I chased after the rolling red frisbee and quickly pinned it to the pavement with my foot.
“Good throw, Gideon!” I said, as I lifted the disc and spun it on my finger.
The little man bowed in the hot sun, and when he came back up his face was bright and steamed with joy and heat. “Throw it, Daddy!” he called. “Throw it!”
“Alright. Are you ready?”
He nodded and tugged his shorts up an inch or so higher, exposing his knobby 3-year-old knees.
I smiled proudly watching him. I could feel the significance of the moment as his whole body tensed watching me pull my arm back with the disc.
There is so much more to a game of catch between father and child than the simple act of throwing and catching. The toss of a ball from one hand to another is a connection of hearts across space. It is an act of unity and agreement. I give and you take; you give and I take. It is an activity more akin to dancing than a sport. But for Gideon it is not just a way of connecting with his father, but also a way of standing himself up against his father like a door post to be measured. He straightens his back and raises his head high and tries to push the pencil up the frame with a chest full of air and his desire to grow taller. How far has he come? How much closer is he to this man he wants so much to be like?
I took a deep breath, stepped forward, and threw the frisbee.
The disc hung in the air between us and for a moment time slowed down. The disc hovered in space, a red gift from his father’s hand descending towards him from parted clouds. As it grew closer, the boy reached out with his pudgy hands and leaned forward to grab it out of the air. He pushed himself higher reaching for victory. He smiled. He was focussed on nothing else but his goal.
But something was already changing. The frisbee had begun to rotate away from him. It curved to the right and passed just out of the reach of his fingers which merely clipped the edge of it and sent it wobbling. He let out a frustrated gasp and turned to follow the prize, but it was too late. Several paces later his outstretched arms outran his little boy legs and he suddenly fell over onto the pavement.
I rushed over to him and gathered him up in my arms. He was already crying. There was a scrape on his knee the size of a dime, and some scratches on his forehead and nose. I brushed off his wounds and made a quick assessment of their seriousness. And then lifted him into the air and carried him inside.
The boy stared at me as we passed through the doorway, and in between sobs he managed to choke out one repeated statement. “You… you…. you… you threw it… tooo faaar.”
I brushed a sweaty lock of hair out of his eyes and smiled reassuringly, “Yes, Gideon. I threw the frisbee too far.”
He closed his eyes and continued to cry, while his mother rushed to dab at his bleeding knee with a napkin.
“It was too far…”
“I know,” I said, “It’s okay.”
It hurt to see him cry, and I placed a finger on his cheek and collected a tear on the end of my finger. I would save this, the tear of a little boy struggling to grow strong in the presence of his father. I placed the tear in my chest pocket, and pat it softly. Then somewhere underneath that pocket, I felt a different pain that I was not expecting to find that day. It was a pain that came from an unspoken realization. The words I could not say to my son, and would maybe never be able to fully explain. It was the pain of knowing that I am his father, and despite everything, as long as it is in my power, I will always throw the frisbee too far.
And again, unexpectedly, I learned something new about God, and why I so often fall as I chase after the frisbee, and the tears that he saves in his chest pocket.