The cliche of the good father is playing catch in the backyard with their boy. Let’s put aside the gender stereotypes of this for a second because as a metaphor it’s still good—at least according to the Stoics, who believed that playing ball was the most important skill a person could have.
Only they were referring to a different kind of ball. Epictetus wrote quite beautifully about his admiration for skilled athletes who were about to catch a ball that was thrown to them and whip it right back. They didn’t complain. They didn’t demand certain conditions be met before they dove for it. He admired their concentration, their coolness under pressure, their grace, their creativity.
In his view, Socrates was such an athlete. Not just because he was quick with back and forth banter but because of how he dealt with the difficulties of life. “Only the ball in his case,” Epictetus said, “was life, imprisonment, exile or execution–with the prospect of losing his wife, and having his children reduced to the status of orphans. Those were the stakes of the game and still he played and handled the ball with aplomb.”
So must we cultivate this skill and pass it along to our children. Life is going to throw curveballs at all of us. It’s going to whip some fastballs right at our heads. Are we going to take this personally? Or are we going to figure out how to hit it, catch it or, in other cases, expertly duck? Each of us has to learn how to play ball–how to play ball literally so we can stay in shape, play ball literally so we can learn important lessons about winning and losing and having fun with a team. But also figuratively, we have to learn how to play ball with people we don’t like, play ball with adversity, play ball with bad weather, play ball with unfair refs.
We have to do it because our kids depend on it. Our kids have to learn how to do it because their future and their happiness depends on it.