June’s backpack is wiggly and slightly heavier than usual, with sunflower seeds falling out of every opening. It holds sturdy bases, an antsy Bugs Bunny, a well-oiled, much-loved mitt, a ridiculous amount of the unknown and a little philosophy from John Rawls.
June’s philosophy is fatherhood. Its message, of course, is as much about being carried as it is about learning to carry the load. It tenderly illustrates what it means to be strong while it thoughtfully defines what it means to be just. Through the allegory of baseball, endless piggybacks, retold stories in the form of favorite cartoons, moral theory, shoulder rides and superhuman reliability, June gives us a philosophical glimpse of fatherhood at its best.
John Rawls, the longtime Harvard professor and philosopher, proposed the idea that in order to understand and overcome our personal biases in moral considerations, we must hypothetically place ourselves behind a “veil of ignorance.”
This thought experiment dares us to forget our social status, education, personal interests, etc., during the deliberation of ethical dilemmas and their potential solutions. Doing so, we strive to act as a neutral party in an otherwise prejudicial situation.
In his work “A Theory of Justice,” Rawls suggests the veil of ignorance helps to reveal which choices will facilitate the fairest, most optimal conclusions to whatever ethical snarl we are trying to untangle.
Too many times, argues Rawls, our own preconceived notions manipulate us to avoid the morally sound option. He says, “In justice as fairness the original position of equality corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract. ... Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength and the like.”
In baseball-speak, it is putting the love of the game, the support of the team, before the strength of the organization. It is participating in a blind draft and deciding to play no matter where you are sent. It is accepting the challenge to play without knowing with whom you are playing and with no guarantee of the position in which you will be placed.
This dilemma of the unknown echoes the statement of six-time MLB All-Star Nomar Garciaparra regarding his idol, Bugs Bunny. Speaking about the famous episode showing Bugs playing every position on the baseball field by himself, he opines, “You have to love a ball player like that.”
Bugs accepted the challenge to play the field from every single position, to engage the game from every single angle. He was the jack-of-all-trades on that field, playing without preconceived notions of the possible or the impossible. He refused to occupy a static location on the diamond.
Fatherhood requires playing ball like Bugs. Not only are dads required to be ready to play a variety of different positions on the field themselves, many times they are heartbreakingly and courageously called to simply watch from the stands while the game runs its course much differently than they had planned.
No father knows what gifts or talents his child will (or won’t) possess, but they are still charged with the responsibility of being ready to play the role of cheerleader, coach, bat boy, fan, pitcher, catcher and centerfielder under a veil of ignorance, never knowing what the role of the day, or the lifetime, will be.
They have to be prepared for the situation when they have to advocate for their own little player, or to bench him or her in order to teach a lesson for an error made, or convincingly celebrate examples of good sportsmanship, even when the win — so desperately pursued — wasn’t attained.
Fairness according to Rawls doesn’t include guarantees. It doesn’t mean secured genetic athletic ability, or assured intellectual superiority, or even access to advantageous situations.
Rather, it means not knowing what’s going to happen, but still showing up for the game. Justice as fatherhood means finding the inner strength to carry the load if it’s too heavy for the players to lift.
It is wholeheartedly coaching and guiding whatever player you’ve drafted, whatever team you’ve been given. It is the tender realization that the people in your dugout were meant to be there all along.
And yes, it’s the ability to discern readiness, the vulnerability of letting go of the grip. As Jim Bouton put it, “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Such is true with fatherhood. In the end, the replay might just reveal that Bugs wasn’t alone on the field after all; he was just preparing for the game as a dad would.
Jennifer Lemma is a philosophy instructor at Walla Walla Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.