To know my father was to understand his love for baseball. Every heart to heart talk with Dad always included some baseball analogy by which he could solve any childhood crisis. According to him, we all hit the occasional home run, had our share of strike outs, and would always succeed if we learned to rely on our teammates.
For me, baseball was that four months a year when I became invisible to my father, the ugly stepchild to his family of 12 sons. And one son in particular was his golden child, Jeff Nathan. His name became synonymous with my annual exile from my father’s attention. Dad coached little league and Jeff Nathan was his shining star pitcher.
I had played catch in the yard with my Dad since I was four years old. So at fourteen, I decided to play girls softball. But Dad elected to contribute his volunteer hours coaching boys baseball instead of me. I wanted to play baseball, but at the time girls weren’t allowed, at least, that was the unwritten rule back then. The softball was huge, and I couldn’t even steal bases, let alone pitch it underhand. All I could do was watch the boys play from the sidelines. Of course, that wasn’t by choice because Dad always had me ride up to the field on my bike and bring him a sandwich. I used to stay and watch them practice for a while. But I wanted to be out there so bad, before long I’d get mad and ride on home.
Although, Dad coached many teenage boys during his ten year run, Jeff Nathan was the only name I could recall. For three long years I heard Dad speak of Jeff Nathan so much that I came to loathe him. I never actually had a conversation with Jeff myself, but I knew everything about him…”How great an athlete was Jeff Nathan”, “He’s a natural ball player that Jeff Nathan”, “He has such a fluid motion in his wind up…Jeff Nathan, Jeff Nathan, Jeff Nathan…” Well, if he can do it, so can I. Dad was down at his desk working one afternoon so I went out to his van and found his bag of baseballs. With my glove in one hand and a marker in the other I drew an X on the back fence and started pitching. The more I thought about Jeff Nathan, the harder I threw. It took four days and a tube of Ben Gay before my shoulder started feeling better, but I left a nice, strike zone dent in the fence for Dad to see. I don’t know if he ever noticed the mark on the fence or whether he just chose to ignore the actions of his hormonal teenage daughter. But in either case, he never brought up.
“You gotta come to my church! I have learned so much about myself. The pastor always relates his sermons to everyday life.” My BFF Francine could be very persuasive, but Brian was pretty set on staying in the Episcopal church. We had agreed that it was the best fit for us since he grew up Catholic and I Presbyterian. But in a weak moment, I got him to go. Four weeks later I was so impressed with the church, I decided to attend a Q & A session with the pastor.
There were twelve people in attendance so we went around the room and introduced ourselves. At person number three, the women said, “Hello, I’m Barbara Nathan.” What did she just say? Since we moved to Burke, I heard a neighbor once mention that his doctor was a Jeff Nathan. I remembered thinking, of course Jeff Nathan grew up to be a doctor. He was great at everything else he did, figures. Now here I was face to face with another Nathan. After introducing myself, I blurted out. You aren’t by chance related to a Jeff Nathan? “Why yes”, she replied, “he’s my son.”
Two years after my father’s passing I was sitting across from Jeff Nathan’s mother looking like she belonged in a make-up Ad featuring women who looked half their age. But it wasn’t until after the meeting that she really took me by surprise. “Oh you’re Dad talked about you all the time. You got a black belt and went to Japan right?” I was shocked. Jeff Nathan’s mother seemed to know all about me, but how was that possible? Considering we were at a church function, I didn’t feel it was an appropriate time to tell her just how much I had hated her son. The bigger revelation was that he was also a member of the church.
Well it was bound to happen, and it did one Wednesday afternoon. I brought my son Brady to meet with Pastor John and discuss his upcoming first communion. Crossing the parking lot to his office, Pastor John called out to a man. “Hey Jeff, come here I want you to meet somebody.” Pastor John, as I would learn had a memory that could defy a NASA rocket scientist. He turned to me and said, “Didn’t you say you knew Jeff Nathan?
There he was, the Mighty Jeff Nathan, greek god of the little league pitching mound, hauling an overloaded garbage can to the dumpster. I laughed a little inside at the sight of my father’s superhero pushing trash. And before I could stop myself an equally ignorant comment came right out of my mouth. “Is he a garbage man, I thought he was a doctor?” It may not have been the best thing to say, but I sure got a kick out it. Pastor John said simply, “Jeff is a good man. He has a servant’s heart.” Indeed he did.
After chatting with Jeff for a few minutes and one more stupid comment about him being a garbage man, I began to see the person my father had always seen. My arch nemesis, Jeff Nathan was exactly as Dad had described him…smart, quiet, humble, now a successful doctor and father of four. And all at once, my high school years of resentment melted into a few more treasured memories of my father.
Easter Sunday, I met Jeff again, and this time with his whole family. I met his wife, son and three beautiful daughters and his mother was there too. I introduced them all to my husband and children and there we were, standing together in the church lobby. I know my Dad had a hand in arranging this meeting with Jeff. I guess it fell into the category of unfinished business. He wanted me to see the real Jeff Nathan so I could finally be rid of that green-eyed monster I’d kept inside of me for so long. Isn’t it funny how our perspective can become so distorted when we harbor our hurt instead of letting it go? And what’d ya know, that was the exact topic of Pastor John’s worship series during this entire episode.
I wondered what baseball scenario Dad would use to describe my latest life lesson. And on the way home that afternoon my daughter, Meghan provided me the answer. She told me how excited she was to be moving up to Double A ball this season where she could tryout for pitcher. She is the only girl on her little league Baseball team.
***My stories are for free to use, but I do request that you use my byline, and if possible send a donation payable to: Christ Church-VA
and mail it to:
Maggie Moments Ministry
c/o Pastor John Speight
8285 Glen Eagles Ln.
Fairfax Station, VA 22039