I was feeling pretty good about myself when I first set foot in the grocery store.
I’d been on a nice little streak as the father of two young kiddos — no major catastrophes or meltdowns for a few days, lots of good hugs, all my silly jokes were getting big laughs. I felt like I could do anything. Like I was Superdad.
So that morning I had decided to take our four-year-old, Cali, and her two-year-old brother, Charley, to the store to grab a few things.
Without my wife, Ellen.
Just me and the kids.
At the time I distinctly remember thinking like, I got this. What’s the big deal? People do this all the time. I can handle it.
So I pull up to the store, unload the kids, plop Charley in a shopping cart, and then, barely a few steps into the very first aisle, I turn my head for a split second to look at something on the shelf, and before I know it I hear….I’d been on a nice little streak as the father of two young kiddos — no major catastrophes or meltdowns for a few days.
And then, a moment later….
CRASH!!! CRASH!!!! CRASH!!!! CRASH!!!!!
Just like the loudest commotion you’ve ever heard — so loud that I kind of jump from it. And at the same time, I feel a little splash of … who knows what … hit my legs.
When I look back at our shopping cart, I see that Charley has knocked over six or seven glass jars, and now there’s a giant mess on the supermarket floor. He basically just took his hand and swiped a whole row of jars off the shelf in the span of … I swear … like a half second.
And … to make matters worse … get this: It was jars of peaches in that goopy, sticky syrup that peaches sometimes come in. It was pretty much the messiest thing he could’ve spilled.
Courtesy of the Kershaw Family
So there I am trying to gather up the shattered glass and using my feet to keep the peach syrup from spreading in every direction and just doing a million different ridiculous things at once when, all of a sudden, a thought hits me….
Where the heck is Cali?
Basically, as all that was going down, Charley’s big sister had taken off. And I had no idea where she had gone. So now I’m sprinting around the store with my son trying to locate Cali, peach goo dripping from my sneakers, frazzled beyond belief.
And Charley’s just cracking up the entire time.
After I’d turned a corner, I spotted Cali and scooped her up. At that moment I was at a crossroads. I clearly had a decision to make. And here is the point where I could try to rewrite history and tell you that I pulled it together and cleaned myself up and powered through, and that we bought the cereal and milk and bread, or whatever it was that I was looking to buy….I’m sprinting around the store with my son trying to locate Cali, peach goo dripping from my sneakers, frazzled beyond belief.
But I can’t lie like that.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, Clayton, Cali and Charley Kershaw left the grocery store right then and there, and returned back home with … nothing.
I literally just packed it in, took the L, and drove us home.
It was like … “Tough one today, Superdad.”
I was pretty rough on myself about that supermarket debacle for a while.
And I’m definitely in awe now of Ellen for being able to pull off a grocery store run like that, no problem. Clearly I just wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t at that level.
Looking back on it now, though, I don’t think you can really ever reach that full-on-expert dad status I thought I had gotten to. There’s just so much that kids can throw at you from day to day. And you can never know exactly what to expect. You can’t get cocky. You kind of have to do your best and roll with whatever happens, and then just… clean up the peaches.
But what I’ve found after more than four years of being a father is that I probably do my best dad work in environments where I feel comfortable. (So probably not the grocery store.) I’m talking the front yard, the ballpark, or even just in our living room.
Case in point, there’s this game I play at home with our daughter called The Elevator.
I made it up on the fly one day, so it’s not super complicated. But it does have an interesting twist to it at the end. And Cali absolutely loves it. Aside from the thing where she has us pretend that certain parts of the family-room floor are covered in hot, molten lava, and we need to somehow still get to the other side of the room to save the princess from a fire-breathing dragon, The Elevator is probably her favorite game to play. Here’s how it works:
I pick up Cali and then gradually lift her up higher and higher, going floor by floor like an elevator — first floor, second floor, and so on. Then when I get her up as high as I can lift her, and she’s at the top floor, she pretends to push a button to come back down.
But on the return trip, as she’s coming down, at some point — and you never know exactly when — I announce that there’s a problem.
“Oh no!!!” I yell. “The elevator is suddenly malfunctioning for some reason.”
She’s already cracking up as I’m saying it, before I’ve really even done anything. But then I start shaking her around and moving her from side to side like she’s in a busted elevator.
When she ultimately arrives at ground level, safe and sound, there’s maybe a one- or two-second pause, and then it’s always….
“Again. Again! Again!!! One more time. Pleeeeeeease?”
So the elevator starts back up again, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever.
Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports
Charley loves The Elevator too, but that kid would much rather be outside playing catch. He’s 2½ now, and he’s basically a man-child. He’s a monster. And there’s literally nothing he loves in this world more than baseball.
I swear I never pushed it on him, either. He just kind of took to the game on his own. And now, man … there’s really no turning back — he hits, he pitches, he runs the bases … baseball is all he ever wants to do. Charley even started watching The Sandlot recently, and he thinks it’s the greatest thing ever. He’ll be running around the house yelling, “The Beast! The Beast!!!!” I mean….
He’s two. And he already loves The Sandlot.
Charley is a baseball player.
No doubt about it.He hits, he pitches, he runs the bases … baseball is all Charley ever wants to do.
My son’s current obsession is our clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
Pretty much every day I’m home, Charley comes up to me and says, in the cutest, most excited way ever: “Can I go see the guys? I want to see the guys. Can we go? Can we?” He always wants to wear his Dodgers jersey, and he loves to go back into the clubhouse and drink chocolate milk with a bunch of my teammates. Add to that the fact that Cali loves going to the stadium because of all the other players’ kids in the family room that the Dodgers do such a great job running, and you have a situation where now both of our kiddos are always asking about coming out to games.
I couldn’t be more excited about that.
Once they get to the stadium our kids have this little ritual that they do every time. As soon as they get into the clubhouse, they each want one piece of bubble gum and one Red Vine.
Before they can do anything else, it’s gotta be some gum and some licorice. And then they go run around and have a blast before the game starts.
At this point, being at the ballpark is like a normal day for them, and that just makes me so unbelievably happy.
When you see videos of Charley running the bases at the stadium, or flipping his bat after hitting a Wiffle ball at the field, it’s pretty easy to guess that he’s the son of a ballplayer. But when we get home from a game, and bedtime rolls around, it couldn’t be more clear to my wife and I that Cali may be even more of a chip off the old block than her brother.
Her pre-sleep routine, I mean … I don’t even know what to say. It’s pretty epic. It’s starting-pitcheresque.
Here’s how it goes down … every night … without fail … no exceptions:
1) You take her up to her room and get her all tucked in.
2) You must read her exactly two books — not one, not three … two.
3) You must sing her two songs (and it’s almost always the same two: Twinkle Twinkle and Jesus Loves Me).
4) Once the two songs are finished, you must stay in the room for an additional two minutes.
5) When those two minutes are up, and you leave the room, the hallway light must be turned on, and her bedroom door must be left open.
Only when steps 1 through 5 have been completed fully and precisely can you leave Cali’s bedroom for the night and have her go to sleep.
If you try to switch things up, or to leave early, she’ll tell you straight up….
“No. My routine is not done. You haven’t finished. No way!”
She may love nothing more than princesses and flowery pink gowns, but that right there is the definition of a pitcher’s daughter.
She’s definitely a Kershaw.
Being a dad is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. My children have changed my life for the better in so many ways. But before Cali and Charley arrived, if I’m being completely honest, I have to say that I didn’t know how it was all going to work out.
I was worried.
Baseball is all-encompassing. And I knew that our sport wasn’t something that is particularly conducive to families.
My wife, who is the most positive person I know, and who sees the very best in every situation was like: “This is going to be amazing. I can’t wait. We’re just gonna figure it all out. And we’ll make the baseball thing work. It’s gonna be so great.”
But I was pretty nervous about it all — the travel, being away from each other for long stretches, getting sleep during the season, not having any free time … just basically everything. My mind just went to all these places, and I started worrying that everything might go poorly.
Now that I’ve lived it for a few years, though, Ellen was totally, totally right.
We did figure it all out. And it absolutely has been great. Beyond great, really.
In fact, I truly believe that it’s actually been a massive positive for me to have kids while in the middle of my baseball career because it’s allowed me to put everything into perspective.
In the past, I’d come home after bad outings or big losses and just brood over the negatives for hours, or sometimes even days. As a starting pitcher, you play once every five games. So you have to live with poor performances for a while, and sometimes moving on can be hard — or at least it always has been for me. If I’d pitched badly, I couldn’t help but feel it for long stretches of time.
Now, though, win or lose, shutout or early exit, I get home and immediately go and play with the kiddos.
Courtesy of the Kershaw Family
When I walk in our front door, Cali and Charley … they don’t care how I pitched. They just want to give me a big hug and have some fun. And if I were to be all angry and upset about what happened a few hours before, that would truly be unfair to my children.
So … I just get home and switch gears and play with them. And I think that’s been huge for me in the grand scheme of things.
When they weren’t around, I sometimes had no choice but to think about bad games way too much because I didn’t have a whole lot to occupy my mind. And at some points during my career I would almost felt guilty if I tried to move on or laugh or be happy after pitching poorly.
It was like: “Well, I’m not supposed to be happy right now. I pitched terrible, so I’m not allowed to be happy.” But that mindset goes out the window when you have kids.
You get home and you’re in a bad mood, and you realize almost immediately like, “No, that’s not gonna fly.”
It’s not that it makes it any easier to lose. It doesn’t change the effect of the game on me overall. It doesn’t take the sting out of bad games by any means. But you just don’t have to think about it as much, or for as long, because you’re playing dress-up or dodging imaginary lava pits or trying to keep your kid from doing cannonballs off the couch.
Things are just different now. And the people who know me best … I think they would even say that my personality and demeanor have changed since I became a father.
Pitching bad still sucks as much as it always has. But I definitely feel like I do a better job of not letting a poor performance affect those around me as much, or impact how I interact with the ones I love.
And now, thanks to my kids, that’s kind of the only way I know how to be. I actually can’t imagine being any other way.
It’s just one of a million things about how I live my life that has changed since our kiddos arrived. And I’m so thankful for the impact they’ve had on me.
Basically at some point I just realized that the time I spend with these little creatures that we made is just the best thing ever — that I don’t want to do anything that could tarnish that time, and that literally nothing else I could do would be any better or more fulfilling.
Lots of dads out there get that sentiment completely, I’m sure. But you can’t really fully understand it if you don’t have kids.
I mean, I know I could never comprehend it in the past. You hear all these parents say, “I love my kids so much. I don’t need anything else.” And for me it was always like, “Yeah, that’s great, but come on … really?”
And then you have kids and it’s like….
Courtesy of the Kershaw Family
Of course, there’s no way I could be even half the dad that I am if it weren’t for my wife, Ellen, being so incredible.
She’s the one who makes everything happen in our family, and she’s always looking to make sure that our kids experience as much as they possibly can.
Ellen finds different activities for them in whatever city we’re going to. It’s never, “Hey, we’re just gonna chill today.” No, it’s, “We’re gonna go check out this children’s museum,” or “We’re going to go find a zoo.” I love that about her. I’m so thankful for what a great mom she is. And the crazy thing is that she just makes it look so easy. I’m in awe of her. Truly.
And we couldn’t be more on the same page when it comes to the fact that our children absolutely mean everything to us. The joy that those kids bring into our lives each and every day goes beyond words.The joy that those kids bring into our lives each and every day goes beyond words.
When I’m able to be home with them and we can all laugh and play together, my heart just fills up. And when I have to be away from them for a bit, there’s literally no better feeling than coming home from a road trip, opening the front door, and having two little ones sprint over to hug me with all their might. It’s just pure love.
I know full well that stuff is not going to happen forever — I realize that 15-year-old boys don’t run up and hug their dads after they’ve been gone for a few days. But for right now, it’s just very special to me that my kids are so excited to see their dad and to give me a hug. I will never ever take that for granted.
Before I start crying at my computer, I should probably call it a day. But let me just end this by saying that I love Cali and Charley with all my heart. It is the greatest honor of my life to be their father, and to have them call me Dad.