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Tears to cheers

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We did it, Dad!”

Jessie ran across the yard and leaped into my arms. After the hug, we slapped a high five. Her smile told the neighborhood: Jessie and I had reached our goal!

Last summer, 10-year-old Jessie and I set out to catch 100 softballs in a row. We stood in our front yard, about 12 yards away from each other, and tossed the ball between my tan leather glove and Jessie’s pink one. We often had to pick the ball up off the grass, sometimes from our neighbor’s yard.

By the end of the summer, our record stood at 33 consecutive catches. Though we fell 67 catches shy, we kept 100 as our goal. Winners keep trying — that’s what my wife, Mattie, and I have taught Jessie since she was a toddler.

Last October, Jessie and I recorded a brief video to promote a Halloween contest. Jessie did great. I did, too, if you don’t count the first 99 takes. As my eyes focused on the bright light and camera, my mouth forgot the words. It didn’t help that I only had about four hours of sleep the night before — at least that’s what I told myself.

Although it was not my finest moment, I am proud I did it. I stepped out of my comfort zone and gave it my best effort. I did feel a little extra pressure, though, as I wanted to make Jessie proud of her dad. She tickled me when it was finally over, after what felt like “take 100.” She came over to my chair and gave me a little hug.

“You did great, Dad.”

Getting back to our 100-softball-catch goal, Jessie and I kept tossing, catching, and dropping softballs throughout the fall and winter. A few weeks ago, we tried again. We had only tossed a few balls when one of my throws glanced off Jessie’s glove and hit her leg, a little above her right ankle. She fell to the ground, held her ankle, and cried.

I remained calm. Jessie has many strengths and drama is one of them.

“Shake it off, you’ll be okay,” I said. Mattie, hearing the commotion, ran out of the house. I told her there was a “minor incident,” and “possibly there will be a black-and-blue mark.”

Jessie’s story differed slightly.

“Mom, my leg is broken.” After a little mom sympathy, Jessie said, “I think I passed out for a minute.” Mattie broke out in laughter.

Mattie went back into the house, and Jessie and I began tossing again. Before too long, we had broken our record of 33 catches. Could we make it to 100?

I threw the ball to Jessie. She caught it, 97. She threw it back and I caught it, 98. As I pitched number 99 to Jessie, the ball felt like a 50-pound weight, but my throw was on target, and Jessie caught it. All Jessie needed to do was to make one more good toss and Dad had to catch it. She did, which is where this story began.

After our celebration, I said, “Let’s see how high we can go.” I tossed the ball; it hit the end of Jessie’s glove and fell to the ground.

Although our success was short-lived, I’m proud Jessie recovered from her “broken leg” and continued on, like her dad did with the video. Sometimes we need to get past the tears of pain or embarrassment before we can appreciate the victory cheers.

In the years ahead, Jessie and I will continue to set new goals and strive to achieve them. Chances are we’ll end up with a few bumps and bruises along the way, and probably some tears. But we’ll also share hugs, high fives, and cheers. I just hope I don’t pass out, even for a minute, and miss any of the “We did it!” moments.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year-long professional career in finance before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and writer. Follow him at www.facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @PatrickHempfing. Hempfing’s first book, “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” is scheduled for release on Amazon.com on May 1.

Updated 4:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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