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From fathers to baseball … the need for male bonding

The expression ‘boys of summer’ conjures up images of innocent boys playing baseball in pastoral fields returning home to tell of their sporting exploits. The phrase became popularized when used as the title of Roger Kahn’s 1974 book which told of the relationship with his father seen through their shared love for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
What might have been the common lens through which this father and son shared and bonded?
We can begin by asking, “What is so appealing about the sport?”
As with any attraction or lure, we look to our projections to gain insights into this appeal. What qualities do you appreciate in the game or team you follow?
For baseball, it may be patience, the importance of timing and accuracy, and the appreciation of a sacrifice to achieve advancement. Perhaps it resonates with our eternal optimism, as baseball is the ultimate game that “ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” A team behind by five runs in the eighth inning still wholeheartedly believes it can win. In part, it may be the romantic, idyllic nature of baseball – slowed by summer’s heat and star-filled nights. Images of ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘The Natural’ surface.
Jungian James Hollis touches upon a more soulful motive. Referring to a runner eloquently thrown out by a catcher and the precise placement of the second baseman, he suggested that, “This is less about practice than about the integration of spirit, the communion of soul. Perhaps… in part because the outer challenge occasions a transcendence of the individual ego to serve the joint purpose.”
No doubt, the aesthetic value of the athletic performance arises in that moment, too. However, for men, there may be more at hand.
Hollis further explained that perhaps “the occasion allows men to feel their masculine natures without threat of ambiguity.”
He is referring to the need for men to have both physical and emotional camaraderie with fellow men. Unfortunately, boys and men have learned, often through shaming situations, not to trust and even to fear other men.
This deep male wounding results in few opportunities for men to share a much-needed bond with fellow males. Historically, bonding occurred during sports and the military. Today, it is encouraging to see opportunities for connections in business, service clubs and social settings conducive to emotional sharing and support rather than competition and power.
A powerful baseball image is that of a father and son playing catch — one, as author David McGimpsey suggested, is rich with generational skill transmission, carefree summer days, parental responsibility and affectionate male bonding. It is a truly necessary, yet often too rare event. Perhaps there is no coincidence that interest in baseball starts in childhood and reaches its peak in puberty, a time where transitioning boys seek answers about what truly encompasses manhood.
What does being a man mean? If we draw upon the mythical athletic and warrior prototypes, it no doubt includes the capacity to be emotional supportive, collegial and to use one’s abilities with integrity and honour. What else does manhood entail? Perhaps a visit with a trusted male might open that discussion.
So men, who might you call up for some catch?
For Ed. Go Tigers!

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.