I saw the controversial Gillette ad. It says that men can do better, and we can. But the ad somehow managed to annoy me to no end. Maybe because of its #Metoo tone or maybe because feminism just isn’t a smart approach to selling men’s razors.
What was the most irritating aspect of the ad? For me, it’s the overall tone that men really didn’t know that some things weren’t okay until the MeToo movement came along to enlighten us. Throw in a few “woke” made-up buzzwords like “toxic masculinity” and Gillette now has a lot of guys Googling Harry’s Razors.
Toxic masculinity. Urban Dictionary defines it as “any male action that doesn’t conform to liberal ideas about what a man should be in today’s society. This definition is probably better than that of any of its creators in the feminist movement. “Oh look kids. Another movement and another national conversation. Let’s stick around to see what position of self-congratulation is being assumed.” The thing about national conversations is that they’re never intended to be honest ones by the people who are itching to start them.
No, I don’t think many men are willing to let feminists or a movement define what it means to be a man or how to raise our boys. We’re not as hapless and destructive as we are freely portrayed.
It’s not that we’re offended. It’s that we just don’t want to hear it from people that don’t know as much as they claim to know. Not from a movement anyway. Some of us are smart enough to know we need to get better and to listen to people who have earned the right to speak truth into our lives. And that’s not going to be from a feminist toned movement. So just “stay in your lane”. Really.
The problems that surface in society aren’t really that men are bad or that masculinity is toxic. Masculinity is what sent first responders rushing toward danger on September 11 and soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy.
The rotten things that men do and the worst parts of our behavior surely didn’t just arrive on the scene. It doesn’t need a new name. We’ve been committing acts of stupidity and causing harm since Cain killed Abel. It’s called sin. Men (and women) give in to their selfish or evil desires and act upon them. That’s the real life battle that rages for all of us every day. Sinful desires vs obedience to God.
Through it all, over time, men are getting better. There has never been a time in history of Western Civilization where men have been more caring, sensitive, loving, and active in their roles as fathers as they are today. Some men, but not all men. Plenty of guys are just scumbags. They lack a moral compass and live a life of taking the path of least resistance. Lazy, disrespectful or abusive of women, neglectful as fathers. But don’t lump us all together (feminism battles tend to do that even if not by design).
We’re not all the same. Some of us are committed to not only doing a better job of raising boys, but also to raising up men to be better fathers than there own were. And we can’t or won’t trust women to redefine what it takes to be a real man. Living a life that earns the respect of other men, and not just the approval of women, isn’t something that we’ll release by hostile takeover.
So what qualities do I hope to see in my own sons as they become men? Hard worker, kind, respectful of others, caring, protector, provider, great listener, critical thinker, possesses moral courage, defender of the weak, humble, physically tough, considerate of the less fortunate, slow to anger, honest, disciplined, and always think before they speak or act. And one last thing. They will cry, not in cases because they are weak, but only because they love deeply.
Are most of these qualities biblical? Yes. Would my list look a little different for my girls? Yes, because boys and girls are different. Is there an accepted message floating around that they’re not and that it’s wrong to value or push our boys toward certain character traits? Yes, yes there is. That message is disguised in razor commercials and elsewhere by anyone who has ever talked about patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
So how do we change the culture of raising boys?
Maybe we start by, as a society, ceasing to pretend:
- That a household without a father present isn’t a big deal. Yes, it’s a huge deal that can’t be emphasized enough. Prison populations are full of men from fatherless homes. There’s little to dispute about that. The presence of a father in the home is big deal. The presence of a good father in the home has benefits that can last for generations. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise.
- That all methods of raising children are equal. God’s plan is for man and woman to be married and to raise children together. It is not for divorce or single parenthood. Men and women have unique qualities that compliment each other, and in no place is this more evident than in parenting. That doesn’t mean that countless single moms (or dads or grandparents) haven’t done an amazing job of raising children on their own. And it doesn’t even mean that same sex couple can’t love and raise kids better than those in some traditional marriages. But it is totally reckless to refuse to acknowledge the fact that traditional families provide the best setting for raising kids. All options may be permissible but not all options are equal and shouldn’t be treated as such.
- That society/government programs don’t shorten the path to destruction. Single mom in the home=free housing and benefits. Marriage or having a man around=lose benefits. Human nature, as most liberal policies consistently ignore, dictates that if you provide enough people with a shortcut, many won’t be able to pass it up. With the loss of money by having the man around (in marriage), women avoid the commitment. With the absence of commitment, the path for men to carry on with their selfish and irresponsible ways is made easier. In every instance where we have a “baby daddy” instead of a family, the path to an empty life gets shorter. Sad and still inexcusable. But true, unnecessary, and ignored all the same. It’s time to stop shortening the path to destruction and ignoring human nature with systems that lower standards that men are held to.
- That it’s destructive for boys to be boys. “Don’t cry. Suck it up. Toughen up.” It’s okay to tell our boys these things. Physical toughness leads to mental toughness. Determination doesn’t just appear with armpit hair and neither does backbone. And because it’s not OK for men to sit at home playing video games, pretending to be disabled while their wives work two jobs, it IS okay to tell our sons about many things along the way, “No, boys don’t do that.” They don’t pee sitting down. They don’t wear high heals. And they don’t disrespect their mother. Because yes, boys are different than girls. And boys WILL be boys. That is never an excuse for bad behavior. But it is a reason that farts will still be funny when they’re 50. And if you don’t understand why that is…………..you probably need to stay in your lane.
The year was probably 1976 or 1977. It was a summer day when I was messing around in the small creek behind our house with my older brother and a friend or two. I honestly can’t remember if any of our buddies were around to witness the memorable events of that day. But I do know that my mom gave me a whipping on that day that I spent a lot of years believing was 100% undeserved.
I probably was never the most curious type of kid. But I did have a fascination with flood waters and dams. On this day, I was doing my best to dam up the creek. Piles of rock, clumps of dirt, and whatever it took to stop the flow of water and create a large standing pool behind it.
But anytime I neared achieving full stoppage, my big brother stepped in……..doing big brother things. Kicking away a carefully piled section of rock and running away laughing as the water flowed freely through again. I gave brief chase. I yelled. I said words that 8 and 9 year-old boys shouldn’t say. My anger grew.
This cycle repeated a few times, but I always returned to work, trying to finish the dam. I eventually found a type of grass that grew on the creek bank in clumps that, when pulled straight upward, would dislodge from the ground with a large root system clinging to a good amount of earth. These grass/dirt clumps would be the perfect finishing touches on my dam. But each time I set one down in a place to stop the final flow of water, my brother intervened again. He just picked up the mass of grass and dripping earth and threw it aside on the creek bank, once again undoing my work. Anger became rage.
Finally, the brief chase through the creek became a major chase toward our house. He may not have been any faster than me, but he did cover the 200 feet to our back door much faster than me. But I was handicapped by the muddy clump of grass that I carried in my right hand. Seeing that he was going to enter the house and the safe zone of mom’s presence, I knew I couldn’t let that happen. So I let it fly. I threw the grass clump.
And with perfect timing, my brother opened the back door. The grass clump flew over his head and splatted perfectly on the kitchen wall. I don’t recall exactly what happened next. But I recall something of my mom talking about just having finished cleaning the kitchen. I don’t recall the words that were spoken, but I’m pretty sure my mom was a bit angry. And I don’t recall what the weapon of choice was (belt or switch), but I do know that my brother and I got our tails busted.
And now, over 40 years later, I’m almost positive that my mom whipped me above the protests of, “But mom, but mom…………..don’t you know what he did to me first?”
Justified rage? No I don’t guess so. As I grew older, my family got a lot of laughs over the creek incident. And for some reason, I never let go of the lame reasoning that what he did first somehow justified what I had done. “But mom………….you don’t understand.”
Then I became a dad. Then I became a Christian. And I became a Christian dad that found truth and wisdom from the Bible (some things easier to grasp than others). And I found value in dealing with anger in biblical ways.
James 1 tells us that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
That’s pretty simple and straightforward. A person that can park these verses at the front of their brain will eventually see that the vast majority of things they get angry about aren’t really worth getting angry about.
Yes, our anger can be justified, but we can never use anger to justify poor decisions and the questionable acts that follow in their wake.
Sorry Mom! “Because Scott was being a butthole” isn’t an acceptable reason for my actions. I see that now.
But many times anger catches us off guard. So it becomes necessary to plan against it.
How many times have you witnessed this in an NFL or NCAA football game where the score is tight, the team on defense is clinging to a small lead in the 4th quarter, and they make a key stop on a 3rd and long play. Oh but wait. The defense gets a dead ball personal foul penalty, extending the drive, and allows the offense to march on to the go-ahead or game winning points. Why? Because an offensive player delivered a cheap shot, and the defensive player retaliated. “But, but……..he did this first.” Well, that’s all fine and good, but you probably just lost the game for your team.
You can’t follow up one act of stupidity with one of your own, just because they did it first. Sometimes you just have to know what’s coming and make plans to walk away.
When I see news clips these days, I notice a lot of angry people. Obviously, being angry is what gets you publicity in the first place, but still. There seems to be a growing trend of opposing sides of protests (following the perfect model of mob mentality of course) lashing out at each other with violence or hateful speech. I assume these same people could calmly discuss their opposing views if they found themselves sharing a booth and a latte at Starbucks. But I guess that there’s a reason that most people show up at a lot of these protests and act the way they do; they make no plans to not be angry. They show up because the are angry and they plan to stay that way.
That can be a dangerous thing. People who falsely identify their anger as justified when it’s really not. It’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in public figures and elected officials being confronted and harassed in public places. But what is surprising (and disturbing) is the number of people who are willing to defend these kooks.
“I don’t blame them.”
“They deserve it.”
So I guess I should make a point in this other than “don’t let your siblings irritate you to the point of rage”, so how about this:
- Plan against anger. Know ahead of time, the kinds of situations you will be faced with, and make up your mind that your anger won’t lead you to poor decisions.
- Don’t try to justify acts of stupidity, born of anger, where your only lame attempt at reasoning matches that of a 9 year-old………”But mom, don’t you know what he did first?
Some people honestly just choose to be mad. Yeah, I get that. But that’s not really a good choice, is it?
Just because your big brother peed in your snuff can when he was 15 doesn’t mean you can blow up his car when he’s 17.
Women just don’t dig Gunsmoke. A show that ran for 20 years and 600+ episodes, and I can’t even get my wife to sit through one episode with me. “Karrick I don’t see why you watch this.”jThat’s been a bit of a puzzle to me. But I think I’m beginning to understand. It’s a guy thing that boils down the beauty of Marshal Dillon’s character.
I attended a funeral this week. And for me, funerals always bring up reflections and reminders of what the heck we’re supposed to be doing with our time on this earth. My 82 year-old dad lost a very dear longtime friend. A friend of mine since childhood lost a wonderful father. And as I sat in a church listening to tearful tributes to this loving, Godly man and the ways his life impacted theirs, my thoughts somehow circled around to the Matt Dillon’s character on Gunsmoke.
Dillon was a man’s man. He could lick anybody in a fistfight, and nobody was faster on the draw of their pistol. But he was a peacemaker for sure. Chaos quickly ensued in his absence. Calm returned when he was in town. Evil was quickly removed when he was present (usually by a non-bloody single shot to the chest). Dillon could be counted on to do the right thing at all times, regardless of personal pain or risk. He was a protector of justice and of people, always putting others above himself. He somehow always had a way of making people and situations around him better.
I find it strange now, the timing of an episode that I watched the night before the funeral. Miss Kitty, frustrated with Matt’s noncommittal attitude about their very undefined romantic relationship, began to see another man during Matt’s brief absence from Dodge. By the time Matt returned, Kitty’s suitor had turned out to be a violent psycho, and Matt had to shoot him dead, just in time to save the lives of Kitty and Sam the bartender.
A remorseful and grateful Kitty tried to find words to apologize to Matt. But he cut her off with just a couple of words and a reassuring smile that said, “It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything”, before walking away to take care of business. Things were always better when Matt was around. Sam knew it. Kitty knew it.
Sam turned and told Kitty, “He’s an awful good man to have around.” And after a perfect pause, Kitty replied, “He’s the best” before slowly walking up the stairs of the Longbranch Saloon. She knew that she was fortunate to have this man in her life. She knew the town of Dodge was fortunate to have him in their lives.
For boys that grew up watching Gunsmoke, we wanted to be like Marshal Dillon. But more than that, I think we wanted our dads to be like Marshal Dillon. A mighty man and a protector, always doing the right thing, and just good to their very core.
It sounds so simple. But in the real world, most kids eventually grow old enough and wise enough to see through the faults of their fathers. The weak spots and weaknesses of fathers (or total absences) can no longer be hidden behind the wishful thinking of children.
My friend Barry didn’t come right out and say it at his father Dave’s funeral. But I’m certain that he thinks his dad is “the best”. I feel the same way about my dad. When I was a kid, I thought my dad could fix anything. Now that I’m older, I realize that he simply has the the will and the ability to make everything better. With a father’s touch. To have a dad who really does turn out to be a hero, to never be forced to accept that he isn’t the man you thought he was or wanted him to be…………..oh what a blessing that is.
This world has a twisted view of what makes a person successful. To an outsider, a man’s active life in business and politics, and an accumulation of possessions and financial stability may indicate a degree of “success”. But God has different ideas of success. An accurate measure of this type of success can be found in the lives that we impact while we’re here.
The people who spoke of our friend Dave at his service painted a clear and beautiful picture of a life of impact. Loving God and loving others. A man of humility, compassion, and generosity. An encourager. A man of moral courage. Someone who treated others fairly. A great family man…..father, husband, grandfather. A peacemaker whose presence just made things better.
This was the kind of man that Dave was. This is the kind of man my dad is. And this is the kind of man I’m still trying to be or become.
The pastor at Dave’s service said “they don’t make them like that anymore”. He went on to say that he hopes that God calls more men to this type of life. But I think He’s already made that call. Who will answer it?
This wasn’t somewhere I planned to be. Fighting the large crowd at a fish cleaning service in the back of a Panama City Beach marina’s fresh seafood market. On a 100 degree day after 9 hours on a fishing boat. Yes, I was excited about taking my family on a fishing charter. But as far as cleaning, eating, or transporting coolers full of fish on a 15 hour drive home…….no.
But apparently charter captains aren’t real keen on throwing back a good collection of keepers. Good advertising I suppose. But my mind was made up when we hauled in our first red snapper of the day and my 12 year-old son Kal said, “Dad, we’re going to keep these and cook them aren’t we?’ Yeah, sure buddy.
So here I sat with my 18 year-old son, exhausted and dehydrated. Baking in the hot sun, waiting for our ticket number to be called so we could pick up our fillets from the 50+ pounds of fish that our mate had dropped off an hour earlier.
As I sat down on the concrete ledge facing the garage style door opening that was the center of activity, the stench of dead fish overwhelmed my senses. And I witnessed what seemed to be pure chaos unfolding before my eyes. To my left, quickly lining up along the outside of the building were incoming fishermen with their own catch of the day. Stringers full of smaller fish. Plastic laundry baskets overflowing with larger fish. Waiting to drop off their fish, get a weight, and grab a claim tag telling them when to return. Impatient people returning to pick up previously dropped off orders. Seemingly no organization whatsoever to the whole process.
Did I mention the smell? What a terrible place to work! Multiple fans were running but I don’t imagine they were much help for the guys lined up at the cutting table or the guys scurrying around with incoming loads of smelly fish or the guys popping out every few minutes with large wheeled carts hauling off the scraps.
After 30 minutes of people watching, my son suggested that our number had probably already been called and that I should step up to the door to check on it. The man who stepped forward amidst the chaos to get my claim ticket was someone that I’d already taken notice of. His “calm in the eye of the storm” demeanor was hard to miss for a people watcher like me. He was a young and confident man who was obviously in charge of at least the cleaning service part of this smelly fish market operation. He quickly retrieved our bags of fillets and patiently explained that we needed to take our ticket to the storefront to pay (something that we should have done beforehand) and that he’d just meet us there with our order. At the front counter, he quickly handed over our haul to my son and asked if we had a cooler. When he asked if we had ice, my son hesitated (we already had dry ice). The worker/manager was already telling my son to follow him into the back so he could fill our cooler with ice.
My son and I started toward our car with our fish, vowing to not tell the rest of our party that our order had probably been ready since we first arrived, and that we’d been needlessly people watching for 30 minutes while they waited in the car. Before we reached our car, I turned to my son and said, “That guy must have been the owner. He did his job entirely too well to not be”.
Back home in Kentucky and in church on a Sunday, our pastor posed a question to himself and our congregation, “How many people have you led to Christ?”. My wife told my afterward that she felt convicted and inadequate when she honestly answered that question (I guess we all should).
My mind jumps and wanders to strange places. The pastor’s question and the conversation with my wife returned my thoughts to the man operating the fish market. Because there was more to that story than simply a man doing his job well. And I brought up the point that, rather than beat ourselves up for failing to be able to count up a real number of people we can honestly say we led to Christ, we must always be able to find excitement and encouragement in all the little things that come up in our daily grind that have the power to lead others one step closer to a relationship with a living God.
Instead of saying, “I bet that guy is the owner”, after witnessing this man’s actions and interactions with co-workers and strangers, I was left with a pretty strong feeling that “This man is a follower of Jesus Christ”. The fruits of his belief were on full display for anyone watching as I was.
As I waited for our fish, a man who didn’t seem to be a fisherman of any sort had come up to the door on two different occasions. He looked like a pesky nuisance sort of guy to me. I get them at my work also. “Can’t he see how busy this guy is?”, I thought. But the manager treated him with dignity, patience, and kindness in the middle of all the chaos he was conducting. And when I stepped forward to present my own claim ticket, it was this same beggar man who cut in front of me. Once again he was treated with kindness, and I overheard the manager tell him when to come back. Not “I will have YOUR fish ready” but “I will have some fish FOR you”.
A tall man of foreign descent who seemed to speak little English had the duty of hauling out the large cart of scraps. He probably hauled out three loads while we waiting. Not once did he enter or exit without the manager or another co-worker saying something to him to make him smile.
There was a lot of yelling, but in a chaotic scene I didn’t hear any yells of anger. Every so often I noticed the five guys at the cutting table looking back over the shoulder smiling or laughing at something that a co-worker had shouted out. Every direction that the manager yelled out was delivered in a tone that said they were all on the same team, and I’m pretty sure that everybody on the team knew that their boss cared about them.
Maybe this wasn’t such a bad place to work after all. And maybe one man with Jesus in his heart had transformed it to be this way.
The fishermen who lined up outside, waiting to drop off their day’s catch weren’t exactly a patient bunch. All those men who thought drinking mass quantities of beer earlier in the 100 degree day was a good idea at 9AM, were probably starting to regret it at 3PM. You could see the angry bully in them waiting to come out. Kids with stringers full of fish argued with parents while they waited. This manager stepped out to converse with them regularly. A true peacemaker. Telling people exactly what they didn’t want to hear, “Anything dropped off now won’t be available for pickup for tomorrow”. And time after time, these foul and impatient people, because of this manager’s confident smile and kind tone, accepted the bad news amazingly well, “Sure, that’s no problem”.
Yeah, one person can have an amazing impact on the lives of those around them. Just by the way they do a whole lot of little things right. And even though I’m not 100% sure this man was a follower of Christ, I am 100% certain that he has a voice that will be heard if he chooses to speak to others about Christ. Not because he is the loudest. But because the life he lives and the way he treats people gives him a voice worth listening to.
That’s quite a bit to gather from a half hour of people watching I suppose. But anyone who brings light to a dark, dirty, and smelly fish market…………they’re worth noticing and talking about.
And it makes me think that most of us shouldn’t find it quite so hard to bring a little light to the places we spend our days that aren’t quite so smelly.
Speed pitch. Guess your speed on the third pitch and win fantastic prize. Back in 1984 this was a relatively new thing. I was 16 years old and a lover of baseball at the end of my playing days. I didn’t want to win a prize. Just wanted to see how hard I could throw the dang ball.
My brother and I were sitting on a bench at the Pavillion, a Myrtle Beach amusement park, watching other people do the same. We’d probably spent our last $5 throwing out our arms. I topped out at 64 MPH. My brother Scott hit the high 60’s (I guess that’s what made us outfielders instead of pitchers).
Out of money, we just people watched. It must have been a slow part of the day, so we had no trouble overhearing the conversation of a couple of custodians chatting as they walked by. “You makin four dollas an hour? Well suck my a%# !”
For a couple of teenage boys, it was just plain funny to overhear because of the way he said it. But it also rang true. This was a time when minimum wage was $3.35/hr. I was working 40 hours/week and bringing home $103 as a helper on satellite dish installations and cable TV hookups. A $.65 raise would have been a great thing. But of course my main skill was being able and willing to crawl into tight spaces that the average adult male wouldn’t fit and being low enough on the totem pole to take off with a roll of coax through a brier thicket that the adult males didn’t have to conquer.
I don’t fit in those tight spaces anymore. And I manage to avoid brier patches whenever possible. But I do still love telling the story and getting a laugh about the way that guy belted out his amazement of “$4 dollars an hour!”.
No I wasn’t the most perceptive or socially aware 16 year-old around. But there was a scene that repeated itself every day along Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Blvd that I couldn’t help noticing. Each morning, school buses would stop at designated spots along the boulevard, dropping off African American ladies who worked as maids at all the Myrtle Beach hotels.
I figured these ladies were probably bringing home the same amount of money as me, just over $100. I wondered how they could make it on so little. I wondered if they had kids at home and wondered how many of them had husbands at home and whether they had jobs or not. And if they were single, what their kids did while their moms rode buses each day to clean the rooms of travelers.
I may have been pretty clueless about a lot of things at that age, but splitting time between my mom and dad in those days (with my mom trying to finish college while working), I did have at least some awareness of the difficulties of a family trying to survive on a single or small income. So I felt for those housekeeping ladies, knowing that they didn’t have an easy life.
I haven’t been to Myrtle Beach many times since then, but I assume that it’s the same there as it is most everywhere else in the hotel industry. Housekeeping jobs are mostly held by immigrant workers today. I wonder how that shift came about. And I wonder what happened to that demographic of workers who no longer hold down those jobs.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m not afraid to venture a guess. The time comes where the break-even point becomes too low for low wage workers. Available government benefits exceed the total earned income (at a specific time), so it technically becomes too expensive to work some of these jobs. So people don’t. They go from low wage earner to no wage earner. From payroll to welfare roll. But their quality of life seems to improve……..in the short term anyway. Who can blame the mountains of people teetering at the breaking point from grabbing at whatever help is available?
But there is a price to pay.
I can’t be convinced that we can celebrate removing someone’s temporary struggles in exchange for permanent dependence. The dignity of self-sufficiency is quietly stolen in the process.
Once a person leaves the workforce, how many will ever return? How many opportunities for advancement to better jobs are lost while they’re away? Nobody knows. The cost is deeply hidden.
How do you fix it? I don’t see that you can. Tradeoffs are made by government but they’re not always wise ones. The bickering is extreme, and the truths and complexity of human nature are too often ignored. Left alone in the middle of “I care about the poor, and I’m saving them” and “I care about the poor too but I don’t want to create more future poor in the process of helping the current poor”.
I don’t have answers. Just a modern day example of a flawed system:
An entry level worker goes from earning $16,000 in year 1 to $21,000 in year 3. But in year 3, there are changes in the number of kids in the household and the spouse’s employment status. So this employee calculates that they can make the same amount of money by working 3 days (when they figure in benefits like food stamps and healthcare subsidies) as they were making working a full work week.
So they work only three days, thinking they are better off. But they’re only better off for right now. Their path of upward mobility just died, possibly never to return. Opportunities are hard to come by, and too many people are missing them by taking a shortsighted view of breakeven decisions.
I wonder what happened to the $4 dollars/hr guy? He did provide quite a memorable and funny moment for my brother and me. I wonder now what path he has found himself on since that day. I sure hope he kept steadily working and moved from $5 to $6 to $7 and on up to $20/hr. But probably not. Somebody probably “helped” him way back when, and he’s been stuck every since.
Help for the poor is a pretty complex matter. If you pretend to have it figured out, just stop. And if you insist on telling people “they don’t care about the poor”, just because their methods of helping don’t align with yours………..well, you can just stop that too. Levels of compassion probably don’t vary as widely as you think. But timelines do.
It wasn’t a moment I was proud of. The year would have been 1979. I was an 11 year-old little league baseball player. My team was one of the best teams in the league, losing only a couple of games until this particular day.
I wasn’t a big hitter by any means, but I almost always made contact, striking out only three times on the season. Two of those strikeouts came on this day against a hard throwing lefthander that I felt totally outmatched against. The level of frustration was high, not just for me, but for my whole team.
In a season where we weren’t used to losing, we were getting our butts handed to us that day. 17-3 after four innings to be exact. This is where my memory fails me. Either the mercy rule hadn’t come into being yet, or there were a couple of seasons where Little League played without it. Either way, games were played to the finish, regardless of score.
After taking our at-bats in the bottom of the 4th, we gathered our gloves and started to take the field for the top of the 5th inning. What happened next was unthinkable for a bunch of 11 and 12 year-old boys. Our coach gave up. He stopped us before we left the dugout, waving his arms and shaking his head. I don’t remember his words, but I know they were delivered poorly. The message was clear. If we can’t win the game, there’s no use finishing it. The game was over.
What came next is something that I hadn’t given much thought to over the years. I suppose because I thought I was just acting like a big baby when I reflected back on the events. It just seemed like a typical stupid boy thing to do. But now I realize I may have been onto something that was 100% correct and something that curses youth sports today.
In the dugout, our coach delivered some lame talk about how we had no chance to win the game and tried to explain why he did what he did. We weren’t buying it. I just grabbed my Wilson “Dave Cash” model glove and stormed out of the block dugout at Prichard Elementary School. We weren’t quitters. And I was mad as heck.
My big brother was on that team too, and we normally would have walked together to our mom’s car. But I stomped past him and started across the parking lot toward Main St in a manner that said, “I’m mad and I want everybody to know that I’m mad!”. I kept walking when I reached Mom’s car and she rolled down the window and asked me where I was going. I’m pretty sure that I simply told her that I was going home as I kept on walking.
Mom just let me walk. That’s the way she was. I guess I was cooled off by the time I reached our house about a mile away. Might have even felt a little foolish about it by the time night came around.
It may have taken me nearly 40 years to circle my brain back around to what was wrong with that day. And it wasn’t that I stormed off like a brat.
What happened then and what happens today is that adults are stealing the fun from the kids. And we’re sending them some twisted messages in the process.
Mercy rule? A Little League baseball team is losing 12-1 after 4 innings. Game over. The message for the adults may be mercy. Don’t beat somebody worse than you have to. Don’t leave a team on the field to be humiliated. Sometimes time and scheduling issues come into play. Yeah, I get that. But what about the kids?
Game after game, leaving the field without completing a game in a mercy rule loss (or even a lopsided win). What’s the message? Maybe in a kid’s mind the unintended message is that the only games worth playing (or finishing) are the ones that can be won. Maybe the importance of finishing even unpleasant things is lost.
I know how badly we wanted to finish that 17-3 game on that day. And I remember suffering through and finishing a 28-1 loss on a much weaker team the following year. We didn’t think it was the other team’s place to take it easy on us, and we certainly didn’t want the adults to end the game. It was ugly. But we finished.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that those are the only two baseball scores I can remember from the days of Pee Wee, Little League, and Senior League. It’s possible that enduring those lopsided losses turn out to be experiences that can play a big part in shaping the character of young people.
Don’t give up. Finish what you start. And if you don’t like the way things are going, then it’s up to you to do something about it.
No, I’m not really saying that we shouldn’t have mercy rules. But I am saying that adults should give some thought to unintended consequences of obsessing over scores. Kids love to play. Kids need to finish. And they should be able to find more value (and fun) in playing a couple of innings on the short end of the stick than they do in not playing them at all.
The same goes for the running clock time at the end of a lopsided basketball game. The spirit of the rule may be correct. But its execution leaves a lot to be desired. “This game is decided. Let’s hurry up and get it over with”. Meanwhile, in the closing minutes of lopsided games, kids who may be on the floor for the most significant playing time of the year, looking for brief glimpses of success, essentially have their court time cut in half (because you can’t win, you know). Rushed through.
If the only games worth finishing are the ones that are winnable, then where does that lead the mindset of players on an 0-10 team? Are the next ten games in an 0-20 season even worth starting?
Adults care more about records. Kids care more about playing. If they’re looking forward to their next practice and excited about their next game, that’s a huge win for any coach or parent in youth leagues. Most kids have at least some drive to compete to win. And most kids should be faced with a good number of games they have no honest chance of winning. They have to learn how to navigate those games and to not feel like a failure for losing an unwinnable game.
Play to win. Finish the game, regardless of score. Don’t let the clock run. Win or lose, learn how to deal with it. Maybe it’s a new thing or maybe I’m just noticing it. But I’m seeing a lot of adults, both young and old, that aren’t exactly setting the world on fire when it comes to coping, “dealing with it”.
I promise, when you’re 50, you won’t remember any of your win/loss records. And you won’t remember the scores of any of the games that you won. But you will remember the games and maybe even the scores of your worst beatings. And you’ll remember the times your coaches gave up.