On Thanksgiving Day at my parents' house, I had the opportunity to walk with them through our neighborhood park, where I used to shoot hoops for hours on end no matter the weather. My friends and I spent so many amazing afternoons there; my father and I played in the evening during the school year.
The 49ers were on TV that night, which surely triggered the synapses of my memory. I started to think about sports for the first time in ages. And I thought about how lucky I was to have shared endless hours playing with my dad as a kid. This is what I remember.
I remember opening my eyes early one morning as the sun announced herself once again to an awakening Rio de Janeiro. As my mother slept, my father prepared fried eggs, which we ate quickly before walking to the beach, still empty and ready to be our playground. I waddled back and forth at full speed, my curly blond hair flowing through the wind, my progress slowed only by the rising tide as I raced into my father's outstretched arms. My father chased me back and forth across the sand as adults always do, shortening their stride so that a fleeing child, laughing with glee, always remains a step ahead, always is set to win the race before the elder swoops down and scoops up the young child in both arms, spinning around and around as the child screams with delight as the horizon becomes the floor and the sky the ocean, everything spin... nnn... ing. When the tide claimed our chosen racetrack and young boys with soccer balls wove around us, we moved to quieter grounds to play my favorite game -- Airplane. My father would lie on his back, pull his legs toward his chest and raise his feet in the air. Eager to soar, I placed my small chest against his feet and grabbed his outstretched hands. As my father stretched out his legs, I went higher and higher, soaring above the horizon, always balancing delicately above him, steady and true. I could fly.
I remember my father years later, during the hot evenings of summer, throwing the baseball to me over and over until the sun had set and every possible ray of light had disappeared from the sky. We only had one good baseball glove -- mine -- and so my father wore one we had inherited from a friend that was clearly too small for his hand. But it didn't matter to him, for he was just happy to be with me, to share those waning moments of the day enjoying one of my many passions of youth, baseball. My father would stand by the side of the house, and I way back by the huge evergreen tree, the distance between us far enough for my dad to throw pop fly after pop fly for me to shag and rifle back to the catcher, who applied the tag to the imaginary base runner with a resounding thwap! that clearly signified the runner had never stood a chance.
When I wanted to practice pitching, my father would use my glove, inscribed by Yankees legend Bucky Dent. My father, like any good catcher, would squat dutifully by our back fence and slap the inside of the glove before showing me a perfect target in the strike zone. Not Nolan Ryan, not Steve Carlton, no I stood on the mound, adjusting my cap and fingering the ball until my small hands held the seams perfectly. The two of us exchanged signs, my father first putting down one finger, then two held to the left as I shook him off, calling for another pitch. The signs meant nothing, of course, but when there are two outs in the top of the ninth inning and you're about to clinch the World Series at Yankee Stadium, everyone knows you give signs. Then I would wind up and deliver the ball, my arm hurtling toward him with a snap before the ball rolled off my fingertips, whistled through the air and landed perfectly in my father's motionless glove before he declared the obvious for those in the crowd who had not seen: "Steeeee-rike three!"
As my size eventually made playing "Airplane" somewhat impractical and the seasons changed, we switched to football in the backyard, with Joe Montana and my 49ers taking on Jim Brown and my dad's Cleveland Browns. Each kickoff brought the unlikely-but-ever-so-hoped-for possibility of returning the kick for a touchdown, the surest way to demoralize one's opponent. I wove backward and forward, left and right, then back again, now left, in mostly vain attempts to cause my father to stumble, which would leave before me an open sea of grass on the way to the end zone, followed by a celebratory dance. Usually, however, a quick tag was applied and collaboration became the order of the day, with scripted patterns, fakes to elude ominous, lumbering defenders, and diving catches resulting in glory for both of us. Occasionally, an overthrown pass would put the ball in the lake, so I would run inside to grab a rake with which to reel it in before it floated away. A few rolls in the grass and the ball was ready once again, this time with caked mud ready to soil our sweatshirts, a badge of honor earned on the gridiron.
Eventually, it would grow cold or dark or we would be called in for dinner, each of these events signaling the imperative of playing just a little bit longer to squeeze every ounce of time out of the day. I can't remember a single specific game or who won or lost or even a single spectacular play, although there were many. I only remember playing in the red leaves of autumn and on the cold, hard tundra when the lake was frozen and our fingers were too cold to feel the sting of the ball.
Ben Kerschberg is the founder and CEO of the BK Advisory Group. He is graduate of Yale Law School and the University of Virginia.