All parents want their kids to have a happy life. They also want them to be good people. But which comes first?
When my son Zeke, our middle child, was seven years old, I co-coached his baseball team — the optimistically named Future Trends — and with uncharacteristic good fortune for teams I coached, we reached the championship game. The umpire failed to show up, and it was decided that the teams’ coaches would fill in. The Future Trends came to bat in the bottom of the last inning, trailing six to five. My son was up first and hit a double; the next batter singled him over to third. Then we popped two out to the infield. Our next batter hit a slow grounder; the shortstop fielded it cleanly and threw to first. It was a close play at the base, bang-bang. The other coach had made a couple of iffy calls, and had I overlooked the fact that I saw our hitter’s foot come down on the base a split second after the first baseman caught the ball, I could have gotten away with it. But I did see the play that way, and I called our batter out. And we lost the game.
In the car going home, my son was inconsolable.
“Why did you have to call him out?” he said, between gasps of tears. “He was safe.”
“Zeke, he looked out to me. What could I do? I had to call him out.”
“No, you didn’t,” he said. “You could have called him safe. I would have been so… (he had to catch his breath to get the word out) ...happy.”
His heart was broken, and mine, of course, was too. He had invoked the magic incantation: happiness. I could have caused his spirit to soar, but I had chosen instead to sink it. I would have done anything at that moment to go back and replay the scene.
The thing is, I was pretty sure I would have called the kid out again.