I believe in try-outs. I believe in the power of standing in front of strangers, pitting your best against your peers, seeing how you stack up. I believe that life is less about triumph and more about trying.
The spring before I turned nine, I had little-league try-outs. My father took me to the softball fields one humid Indiana morning in May. Girls were running the bases, numbers pinned to their chests, while the coaches huddled to the side with steaming cups of coffee and clipboards. We were late, and Dad hustled me over to the registration table with a few women going through paperwork. Dad smiled at the ladies, said my name, and we waited, until one finally looked up and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re not registered. You’ll have to skip try-outs this year and be automatically assigned to a team.” Dad tried to explain our situation, asking if they could make an exception, but they were harried and annoyed. It was the dog-eat-dog world of 9-year-old softball try-outs, and I was just one less kid for their daughters to compete against. I pulled at Dad’s hand, wanting to disappear into the anonymity of our station-wagon—telling him that I didn’t really want to play softball anyway. The coaches had already started drills—the ting of the aluminum bat rang into the morning air. I started to cry.
Most parents would’ve understandably capitulated under the weight of a nine-year-old’s insistence to “leave, Dad, just leave”—not to mention the humidity, the haughty mom bureaucrats, and the fatigue of a long week of work. Not my dad. Instead, he walked me over to the car, dug around in the glove compartment until he found an old, crinkled envelope, flattened it out, and then scrawled a giant #1 on it, retracing over and over until no one could miss it, pinned it on my shirt, and sent me out on the field. I didn’t want to go. I was late, tear-stained, and embarrassed by my makeshift number. Dad squatted down, looked me in the eyes, and said “knock-em dead, babes.” His confidence propelled me onto the field. Dad then strolled over to the coaches, some of whom he knew, and told them to add my name next to #1.
What my father taught me that day (and many days since) is his most lasting gift as a parent. It is simply this: that you belong on the field, trying, no matter how daunting the situation. You don’t hide in the car or with those who never try so that they never fail. Instead you walk right by those who say you can’t and you believe you can. My dad is a great man because he believes in himself and, and likewise, in me—even when I don’t. Throughout my life, he’s pinned a #1 on my chest so many times that it’s etched there now—right over my heart—and I believe it too.
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