I never played catch with my father. Not once. Maybe he was too busy or too tired after working all day. My best friend's father didn't hesitate to come out into our narrow alley behind the apartment buildings in Chicago and play catch with the neighborhood kids. I loved the sound of the ball striking the pocket of my well oiled glove -- "Thwamp." I still do. But my dad never came out there with us, and I think we both missed out on something special.
I was sleep-walking through my internship and residency when my own son was very young. I started my medical practice, and we upgraded from an alley in Chicago to a quiet suburban neighborhood in Texas. Wide safe streets, not many cars to dodge. But I honestly don't remember ever playing catch with my son. I know I attended every baseball, basketball and football game, but I don't think we ever shared the intimate experience of a quiet catch in the backyard or in the tree lined street in front of our house. We both missed out on something special.
A first glance, the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" seems based on an absurd premise. But it collected three Academy Awards. Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice telling him, "If you build it, they will come." So he builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn field, hoping that it will attract his father's baseball heroes and, eventually, his father. The film is about relationships and repairing fractured relationships. The movie ends with a tear jerking scene as Ray sees his father, as a young man, behind home plate.
Ray says: "Hey... Dad? You wanna have a catch?"
His father replies: "I'd like that very much."
Music swells, women reach for their Kleenex tissues and men rub their eyes pretending that they just have allergy problems. If you haven't seen the movie, order it on Netflix and just try to tell me that you too weren't sniffling and dabbing at your eyes.
Why is "having a catch" so special? What takes place between the two individuals? I love playing catch with my grandson and granddaughter. My grandkids love to throw "heat" and make Gramp's hand hurt.
It is more than just tossing a ball back and forth:
● It is intimate: A time where just the two of you can get in the rhythm of silently making contact at a safe distance. Or it might be a setting that allows you to talk about things that are too uncomfortable to discuss sitting side by side somewhere else.
● You can start at an early age: Child development specialists extol the virtues of building eye-hand coordination and instruct you on the right age to start your toddler off with a soft, squishy ball.There may be science behind this, but you don't have to over-think a time honored tradition. Just go throw the ball.
● That said, there is some science behind it: Parkinson's patients benefit from playing catch with both a real and a virtual ball. It is an amazing phenomenon to watch a severely disabled Parkinson's patient easily throw and catch a ball. A Parkinson's patient may have a disabling tremor, yet have no trouble catching and throwing a ball. Playing catch can also improve the posture of older adults, so hold off on the shuffleboard stick for just a little longer and go find your old baseball glove and a willing partner.
It's almost Father's Day. Get off the couch, turn off the game, and ask someone: "Do you wanna have a catch?" It will be good for both of you.
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