My father took me to Carl Schurz Park across from our apartment building all the time. The park had these little nooks and sections where paths wind around and under tunnels. It’s smaller that Central Park, but it was “our park.“
Once, I brought a tennis ball with us to toss around. Spring blanketed the park in warm sun and white petals from trees in full bloom looked just like a snowstorm. A sweet smell rode on the breeze from the East River. This is the smell I now dread and can only endure with a months’ supply of Claritin.
Daddy stood a few yards from me. He wore his white sweatshirt, Levi’s and aviator sunglasses. I remember his wearing this outfit a lot. I guess it wasn’t the crime against fashion it would be now. My mother letting him wear anything that could be considered hideous is impossible to imagine. Then again, after ten years of marriage, I’ve learned to forgive Brian’s desire to be one with the tech industry and wear hoodies. I don’t like it, but I tolerate it. Maybe that’s the difference between five and ten years of marriage, realizing that hoodies aren’t as big a deal as I thought they were.
I tossed the ball and it landed half way between us. I was crushed. It was really hard and I was not perfect at it on the first try. Daddy could throw half way across the lawn. I couldn't catch either. He tried to control his laughter but it just exploded out of him the more he tried to hold it back. I frowned and made my signature Upper East Side pouty face.
“You’re taking yourself very seriously, Kate. It’s just a tennis ball. Try again.”
I threw it again, and again it fell way short of him. “You throw like a girl.” He laughed openly this time. I knew he wasn’t laughing at me, in a mean way, but it infuriated me just as much.
“I AM a girl.” I was indignant.
“That doesn't mean you have to throw like one.”
He showed me how to stand so that my leg moved forward and I could follow through. The ball went farther but it felt alien. I threw it again by myself and, again, I threw it “like a girl.” He shrugged and motioned for me to follow him on a walk, “We’ll work on that.” That was the last time I played catch with him.
Years later, Brian and I were at the lakefront in Evanston with Cole. It was near dusk and as much as I detested the idea and existence of Evanston, even I saw how beautiful it was. A band played Dixieland jazz in the distance. The sky was light purple and the still Lake Michigan reflected the lavender dusk.
We brought 5-10 tennis balls for Cole because, it turns out, terriers are not retrievers. I proudly reminded Brian that his wife “doesn’t throw like a girl.”
“Yes, you do.” He smiled and laughed. I’m taken back 20 years but didn’t realize it at the time. That old familiar frustration with men laughing “kind of at me” ate at me.
“I do not, I’m just not as strong as you are.”
“No, Kate, I hate to break this to you, but you throw like a girl. You always have.”
“What does that even mean? How can you tell?”
“Your feet. You push off with the wrong foot. The ball goes nowhere. That’s called throwing, 'like a girl'.”
“Well, that’s nice, because it’s wrong, it’s ‘like a girl?’” I use air quotes to hide my embarrassment with righteous feminism.
Brian doesn’t buy it. “Whatever, Kate, just use your right foot and lean forward when you follow through.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I threw another one. It went 10 feet.
“No, your other right foot.” He grinned and burst out laughing. I winced at the familiarity of that grin-laugh.
I switched my feet and, much to both our surprises, the ball went far (ish). At least Cole had enough distance to get into his Westie flying-running pace.
I thought to myself, “I know he’ll be a great father for a girl someday.” I wished Daddy saw me do it.