Daughters And Ballgames

A baseball game can be a safe space, and the sort of gift any parent would want to give a child. But the world is not a ballpark, and kids are kids.
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There's a photo of her at her first game, in Ottawa. She’s nine months old, perched up on my shoulders. I think she made it to the fifth inning. I appear swollen with pride and hope, in the manner of all new fathers. Her eyes are the deepest of blue.

At ten months old, on a perfect afternoon in May, she visited the Hall of Fame and took in what turned out to be the final Hall of Fame Game, between the Blue Jays and Orioles. She wore a tiny Blue Jays dress, and she fell asleep while strapped to my chest as we toured the museum. She missed the plaques, missed the bloody sock, the gift shop. At that age, just being awake is work.

When she was almost a year old, just weeks shy of it, we took her to her first big league game, in Toronto. She sat high above home plate and watched Roy Halladay beat Cleveland. She made it through all nine innings; Halladay only lasted five and two-thirds.

She’s been to a game in Syracuse, against Pawtucket. She saw Ichiro in Toronto, got a ball tossed to her from the bullpen. Met the Jays’ mascot and had her photo taken. She sat beneath a blue moon at Nationals Park in Washington and cheered on the Lake Monsters in Burlington, Vermont. I think the game in Allentown, Pennsylvania was her favorite; she still asks when we’ll see the IronPigs again.

Each occasion played out like some variation on what I had envisioned before I had children: take the kid to the game, meet the mascot, get a ball, feed her ice cream and cotton candy and pizza, tell her something about the game she’ll forget before she even falls asleep on the drive home. In a word: perfect.

***

Somewhere amid the sprawl and tangle of suburban east end Ottawa, sometime in the early 1990s, a group of high school boys gathered in one of their number’s basement rec room to watch the Super Bowl. They had been football teammates, acquaintances really, with little in common but football, and whatever other bloody and fiery inchoate things serve to bind teenage boys.

And I was among them. Sixteen or seventeen, wiry, acne scarred. Me and those boys. We weren’t close. We’d played a season together. I think there were half a dozen of us in that basement, on old couches and vinyl recliners, scarfing chips and Cokes. Cracking crude jokes, crudely. I can remember them, laughing, needling one another. It felt as though they were carrying on together, and I happened to be in the room. Or this is how I felt. This is how I generally felt, then, and also just how I have long felt. Removed, even while present.

We are not at the ballgame, now, but there was a moment in the basement that I want to show you, because it shaped how I see the world that my daughter was later born into, the one in which she’ll live her life. A boy named Pat, who’d played linebacker, and who was charming and confident and served as a sort of social glue around our school, was trying to fill a gulf in conversation, and so asked me how N. was doing. N. was my girlfriend, my first real girlfriend. She liked photography and art and good bands. She wore Doc Martins, jean shorts with tights underneath. She read good books. She was wonderful.

“Good,” I said. “She’s good.”

“Cool,” Pat said. I remember this like it was yesterday. I looked around at the other guys, and those who’d been listening just nodded their heads. Then Pat turned his attention to Chris, who was more popular than me by several orders of magnitude, because he dressed more fashionably, I guess, and said funny things, and listened to different music, and dated a popular girl.

“Chris,” Pat said, “How’s Jen?” Jen was Chris’ girlfriend, a girl who ably moved between several social groups, dressed kind of preppy, and drove her own car. She and Chris had been dating for several years, and generally seemed like a couple that might stick it out beyond high school. They were a Prominent Couple.

“Who fucking cares?” Chris said. And the boys laughed boisterously. It was loud and spontaneous and congratulatory. I said nothing. But I’ve thought about that moment a lot, in the many years since. I have replayed it and parsed it for meaning and wondered about it. Whatever that was, it showed me something about the world I hadn’t seen before, at least to that point in my life. It showed me the prevailing hearts of the boys who would soon be men, and it showed me what girls could expect. It showed me that what I had thought was an elaborate dance, a confusing negotiation, was in fact, for many, something more like a war.

***

We bring daughters into a world that is hostile to them, which is a thing you already know whether you are a daughter or a son. There are dangers enough in this life for all of us, but if we’re being honest we must admit that it will be more treacherous and taxing for our daughters than it will be for our sons. That our daughters will contend with legislators who view women’s bodies as their own property, or as a place to score some cruel rhetorical point, or at any rate as something other than a living thing with a person inside. That our daughters will contend with the unfairness of more effort for less pay. With pressures unknown and misunderstood by men. That they will stare down terrible loss -- even, if the world functions as it should, the loss of you. That they will be hurt, a good many of them, by men. That they will live with fear -- sickening, routine, daily fear -- of a sort that our sons will not. Our daughters will be women in a world bent on punishing them for that simple fact. It will be even worse, somehow, on the internet.

You do not need to have a daughter to be sick about this. You certainly do not need to hear another white male's perspective on the general awfulness of things -- on Ray Rice or Greg Hardy or Jonathan Dwyer or the other unpunished predators populating various highlight reels -- that launches from the premise “I have a daughter, so...” But I do have a daughter. She will grow up, and she will venture onto the internet, and she will find herself walking alone at night, and all of those things terrify me, because they contain added dangers for her simply because she was born female. It is hard to know what to tell her about this, or how anything I might tell her could help.

The world is too much. Again, this is nothing you do not know. It has, always, sent me running to places of solace, places of safety -- or perceived safety -- where humans do things worthy of celebration. And of all such places, none are more important to me than the ballpark, or failing that, a couch before a TV showing a game from somewhere, anywhere. Maybe this reliance on and belief in the safety of a game makes me simple. Perhaps it suggests I’m lost. But there you have it: the ballpark is my refuge, and I know I’m not alone in that.

And this, I think, is what I want to give my daughter, as much as the beautiful arcana of the game of baseball. I want her to have this safe place, this open ground, this place of exaltation and common happiness. The blips of aesthetic perfection, the moments of meaning and drama shared with others, a thing to talk about with strangers. And a rooting interest, yes, but also that sense of calm, this implicit belief, once through the turnstile, that a place in this untidy world can be devoted to something so perfect, and so can, as a result, provide refuge, if only for an afternoon, or a warm summer evening. I want to give her a ballpark as a place to bring her tremulous heart when it is wounded, a place that suggests the miraculous is attainable merely by virtue of a game played on its well-tended surface. A place where men are so often their best selves, and where thousands may gather to witness and celebrate that.

My thought, quite probably wrongheaded, is that if I give it to her now, then maybe she’ll always have it, always love it, and so always know a public place where she can go to be restored. The chances, I know, are slim. Though she has adopted my love of Ichiro and asks questions of the game on the TV and wants to wear my cap as we settle before the TV on Opening Day, I know she, at eight years of age, is in the process of building her own cabinet of interests, and that baseball may very well be left out when she's done filling it. Maybe to her it’ll always be just a game, a sport, and not the trembling, holy thing it is for me. Perhaps she’ll find the gender politics of the game troubling, the near-total exclusion of women and the objectification and othering of those let in. She’d be right to see it that way, too.

But I’ll take her to a game anyway. Sit with her and cheer. Explain what I can, answer what questions I can. Show her what I love about the game, and hope that the feeling of the place washes over her the way it did and does me. I won’t try to force that last aspect, because it can’t be forced. But I will hope fervently that something about baseball reaches her and takes up permanent, quiet residency, as it did me in my own prehistory. I want this both so that she has this place, and so that I will have this thing to share with her always.

Looming there on the indistinct horizon are the oppositional years, the tumultuous ones during which she will strive to put some distance between us. She will define herself in contrast to me and to her mother, as growing people do. I’ll grow fearful of those boys in those basement rec rooms, and the men they will become. No doubt there will be forays under cover of night, my girl clandestinely slipping over the border into adulthood, returning by morning, but full of a desire to emigrate there. And I know that these raids, the planning of them, the assimilation of what she gleans there, will in all likelihood not leave time for the reading of box scores, the memorization of rosters, even getting to a game.

But it’s my hope that we are pouring a foundation, still, and making a place together that she may later rediscover herself. The best case has her finding, as I do, that in giving herself to this thing -- a thing she can’t control, that will bruise her heart -- she will find some of the peace that it has brought me. At the very least my hope is that she finds herself with a lasting fondness for the game, a willingness to watch from time to time, and a lifelong familiarity with ballparks and the good people to be found in them.

And if she rejects it completely, as it is her right to do, and it never forms a significant part of her life, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that she had the choice and made it. I can say to myself, as I watch without her: well, that I loved her enough to offer her one of the most precious things I could. At least I took her to a game.


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I can remember them, laughing, needling one another. It felt as though they were carrying on together, and I happened to be in the room. Or this is how I felt. This is how I generally felt, then, and also just how I have long felt. Removed, even while present.
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I am daughterless, but this is really great.