Putting on the Brave Face

Coaching tee ball is hard. And not just because it’s like herding a pack of wet cats. Or because five-year-olds generally prefer digging in the dirt to fielding grounders. Or because twenty minutes in, the main thing on half of the kids’ minds is the juice box after the game.

For me, coaching tee ball is hard because of the painful sweetness of the memories that are conjured on the little baseball diamond. Coaching tee ball is hard because I miss my dad, who passed away last November, and who taught me how to throw and hit and field and catch.

No Crying In Baseball

Every time I’m out on the field, I’m transported back to my early years at the little ballpark, playing for “Coach Rigney” and the Orange Raiders. I remember spinning around in circles somewhere near second base (and being reminded to keep my head in the game). I remember running to grab the ball out of another kids’ glove so I could throw it to first (and being chastised for being a ball hog). I remember my Dad’s voice calling from the dugout when I was running the bases: “You gotta go!” And I remember his smile, his laughter, his playfulness, and the strange way that they called forth respect from a bunch of silly kids who were learning to love the game.

When I step onto the field with my son, all of that emotion, all of that longing and loss, all of that pleasure and pain, comes flooding into my soul. And in those moments, I have to make a decision: succumb to the wave of sadness, or put on the brave face. Collapse with grief, or redirect my mind and heart to the gloves, the balls, and the grubby faces milling about the dugout. Thankfully, God has graciously enabled me to do the latter. Despite the sadness, the brave face goes on, the tear ducts stay dry, and the joy of the game comes bounding forth.

Don’t misunderstand. I know it’s spiritually healthy to express my emotions, including grief and sorrow. Pressing sadness into the crevices of the soul is a recipe for emotional distress (and eventual explosion). At the same time, unbridled emotion is reckless and contrary to godly manhood. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4). A time to cry, and a time to play ball. The tears can flow in the quiet solitude of private prayer, in the sweet intimacy of a strong marriage, in the deep camaraderie of male friendship. But in the famous words of Jimmy Dugan, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Affections Unleashed and Under Control

Learning to put on the brave face is essential to walking in a manner worthy of our calling as Christian husbands and fathers. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and one of the central callings on a Christian man (Titus 2:2, 6). God is in the business of graciously restoring control of me to me, and you to you, so that our eyes look where we tell them, our minds dwell upon what we show them, and our affections are unleashed when we permit them.

Note that. Our affections should be unleashed. We are, after all, Christians — and as some of us like to spell it out, Christian Hedonists. So, detached stoicism, and the bland indifference it rode in on, can go back to the pit whence they came. But when it comes to the timing and nature of unleashed affections, they are, in some measure, under our control. We are guided by wisdom, tact, and love as we discern the appropriate moments to express what we feel deep in our souls.

Why the Brave Face Matters

Putting on the brave face matters because masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. Masculinity pursues the good of those under our care through provision and protection. Masculinity bears burdens and meets needs with indomitable joy in our bones. But responsibility is weighty. Sacrifice is painful. Which means that gladness is difficult, and requires deep, Spirit-wrought effort.

If we are to be fathers who reflect our heavenly Father, then we will be stable and sure in the midst of pain and trial. Adult misery and terror is often paralyzing and alienating for children. Therefore, we will not buckle amidst sorrow. We may be afflicted, but with God’s help, we won’t be crushed. We may be perplexed, but with God’s help, we won’t be driven to despair. There may be hunger and leanness in our lives, but by God’s grace we will laugh loudly at scanty meals.

And so, as I take the field with my son and his friends, I’ll remember my dad. I’ll wish that he could be there to help out and give the kids a few pointers about their swings. I’ll miss his smile, his laughter, his playful presence. But, God willing, the grief won’t overwhelm me.

Instead, I’ll put it in a bottle and pour it out another time. For now, there’s a game to be played, and the second baseman is spinning in circles. Looks like he needs a reminder from Coach.