JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–We pulled up to the Nashville airport terminal, and I opened the back door to give my 2-year-old son Daniel a good-bye hug.
I was outbound for Florida, where I would spend the next four days on my annual spring training jaunt pursuing stories for Baptist Press. My wife and son were headed for her parents’ house just north of Nashville for the week.
We had been talking with Daniel for a few days about what would soon transpire. Daniel and Mommy were going to drop Daddy off at the airport, where he would ride in an airplane to Florida. Daniel only seemed to care about his Papaw taking him bowling.
But when I opened the back door, told Daniel good-bye and stooped to give him a hug in his car seat, his bottom lip puckered up and began to quiver. He didn’t want me to leave. He fought back the tears, and I did too.
I willingly got him out of the car, hugged him tightly and talked to him for a couple of minutes before walking away. His mom said he whimpered a little the rest of the way to her parents’ house. “Where Daddy go?” he asked more than once. But once he got to Mamaw’s and Papaw’s, he was fine.
Throughout my time in Florida I talked to several players who are dads about how they balance fatherhood with their career. Each one talked about the difficulty involved.
Chris Reitsma of the Atlanta Braves seemed especially troubled. He has two young children with another on the way. During the season his family lives in Atlanta, so he’s able to see them regularly on home stands. But it’s another story when he’s on the road.
“Do you have to go play baseball again, Daddy?” his daughter often asks.
Sometimes, she’ll offer to play baseball in his stead so he can stay home. In times like these, I’m sure Reitsma has to fight back tears of his own.
For the longest time I thought being a professional baseball player would be the ultimate career. These guys get to play a game they love, and they get paid handsomely to do so. Most of them — if they spend any time in the big leagues at all — will be financially set for life by the time they retire in their mid-30s. I can only dream what that’s like.
But as I talked to them about fatherhood, I decided that no amount of money could get me to trade places with them. Many of them go days or even weeks without seeing their kids, and they do it regularly.
I think of how hard it was for me at the airport to say goodbye to Daniel for four days. That’s not something I want to repeat very often. For guys like Reitsma, however, it’s a way of life.
I don’t fault these men for the career path they’ve chosen, and I don’t want to sound critical of them as fathers. God has blessed them with abilities I don’t have, and they are using their gifts for His glory. I don’t doubt that most of them are excellent dads.
Talking to Reitsma about his children gave me a glimpse into his heart and left no doubt in my mind that he’s an outstanding father. He certainly loves his children deeply.
I just wouldn’t want to do what he does.
As we talked, I was moved to keep Reitsma in my prayers this season, especially as he’s on road trips. His heart aches to be apart from his family. The least I can do is pray that those days apart will seem short for him.
I write this as I’m flying home, and in about an hour I’ll see Daniel again. He’ll yell “Daddy!” and give me a big hug, much as he does many times every day.
Those hugs are priceless. To me, they are infinitely more valuable than a career that would rob me of so many of them.
Tim Ellsworth is a columnist for BP Sports, online at www.bpsports.net. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.timellsworth.com for additional commentary on sports, Christianity, culture and politics.