How To Ruin Your Kid’s Life In Sports

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Picture it. A spunky 5th grader dribbles the ball across midcourt and loses her dribble. The defender scoops it up and goes in for an uncontested layup. In the two following trips, the same flustered girl throws ill-advised passes that have no hope of reaching her teammates and four more points are tacked on the scoreboard for the opponent. Trailing by ten points now late in the 4th quarter, all hope of winning the game is lost.

This young player, she knows exactly where her dad is sitting. After each turnover, she catches him out of the corner of her eye as she turns to sprint back on defense. His body language depicts anger and frustration. He leans back in his seat with excessive drama, throwing his hands in the air. She looks to her coach on the other side of the floor. His reaction is no better. He jerks his head back, rolls his eyes and stares angrily at his point guard.

She knows what went wrong. But she’s also smart enough to know that she’s not big enough or strong enough to make all the plays that are going to win every game. She needs more practice. She needs encouragement and patient teaching. And she needs freedom to have small failures without shame.

The game is lost. But more importantly the slide toward losing the kid is already in full motion. The steps toward confidence building just ran into a brick wall.

Somewhere in the gym sits an innocent bystander. He has no interest in the game’s outcome on the scoreboard. As the game unfolds, he watches intently, but his eyes aren’t on the same things as the coaches or the overly excited parents. His focus is on the looks on the players faces. Their reactions when plays don’t go their way. Their reactions to the coach’s instructions. Where their eyes turn when they know they’ve made a mistake. How they react to the words and body language of mom, dad, and coach. He wonders to himself if each player will be ruled by fear or by confidence as they grow older.

He’s watched enough kids in enough games that he’s disturbed by it all. To him, the kids are obviously overwhelmed by it. What should amount to simply playing and competing in a game, quickly evolves into playing to please adults. The joy and the freedom of children is stolen from them. When the atmosphere of this game is multiplied by 60 or more times a year for multiple sports over the course of grades 3 through 8, where does this leave a young athlete? Just messed up in many cases.

Fear, doubt, and lack of confidence. These things exist and grow pretty well inside the minds of kids without being fertilized repeatedly. There’s an awkward stage that may not go away until…….well, never for some. For youth coaches and parents alike, we’re all somewhat guilty. So much of what we do and say consistently over the long haul only serves to make it worse.

In the end, kids give up on sports and walk away for the wrong reasons. Not because of lack of ability, but because the fun left long before it should have. The doubts and fears eventually become too much. The pressures of misguided parents and youth coaches take their toll. Parents try to claim the level of excellence their child will reach. Efforts of youth coaches focus on simply winning. Player development and mental approach to the game are neglected by all.

So how do we change it? First of all:

Parents, please just shut up. 

Really, just stop talking and start cheering. That conversation you’re in danger of having with your kid in the car after a game, it’s worthless. The cumulative effect of your words, game after game after game X300, about what they can do better………is that they want you to shut up. They live in danger of reaching the end of their high school career someday, believing that they never played a single game that pleased their mom and dad. What you’re saying isn’t necessarily anywhere close to what they’re hearing.  And all that coaching you do from the bleachers, just stop. Most of the time, it’s just instructions on how your kid can score more, and not tips on how the whole team can fare better. You’re not helping. You’re cultivating selfishness and confusion. Just let them play. Just let them be coached. Just let them have fun. Just let the experience be theirs. In the end, you can’t pick your kid’s level of excellence. But you can help cultivate a love for the game, boost their confidence, and teach the values of work ethic and being a great listener. Yeah, it’s good to focus on those things.

Coaches, just smile more.

Be a cheerleader during the games. Don’t obsess over outcomes. See what you need to address in practice. Address it in practice. Games are the times when we all tend to wreck our kids’ heads. Instead lead their hearts and heads every bit as much as you coach their actions.

The greatest skill that youth coaches need is the simple willingness to smile and clap their hands.  The kid that just missed two straight wide open layups? That kid that just got a scowl from their mom? The one whose dad is gonna tell him, on the car ride home, all the corrections to be made so he can rack up 30 the next game? Yeah, every time those kids hit the inner turmoil of failing to meet their own or their parents’ twisted expectations, they need to see an assuring look from their coach. This is where your body language shines. Smile, clap your hands, and belt out one of these magical phrases:

“It’s alright”

“Keep shooting, the next one’s going in”

“It’s okay, just keep playing”

“We’re good”

“Hang in there, just keep fighting”

“Keep you head up”

“Put it behind you. Just be ready to make the next play”

I could drag out these points for pages and pages because I’ve made every parenting mistake along with every coaching mistake.  So maybe this is the most important point to end with in summary.

Look at your little 3rd or 4th grader on the court today. Give some thought about what your hopes are for them when they’re 18. If your goal is athletic greatness, I suggest that you adjust that just a bit. Maybe you can lead your kid in this direction:

“I hope my kid is able to play totally without fear of any task or any opponent, without fear of making a mistake, and with complete determination to simply do their job the right way every single time”.

Is this the direction we’re leading our kids in? I don’t think it is. I know I failed miserably in this area. And I know every court and every field is full of fearful kids. Most every time I look at the face of a kid in competition, they look like they’re afraid to make a mistake and most don’t respond well when they do. The fun is leaving. Let’s change that.

Smile. Clap your hands.

“It’s alright”

Confessions From The Calmest Guy In The Gym

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It’s probably a good time to reveal my secret. Not many people can pull it off. To remain calm as a cucumber while coaching basketball games. To demonstrate a feeling of total peace while watching your kids compete in sports at any level. Yeah, I can do it. Or at least I could, up until the past couple of weeks. It’s slipping away now.

I’ve been there. Zeroing in on my own kid. Wanting them to kick the soccer ball into the net every chance they get. Wanting every basketball shot to go in. Squirming in my seat every time the ball is stolen from them. Heart racing ridiculously fast at the end of tight games. Finding that urge to tell them, at the end of the game, exactly how they can perform better the next time.

Some of those things get better after you’ve sat through a thousand or more games. Most of those things go away pretty quickly if you start coaching at any level. The picture, and your vision, automatically expands to something much larger; the whole game and everyone involved in it. And if you coach enough games in youth and middle school leagues, you should eventually learn to expand your vision once again. To see kids and their development beyond sport and beyond the next game or practice. The urgency to win every game gives way to a consistent desire to make sure that every action has a purpose, and to find purpose in every temporary setback.

So I’ve calmly watched four years of my son’s high school basketball career unfold.  Armed with just a little more patience and calm than I possessed when his older sisters passed through similar battles (soccer, cross country, and track). Celebrating with them in their wins. Never freaking out about losses, and knowing that they would do the same.

At some point over the last couple of years, I came to realize what an escape the basketball gyms had become for me. In a life sometimes overburdened with responsibilities, the gym became the lone place that my anxieties left me. Whether coaching middle schoolers or watching high school games, I could feel peace and calm when I entered the gym. When your days are filled with broken down trucks, computer network problems, upset customers, and the constant planning of your next difficult conversation with an employee, it’s good to find an escape. I’m not a guy that carries his work home but I do still struggle to find complete calm even at home or even at church. At those places the struggle is different; whatever you’re doing, you feel that you need to be doing something else, and however much you’re doing, you’re hit with the truth that you need to do more. No, I’m not entitled to comfort, but I certainly do enjoy mental vacations. The basketball gym is where mine happen.

Meanwhile back at the gym. It’s easy to watch basketball games unfold when you can see purpose in every frustrating temporary setback. Every blowout loss, every bad decision, every close loss, every poor showing; they’re all motivators, teaching moments, learning moments. They initiate necessary change. It’s pretty easy to watch heavy doses of crap unfold on the basketball court when you’re able to envision the positive changes that will come from them. And it’s loads easier when have complete trust in the coaches to bring about those changes (along with trusting your own kid to simply be coached).

The world doesn’t end when a game is lost at the buzzer. The sun will most likely rise again tomorrow if your kid goes 1-10 from the field or spends 3/4’s of the game on the bench in foul trouble after questionable calls. “They’ll be alright”. “They’ll learn from it.” “They’ll get better”.

“It’s a long season.”

But it’s not. Not anymore. Just 2 weeks of regular season games before postseason tournaments start.

And this is his last season.

My wife and I don’t talk about it. But we’re both probably a little more on edge with each passing game. We don’t sit together anymore. We don’t talk much to people around us. We just watch intently, every second of every game. I find myself uncharacteristically lashing out at referees. Coaches and players from opposing teams are much more irritating to me. Every bad decision or bad play finds me squirming in my seat, more so than the guys that are actually coaching the game.

The timeline is short now. The perspective of “they’ll get better from it”, just doesn’t chase away the feelings of parental anxiety anymore. I realize some basketball shortcomings mostly likely will remain until next year. And darnit, our boy won’t be there next year. Yeah, I hope our son’s senior basketball season ends well for him and his teammates.

But beyond that, I honestly just don’t want to stop watching him play. As I sit through his final few games, I know the irritability and the anxiety won’t go away. The peace and calm probably won’t return until I’m back in the gym again teaching younger kids to play. My wife and I probably still won’t sit together, and we most likely won’t even talk much about it. But my goodness, we sure will enjoy watching his last few games.

For Macy and Maddie, you probably never understood just how much your mother and I loved watching you compete. And Karrick Ryne, we’ve probably been able to enjoy watching your games even more, simply because we have gotten older and wiser on the subject. For our son Kal, even though you probably don’t have any desire to play varsity sports in the future, I love watching you play just as much in your Upward basketball games. I love the way Kal reacts when he makes a shot, but also the way he reacts when he has the ball stolen. I love the way Karrick Ryne shows leadership and the way he reacts and moves forward when games don’t turn out as hoped. I loved the way Maddie was a spiritual leader and role model for younger players on her team and the way she responded to competitive heartbreaks.  And I loved the way Macy could always leave it all on the field, knowing that it was always good enough, keeping the successes and setbacks of sports and competition in their proper places.

We love to see our kids win. But mostly we find joy in just watching them play. Because the unfolding of their sports contests reveals who they are. As child number 3 of 4 wraps up his varsity career, I’m powerfully reminded just how much I like who he is.  A competitor, coachable, a great teammate, a leader.

I love to watch you play. I’ve said it before but I never say it enough. Watching our kids play is one of my favorite things in the world to do……….and I’m just not ready for this chapter to end.

Do We Even Know How Good We Have It?

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I was perched in my usual spot at home, reading a book about American WWII heroes who’d survived the Bataan Death March and managed to escape from a Japanese prison camp. A documentary was playing on the tv in the background on AHC about the Battle of the Bulge. I was having one of those moments of awe, trying to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the overwhelming sacrifice of so many Americans in our previous generations.
My wife doesn’t have a huge interest in history and she doesn’t follow closely the current state of political division and protest. But there in my moment of awe, she returned from an evening run, walking into the room and stopped, with an odd look on her face, “Karrick, we don’t know how good we have it.”
I didn’t know where she was going, but it turns out that her thoughts were in the same direction as mine. Being drafted into military service. Or seeing your children go off to fight in a foreign land to preserve our own freedom or to fight in conflicts with questionable motives or strategic value. The terrible horrors of war experienced by men, women, and families past and present.
Many bravely serve today, not by compulsion, but from a level of courage and a will to defend our nation that few of us possess. For those who served, past and present, I am……..I struggle to find the right word…..”I don’t know how lucky I have it.”  
Looking at those poor souls in impoverished nations lacking food, shelter, clean water………and freedom.  I don’t know how lucky I have it.
I think too many of us don’t know how lucky we have it. I’m not trying to start a “kneel for the National Anthem debate”, but I will start a discussion about respect and being misguided. For those who say, “you can’t force someone to respect the flag”, you’re right.  Respect is earned, not demanded.  But I sure do wish that more people could have a truer understanding of just how they came to possess those precious rights that they love to talk about. To respect the flag is to respect those who’ve preserved its existence. This is a case where that respect HAS most definitely been earned. It’s sad that some people’s perception of our country prevents them from grasping that.
“I don’t respect a country that_________”  That’s laced in the heaviest doses of misguidance and convicts innocent bystanders.  Unfortunately, some simply choose to disrespect a country that’s made up of imperfect people.  Want to make a change?  Look in the mirror and start with yourself.  Me, you, everybody.
If everyone had a better grasp of the truth, wouldn’t they be inspired to stand?  Wouldn’t they give thanks for freedom and opportunity?  Why is there an obsession with inequality of results by comparing ourselves to others, while we intentionally ignore comparisons of life in the USA to a life of true poverty and oppression that so much of the world suffers through?  We don’t have an equal chance of being a part of the Wal-Mart Walton family.  But we do have a chance to make a living.  We have freedom. 
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We have freedom to choose.  And freedom to succeed or fail.  The freedom to be takers or givers.  Too many people are deceiving others toward being takers.  We need more givers.  Giving of themselves out of love instead of crying about injustice and demanding change and sacrifice from others.  Evil and injustice won’t go away.  But it can be overcome.  The underlying message of protest culture is that “life should be fair”.  Overcoming injustice can’t be achieved by waving protest signs or fighting battles that have already been fought and won.  It’s an invisible enemy that only seeks to bring glory to the masters of the grievance industry. 
People’s life situations and personal experiences have a great impact on their perception of the world around them. And we certainly have plenty of folks that do have it rough. Sure, I get that. But shame on all those who continue to misconstrue the facts and lead people into a mentality of helplessness, blame, and victimhood. Maybe the real problem isn’t that people reach the point where they seem to hate the country.  Maybe the real problem is all the buffoons that carry out a mission of telling others how awful our country is.  They seem to believe that telling others how bad they have it and are getting screwed is some sort of accomplishment. 
For all the protests that are plastered across the news feeds every day, I honestly can’t grasp what they’re protesting, other than the imperfection of others and unequal results. Equal opportunity does not guarantee that we all have the same chance of achieving predetermined levels of economic status. But we do have equal levels of freedom. Shame on those who diminish just how far our country has come in matters of equal rights.  And shame on those who have intentionally painted a picture where 2017 has suddenly reverted to 1957 in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights, or economic opportunities for all.  For the marginalized people of our society, don’t the heaping doses of “understanding”, in the absence of hard truths, ensure that a culture of blame a powerlessness gets worse instead of better?
Masters of the grievance industry and social justice warriors lie and stir division, and present themselves as champions of equality, arriving to save the day. “Hey, you’re getting the shaft and I’m on your side”.  How worthless is that?
We do have laws in place guaranteeing that we all have an opportunity and that no one is held back. Unfortunately, anyone who encourages others to embrace personal responsibility, look at the man in the mirror, or pull yourself up by your bootstraps…….well, any good social justice warrior knows that is just victim blaming.  Truth is suppressed.  Instead, they just embrace the use of catchy phrases like mansplaining, white privilege, systematic racism, wage gap, etc. and that let’s everyone know how compassionate they are and shame dissenters. (I think they call that “virtue signalling).
That’s a worthless avenue to pursue. If there are laws that need to be changed, name them and let’s change them. They can’t. Not to sound unsympathetic to the true struggles of others, but the truth and its useful nature doesn’t always deliver sympathy and “feel good” feelings in the here and now. For the flag kneelers and protesters, it doesn’t bother me most that you kneel or protest. I don’t walk in your shoes or see life through your eyes.  It bothers me most that someone has convinced you to hold yourself back, and that you’re listening to them. You’re willfully shifting power to others and diminishing your own opportunities.
When we have those “national conversations” about ongoing problems, we’re not really pursuing solutions when we’re only speaking half of the truths.  But that’s what it’s come down to.
The narrative (determined by current rules of political correctness) says that whites, men, and American business are responsible for 100% of the problems (amazingly, the marginalized fail to grasp the idea that politicians efforts to “help” are the cause of many woes??).  And that creates an odd situation where we become responsible for 100% of the solution.  Isn’t that a bit silly?  I guess that would depend on how we learn to accept and interpret truths.  I guess that depends on how much thought we give to what it truly means to have power and if we’re willing to always dump the responsibility for change onto others.
You may have it better than me.  And I may have it better than the next guy.  But we all have the power to change our situation.  And there’s a good chance that none of us truly know how good we’ve got it.

Hey Sis, I Think I’ll Hang On To These

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I sat in my office recently talking to a couple of twenty-something guys about life insurance.  Neither of them were dads, but I noticed one was staring at the hand-painted artwork of my daughter Maddie, that rests proudly at the front of my desk.  Insurance talk came to a brief halt, “That’s about the neatest thing I’ve ever seen”.

I quickly answered that it was my most prized possession, a Father’s Day gift.  It’s taken me a few days to understand why I hold it so dear.  Other than the obvious reasons, I thinks it’s this; it shows that for our shared experiences, her perception matches mine.  The spirit of her memories is perfectly in line with mine in her artwork.

In a wild life of hectic schedules, we found quiet times together.  She always knew where her dad was.  She always had someone to lean on.

I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I do tend to intercept a lot of thing that are bound for the garbage or the yard sale.  Maybe it’s just a matter of awareness of the value of looking ahead because I know the treasure that lies in looking back.  Possessions that have no monetary value become treasures for those who can look back together at shared experiences of earlier times.  Often a single object does the trick.

It’s become a Thanksgiving tradition for my brother, sister, and I to rummage through our dad’s basement and attic for worthless things that bring back priceless memories.  A Happy Days board game.  A slew of ticket stubs from concerts or sporting events.  A little league baseball hat and a 40 year-old baseball glove.  Treasures that remind me how thankful I am for my family and for childhood memories.

In a home with four children, sometimes the purges are great.  It seems that you can fill a 32-gallon garbage bag with Happy Meal toys at least twice a year.  Sometimes items go away that parents wish they’d kept…….or someday they will wish they kept them.  There was a coat that both of our girls had worn as toddlers that I spent a few years thinking had gotten away from us.  I had a silent celebration when I discovered the Pooh coat buried in the bottom of a storage tub.  “Get your Pooh coat on sis”.  It has meaning for me now.  Someday it may have meaning for the girls as well.  Maybe they’ll dig it out together some Thanksgiving after dinner…….as adults……after they’re married.  And they’ll give thanks for the childhood they spent together.  And I’ll give thanks once again for the time I spent being the daddy of two little girls.

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They’re not so little any more.  Macy is a college graduate, living 4 hours away, and getting married in September.  Maddie just completed her first year of college, but is thankfully home to spend the summer with us (as much as a college student spends the summer with their parents).  The start date of her summer job was pushed back for a week, so she decided to have a yard sale last week.  Mostly things that belonged to her and Macy.  I showed up to help her set things up early on a Saturday morning.  As I was digging through the tubs and boxes, placing items strategically so they could be seen, I hesitated when I pulled out a pair of well-worn soccer shoes with a $.50 price tag on them.

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I silently walked to my truck and placed them in the front seat.  Maddie looked up from her work, “You decide to keep those?”

Maddie probably didn’t know why. They were her sister’s shoe’s.  I didn’t know myself. Macy had put together a pretty successful soccer career.  A player on our school’s first regional championship team to go along with some notable individual accomplishments. Two years of soccer in college.  But I honestly couldn’t even begin to remember what season she wore them in.  And she may not remember herself.

But I remember well the night she picked them out.

And as the days count down to her wedding day, I wonder if she remembers too.  For a dad that really knew little about soccer (other than learning just enough to be a youth soccer coach) and little about soccer shoes, I placed myself firmly in the middle of the annual soccer shoe buying process.  Our girls generally wore their shoes out by playing in both the fall and spring.  Sometimes I had to insist that they replace worn out shoes.

“Daddy, I think these will be alright”.

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So the tradition became that dad combed the internet for shoes that were acceptable for his girls to play in each season.  Time after time, I’d call one of them to the arm of my recliner, “What do you think about these, sis?”.  As they got older, they came to my recliner, iPad in hand, “Dad, what do you think about these?”.  And the dad who hated to overspend on fancy things or pay too much for shoes or clothes that would soon be outgrown always made an exception when it came to soccer shoes.  I don’t think the girls really grasped just how little I understood the game of soccer.  But I think they did come to understand that their dad thought it was important for his girls to play in quality shoes.

“Are you sure those are the ones you want, sis?”.

“Yeah daddy, I’m sure”.

So I’ll store the shoes away in a tub with other treasures.  Other memories.  Someday they’ll come back out.  Maybe on a Thanksgiving afternoon, Macy will dig them out with her brothers and sister.  And maybe she’ll tell her own kids that she was a pretty fair soccer player in her day.  And it may not be worth mentioning to her kids, but I have a feeling that she, and her sister too, will have fond memories of picking out soccer shoes with their dad.

I’m glad I saved the shoes.  But they’re just shoes.  The real treasure lies in shared memories.  And sometimes saving an item here and there helps to keep precious memories alive.

And somewhere in my house is a Thomas the Tank engine wooden roundhouse that would fetch about $50 on eBay.  I was thinking about selling it.  But both of our boys spent hours playing with it.  I guess I’ll hang on to that too.

 

 

 

Not Just Some Old Guy In A Hat

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I walked hurriedly past an older couple a few weeks ago in my family’s business.  The man was wearing a hat that signified his military service in Vietnam.  It took a few steps before the significance of his hat registered in my mind.  But I kept walking.  Work.  Multi-tasking.  Tasks that aren’t going to take care of themselves, you know.  Later in the day, I was hit with the slap of regret.

“Why didn’t you just stop what you were doing to offer your thanks to that older gentleman for his service?”

Because I’m 49 years old and I’m just beginning to learn about things that wish I’d known about many years ago (and by nobody’s fault but my own, of course).

Memorial Day in the United States.  A day to commemorate men and women who have died in military service for our country.  A day to remember.  But there’s a problem.  We cannot remember what we never bothered to learn about in the first place.

Maybe the key to acquiring wisdom is to first acknowledge how little we truly know.  I used to write a lot and used to blog a lot.  But at some point I gave up writing for reading.  I can’t remember the exact moment where I was enlightened of my level of ignorance, but I can tell you that I read a couple of books whose stories floored me.  First there was amazement at the courage, sacrifice, and horrors endured by our war veterans.  And then I couldn’t believe just how little I knew about key historical events.  So I read. Not to gain knowledge, but to gain understanding.

We are surrounded by heroes today who have stories that they mostly keep to themselves, but stories that deserve our understanding.  Unless we seek a greater understanding of their sacrifice, how can we expect to show our appreciation for those who have sacrificed?  Do we even know what we’re appreciating?

As we honor those who lost their lives in service on this Memorial Day, maybe there’s something that many of us are missing as we attempt to remember and honor the fallen.  The veterans that walk among us today were there.  They have amazing stories that are too painful to tell.  They were witness to the deaths of those that we attempt to honor.  They are heroes.  Unless you’ve lost a family member in combat, unless you’ve gone to bed night after night uncertain about a love one in a combat zone, unless you were the one in that combat zone………….then you may be like me, you owe it to these heroes to learn learn their stories.

edgar harrell Do you know the story of Edgar Harrell and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis?  We all should.  When the Indianapolis went down in July 1945, 300 went down with the ship.  900 men were left to fight for survival with very little to keep them afloat and alive.  After floating for four days until they were discovered, only 317 survived.  Edgar Harrell saw many men drown and saw many men floating next to him killed by sharks.  If you saw an elderly man out and about proudly wearing a USS Indianapolis hat, would you grasp the need to express deep gratitude to this hero?  I can assure you that I wouldn’t have……until I read his story.

donald stratton  Do you know the story of Donald Stratton?  He was aboard the USS Arizona when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941.  1,177 of his shipmates were killed.  To escape the burning, sinking Arizona, he pulled himself hand over hand to a smaller escaping vessel on a rope that had been rigged between the two ships……..even though his body was severely burned and the flesh was burned away from his hands and fingers.  After a long recovery that saw his body weight dip by over 70 pounds, he declined a discharge from service.  This hero was back on another battleship before the war was over.  If you saw someone proudly wearing a USS Arizona hat, would you know what they endured?  You should.

There were others.  Those guys proudly wearing their hats.  Those who fought alongside the fallen. Their reply might be, “I’m not hero.  Those who gave their lives are the heroes”.  But their hats were screaming, “I served my country.  I sacrificed for my country.  I sacrificed for you. I’m proud of that”.  But I wasn’t listening.  I didn’t know enough to say thanks.  I didn’t understand what a treasure these men were.

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Men like Dub Newland.  He was probably in his late 50’s when he taught a middle-school age Sunday school class at our church in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  As a 12 or 13 year-old boy, I didn’t any more know the significance of a World War II veteran than I knew advanced calculus.  But I knew that he had a presence that caused inattentive boys, despite the generational differences, to listen to what he had to say.  And all these years later, his one-liners still creep into my conversation and I know that he made a great contribution to the foundation of my biblical understanding.  At his funeral a couple of years ago, I came to realize what a true treasure this man was…….what a treasure his generation is.  He served his family, his country, and his Lord in mighty ways, even going on mission trips in his advanced age to set up clean water systems in impoverished countries.  Yeah, he’s a hero too.  Did I thank him before he passed away?  No.

uss ajax  And there’s my grandfather.  He wore a hat like this one.   I knew the color of the recliner that was his official spot in his home.  I knew the brand of chewing tobacco he used.  But I couldn’t even remember what was etched on the hat he always wore (I had to ask my mom today).  I didn’t even know what his hat meant or where he served.  But I never asked.  He served on a repair ship during WWII.  And now that he’s been gone for a few years, and the more I know now, I sure wish I could ask him some things today.  And I wish I’d thanked him for his service.

The World War II generation of heroes has nearly left us.  Korean and Vietnam vets are in their 70’s and 80’s.  Behind them we have warrior heroes from the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East conflicts, and efforts to fight ISIS.  Look for these courageous men and women while we still have a chance.  Show your appreciation.  Learn their stories so you’ll know what you’re appreciating.

My own past ignorance has led to regret, for the things I failed to say before it was too late.  The ignorance of others would seem to lead to flag burnings and the Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the National Anthem controversy, and the past unacceptable treatment of soldiers returning home from Vietnam.  Sure, those who died defending our freedom won those people the right to do these things.  But a true understanding of the history of our military’s sacrifice should make these types of actions deplorable to all.  Ignorance might be a reason for past mistakes.  But it’s no excuse for future ones.

There are heroes all around us.  Read their stories.  Listen to their stories.  Try to understand what they’ve endured.  Don’t just claim to support them.  Find the men and women in the hats.  And thank them!

And on a day when we remember the fallen, also show respect to those who fought beside them as they fell.

 

 

Yeah, It’s All About Dad

claires

Walking through a shopping mall today with my two boys, I just stopped in my tracks and peered into a Claire’s store.  After staring into the haven of trinkets for young girls for just a few seconds, I sped ahead to catch up with the boys.

“I kind of miss going into Claire’s on every mall trip with your sisters.”

Macy and Maddie are 18 & 20 now.  Maddie is away at college five hours to the northeast.  Her sister is four hours to the south, graduating from college in April and preparing for a wedding in September.

But in those few seconds in front of Claire’s, I was taken back in time.  Following two little bright-eyed girls around the displays, patiently waiting while they chose their treasures of the day.  Bracelets, earrings, Hello Kitty wallets, wooden jewelry bins covered in butterflies.

“Thank you daddy!”

Somewhere in another part of the mall, their mother would have been searching for a new Power Rangers action figure for an energetic and excited little brother.

Somehow, quite a few Power Rangers action figures have survived the passage of time and remain stored in assorted bins around our home.  I’m sure that few items remain from the trips to Claire’s.  Simple memories stick around though.

Our trip to the mall today was just an effort to get out of the house.  Doing something just for the sake of doing something together.  That something turned out to be the new Power Rangers movie.  So we met up with my wife and a friend to watch it together (I don’t think Power Rangers was their first movie choice…….or second).  I had these strange thoughts as the movie progressed:

“I’m not one to enjoy or waste my time with mindless entertainment, but I’m loving this movie (and I have this sinking feeling that I am the only one of our five that doesn’t think this movie is horrible).”

power rangers

Kal is 11 and the family movie critic.  He loved it and his 17 year-old brother did too.  Their mother even loved it.  But for me it was more than a movie.  It was a trip down memory lane.  Jumping up to run around the room to loudly sing the Power Rangers Dino Thunder theme song to the dismay of my whole family.  Driving around the state for our girls travel soccer games with a flip down TV monitor displaying a Power Rangers marathon for all in the back seats (the girls wouldn’t admit it, but they couldn’t help watching too).

So tonight, stuck in a strange mood, and missing our girls, I’m just thankful for happy memories of little things.  Thankful that I have memories that make me smile instead of regrets that bring sorrow.

For parents, when the time comes when our kids are no longer under our roofs, some things just seem to come into clearer view.  What we did well.  Where we came up short.  I won’t talk about what an amazing mother my wife is, because that’s just a foregone conclusion.  But I will share some truth about little things that dads can do to have an amazing impact on the lives of their children.

  1. Be physically present.  Our kids should never entertain the idea that they are less important than our jobs, our golf game, our fishing trips, or our workout schedule. Don’t underestimate the value (when schedules allow it) of being there when they wake up or go to bed, along with the value of attending as many school functions, recitals, and sporting events as possible.
  2. Be mentally present.  Look your kids in the eye when they speak and listen as if it’s the most important thing that’s ever been spoken.  Get your nose out of your smartphone or laptop and interact with your kids.  You only get one chance to raise your kids, don’t miss it (no regrets).
  3.  Be emotionally present.   Most of the time, guys aren’t exactly gifted in the area of saying the right thing (especially when our daughters become teenagers).  But thankfully, frequent hugs and pats on the shoulder are a valuable and acceptable substitute.  
  4. Choose your words wisely.  Kids are guided less by the instructions that we give them than they are by the manner in which we speak to and about others.  The way we speak to and about their mother (even if she’s not your wife) is so vital.

     5. Make memories.  Doesn’t have to be an expensive trip or adventure.  It just has         to be a shared experience.  Shared experiences build relationships.  Kids need           good relationships with their dads.  Watch a ballgame.  Go grocery shopping.             Go fishing. Play video games or board games.  Read books to your little ones.

Just be there.  When I read stories of American cities with annual homicides over 800 and shootings over 3,600 it makes me wonder………………

No, I’m not wondering if we have too many guns or what our government can do to swing things in the other direction.  I’m wondering how many of these shooters spent time in Claire’s with their dad and how many of their dads can name more than one Power Rangers series (Dino Thunder was my favorite).  Probably not too many.

It’s pretty simple stuff.  Hey dads, your kids need you.  Be the best dad you can be.  Start today…………maybe with a simple prayer,

“Lord, help me to be the best daddy I can be, and guide me to raise this child in a way that’s pleasing to You.”

I’ll bet you can change the world!

 

 

It’s Complicated

A Syrian refugee holding his son and daughter breaks out in tears of joy after arriving on the shore of the island of Kos in Greece.

Some questions have more than one correct answer.  Not every problem offers a simple solution.  For example, the ongoing debate surrounding Donald Trump’s executive order concerning refugees from certain nations.

Compassion vs. caution.  I’ve heard and read passionate arguments from both sides.  I tend to agree with them all.  Caution is good.  Compassion is obviously good.  But when it comes to a wise balance of the two, that’s where the wheels come off.

I’ve picked up just a few hitchhikers over the years.  Shouldn’t we all feel bad for the guy walking down the highway on a 10 degree day?  Sure.  But it’s always a risk.  The unknown.  But in the cases where I have given a ride to strangers, I never did so when I had my wife or children with me.  Why?  It’s one thing to choose to take risks for yourself.  It’s quite another to dive into the unknown and assume risk for others.  This is the problem that faces leaders of the USA.  How much risk is too much risk.  How much compassion is simply not enough?  Who can we trust when so many levels of “certainty” seem to exist.

My uneducated opinion is that Obama downplayed the potential risk involved in admitting refugees, and Trump simply undervalues compassion.  We are a nation made up of people who unquestionably have different views about how to properly balance the two.  But at the same time, people with opposing views mostly want the same things.  We want a safe country, safe from terror attacks.  And we want to do what we can to ease human suffering, especially in cases where the matter has an urgency to it, as it does in Syria. We just have different ideas about how to achieve these things.  Balance.

Some people lean toward the side of compassion.  Some people lean toward the side of safety.  I’m thankful to be surrounded by both types of people.  People care.  That’s a good thing.

I wouldn’t tell someone that they’re a bad person or a bad Christian for not being in 100% agreement with me on a stance of taking in as many refugees as possible.  I wouldn’t call someone a hate-monger if their position was that we should severely limit immigration from certain nations.

I’ve heard it said that the life of one American doesn’t have more value than the life of a person from another nation.  For an individual, especially for a follower of Christ, this is true.  But when it comes to our government, nothing can be further from the truth.  When we reach a time when our government doesn’t value our lives above the lives of those in other countries, then we may cease to have a country.

In the book, “All the Gallant Men”, USS Arizona crewman Donald Stratton recounts the horrors he witnessed and endured during and after the Pearl Harbor attack.  As his memoirs were put to paper 75 years later (at the age of 95, one of four living USS Arizona survivors), great attention was given to a burning question:

uss-arizona

“What could we, as a nation, have done to prevent this terrible tragedy?”

Obviously, refugees aren’t the Japanese army.  But it does raise the point of the overwhelming responsibility of government to protect its people from danger, both seen and unseen.

How many people have looked for ways to blame our government for the Sept 11 terror attacks?  “They should have prevented it.”  I don’t buy that.  From the heartache, the conspiracy theories, and blame game arises a great need to learn from the past.

sept-11-flag

You can’t foresee every danger.  Every catastrophe cannot be prevented, but we have to do everything in our power to see that certain things never happen again.  We can’t downplay the presence of evil or of the hatred that exists toward our country.

I’m not saying we should let in zero refugees.  I’m not saying we should let in 2 million. But I am saying that some things are worth taking the time to get it right.  It’s a matter that’s worthy of swift movement, but diligence in our actions cannot be sacrificed for the sake of fear of inconveniencing a few.

“Never forget” really does mean “never forget” for some.

My hope is for a nation that’s safe.  My hope is for a nation that cares about humanity.  I don’t really know the best way to pull that off.  Maybe a good start would be for a lot of folks to stop pretending like they have all the answers.  They don’t.  When you take a look at the big picture…………

It’s complicated.

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