When I was 8 years old, I was a happy 3rd grader, without a care in the world, living in a small town in Kentucky with my parents, Helen and Jack Bolton. The daughter of Swedish immigrants, Helen had wanted to be a missionary when she was young; she knew how to love and take care of people. Jack was a manager at a factory. At 6’4”, 250 pounds, he was like a mountain, in my eyes: My hero.
Every day, my Dad and I played a game of catch. And throwing the baseball with dad, every night, was my favorite thing. Every night, after he returned home from the plant, he heard me ask: “Daddy, daddy! Can we play catch?”
One Sunday morning in late August will forever be burned in my memory. I awoke to an empty house. A few hours later, Mom, tears streaming down her face walked in the front door. She said she had taken dad to the emergency room. She sobbed, and uttered two haunting words: “Daddy died.”
We’d played catch just the night before. Now he was gone – forever – felled by a massive heart attack. My happiness vanished. I no longer took interest in school, friends–or really, much of anything. Because the game of catch was over.
That winter, Mom took matters in her own hands. She saved the S&H Green Stamps they gave you at the Winn-Dixie supermarket when you bought groceries. One warm Saturday morning in March – early spring in Kentucky – Mom said we needed to go to Louisville to run errands. She drove us to the S&H store. She told the man behind the counter that she wanted to get the catcher’s mitt that appeared on page 34 of their catalog.
More than seven months had passed since I’d last played catch. Dad and I were both left-handed, but Mom was a righty; she couldn’t use his old first baseman’s mitt. Mom handed over the stamp books, and took the mitt, and we went on our way. The game of catch was about to resume.
Even though Mom wasn’t that great at catch, she gave it her best. We played for three years – until I was 11. We filled the holes in our hearts that way. Slowly, the happiness returned.
Shortly before my 12th birthday, Mom and I moved to Chicago. To support us, she needed to begin working as a secretary–and to care for her parents, who were in failing health. She told me I could ride my bike to the park to play Little League baseball. There, as she had predicted, I found plenty of other boys to play catch. She retired the catcher’s mitt — but by then, it had served its purpose.
That game of catch with Mom was a great gift. She got me over the hump of losing Dad that way. She got me playing organized baseball, and pitching. That was an activity I could throw myself into – I was happy being on the team and playing ball. Pitching ultimately helped pay for my college education. I was blessed to play college ball, under the tutelage of outstanding coaches. I also had caring professors, and a great four years in school.
Without that game of catch with mom, I wouldn’t have…
- Gone to college.
- Enjoyed a 20-year career as a leader in the fast-growing medical device industry.
- Become a CEO coach, coached a Nobel Prize-winner, written a best selling book, or given a speech at the Harvard Business School.
Nor would I be showing leaders and teams how to reinvent themselves and become happier — so they can discover how to become their best and become even more successful.
Mom was a happy leader. A great role model. She was the person who was most generous, optimistic and inspiring. She taught me to care about others. For her, what seemed to be huge problems were challenges to be chunked down and conquered.
From her, I learned how to treat people, how to handle life’s curveballs, and when to swing for the fences — lessons I use daily in my work.
She had to reinvent herself, from homemaker to single parent, breadwinner, and caregiver. She never complained; she always smiled, and encouraged others with her happiness. Mom was the most remarkable person I’ve ever met.
And, Mom told me always to give my best—and become my best. She was my role model for happiness and reinvention. This book is for her. And for you. To help you become happier, more successful, to become your best.
It’s time to get started.
From the story, The Game of Catch from: The Reinvented Me: Five Steps to Happiness in a Crazy Busy World
Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Mom.