It was the doubles match I had waited for my entire life even if I never knew it.
It wasn’t because of our opponents. I had played countless sets of doubles with and against each of them. They were regulars around the courts.
It wasn’t because of how well I played. I’ve played better tennis. Honestly, my bad knee was killing me most of the match and I felt like I heard the Sanford and Son theme song in my head every time I skipped toward the ball. The sharp pain in my right arm is constant with every serve. Old age is having its way with this 46 year old body.
This match was special to me because of my partner. He was not just any partner, not just some random dude in the ad court. Nope. Not at all. For the first time, my partner and I shared a name. Today, my partner was my 15 year old son, and it was my favorite match ever.
The score doesn’t matter. (For the record, we lost 6-3, 6-1 to a much better team.) What matters is the shared experience. My partner for this weekend’s tournament at the Club had too much Saturday night to play a consolation match Sunday morning. Since we all knew our match didn’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme of the tournament, my opponents were kind enough to let me bring in a sub. JC was the natural choice and he was up for the challenge. But let me tell you— it’s damn hard to play good tennis when your heart is about to burst with pride because of your partner.
My Facebook memories remind me daily how quickly my boys are growing up. JC now spends as much time upstairs in his room as he does downstairs talking to the rest of us. He will get his full drivers license this December and we may never see him except when he wants gas money. It won’t be too terribly long before I am moving him into a college dorm room. Every day I wonder, “Where did my little boy go? When did this teenager take his place?” More importantly, I wonder if I’m doing all I can to help him and his brothers in this world. I walk the fine line between wanting to shelter them and wanting to watch them spread their wings and fly. Parenting is equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. The fear of the unknown is what makes it so much of a challenge. Why do some kids seem to take wrong turns in their lives and other kids seem to always make the right decisions? Which direction will my boys take?
Today, my new partner showed his empathetic side by asking about his dad’s shoulder a couple times when he glimpsed me wincing with pain. He showed his humorous side by cracking a joke or two during changeovers. Empathy and good humor will take him very far if he lets them.
We might not have finished today with the result we wanted but the postmatch high five with my partner left me feeling like I had just won the US Open. I put my arm around my son on the way to the net.
“Great match, JC. You played well. That was fun. We are going to do it again.”
His response? A return grin the size of Texas.
“Cool, Dad. Good match. That was fun.”
Can a father ask for any more than that??