shirt was darkened from perspiration, his face was red, and he was lamenting his sore arm. Erick had sweat on his brow and panted for breath, but was all smiles.

“Didn’t think you could throw that many, Dad,” Erick ribbed his father.

“Are you kidding? This arm is a rocket! I can keep up with you!”

He rolled his eyes at me.

This time I sighed. Sure you can . . . just keep telling yourself that and maybe you’ll believe it!

Supper was now the priority for my ravenous men.

Putting food on the table, I asked Erick, “How’d it go?”


End of conversation. The only sounds heard were forks hitting plates, and then Erick was off to complete his homework.

Over the next two months, this became the routine. Every night after football practice Erick asked his dad to throw to him until he caught 100 passes. And every night, Rick complied. Rick was committed to helping his son, and would not turn down Erick’s request, no matter how tired he was. Erick was determined to be the best wide receiver he could be.

Erick gained confidence and steadily improved. He became a scoring threat to the opponents, and the opposing coaches planned double coverage on him.

Not only did Erick’s skills improve, these backyard passing drills helped the father-son relationship grow. Erick pushed himself; Rick encouraged and supported him. Erick knew his dad was there for him no matter how he performed. Rick grew in knowing when to push Erick and when to back off.

As the mom, I cherished the fact that the son had picked up his father’s work ethic and determination to be his best.

During his senior year, the football coach said that Erick actually willed himself to be a football player through determination and hard work.

That year his team won the state football championship.

We cheered and clapped during the awards presentation after the victory.

How proud I felt to see Erick standing tall on the field; he had proved me wrong about his participation in football. I smiled as I realized their father-son relationship had grown through the backyard passing drills. I glanced over at Rick and wondered if he was thinking the same. He was beaming—and rubbing his arm a little bit.

Nancy Kay Grace

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