Our blue-eyed boy. Class of 2018. Our girls graduated from high school in 2014 and 2016. A short time ago, yes. But things seemed so much different then. In the short years since, the information age has exploded to a new level. And with easy access to vast amounts of information, comes the spreading plague of misinformation and its blind acceptance as fact.
How will these things affect a generation of young adults? It’s worrisome to come to know some people’s attitudes about work and the role of government in their lives. It’s disturbing to witness what appears to be a quickening of the decline in both work ethic and personal responsibility.
Disturbing enough that I have this strange urge to be a commencement speaker at a high school graduation, to share some thoughts with my son and his peers before they enter the work force, college, and the next stage of adulthood. But since I despise public speaking and I don’t own a suit (and since I wouldn’t appear on anyone’s short list of commencement speakers), I’ll just lay out 12 points here. Some things I hope that graduating seniors will do, some things I hope they understand. All things that I hope our own son has heard, understands, and has had consistently modeled for him.
- You CAN make a living doing something you love. Start looking for it and don’t be afraid to change course. But you’ll never reach the point of doing what you love without doing some things that you hate. If you find yourself in a job that you hate, do it well until you find something better.
- Tell the truth. Always. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Today is a good day to stop doing anything that you’ll be tempted to lie about tomorrow.
- Ditch these phrases: A. “It’s not my job.” B. “It’s not my fault.” C. “I can’t” D. “That’s not fair”. Life’s not fair. You can determine to face and overcome the challenges and unfairness of life, or you can spend a lifetime whining about it.
- Be fair. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and not necessarily the way they’ve treated you. It may require patience, but you’ll be amazed at the peace and empowerment that comes your way.
- When you enter the workforce, understand that EVERYBODY can be replaced. Never give your employer a reason to believe they can find someone to do your job better than you for the same wages.
- Respect authority, respect your elders, and be a great listener. But question everything. Just because you hear it from a college professor, or on the news, or from a politician, or read it on the internet, that doesn’t make it true. Dig deeper with an open mind. The truth won’t always be to your liking, so don’t just flock to sources that tell you what you want to hear or be too eager to believe it. The people that have enough concern and courage to tell you what you don’t want to hear and challenge you to a higher standard……..those are the people that shape you into a better person. Don’t avoid them.
- The government is not your mommy, there to guarantee your success or prevent your failure. Regardless of your background, you have luxuries and opportunities that your grandparents never had. It’s up to you to make the most of them and you won’t find success overnight. Never mistake a government safety net as a luxury. It will have poisoned your life if you reach a point where you choose to not work because you don’t have to work.
- Someday you may achieve some degree of power, influence, and financial success. Liberty declares that you can choose how to use these things. Hopefully you will use them well and discover the satisfaction of lifting others up. But you don’t have to apologize for success.
- Consistency matters. Whatever you do, do it well. Show up every day. Do your best all day every day and never half-way do anything. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts or be lured by the temptations of instant gratification. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You have a long road ahead, so don’t center your life around only the things that are five feet and five minutes in front of you. Cast a longer vision.
- You may have faced tougher obstacles than others, and you may have endured terrible situations in your past, but you are not a victim………unless you choose to be. You get to decide whether you’ll be someone who overcomes or someone who makes excuses. You can’t change your past but you’re in charge of today……..and tomorrow.
- Don’t let others’ opinions of you direct your actions. But DO give others a reason to hold a high opinion of you. Integrity matters. Do the right thing even when nobody is watching. Do what you say you’ll do. Don’t manage your reputation. Earn your reputation. Earn respect, don’t demand it. And earn the right to be heard (sometimes by knowing when to shut up).
- Little things matter. Leave things in better shape than you found them in. Speak kindly to food servers and cashiers. Show up on time. Put things back where you found them. Forgive easy. Don’t forget to smile. Pick up garbage that’s not your own. Don’t ask someone else to do something you can do for yourself. Lend a helping hand. Never fear doing more than your share. Learn how to say no. Count your blessings when you’re tempted to complain. Choose your words and the tone of your voice wisely. And don’t tell people how tired you are. Nobody wants to hear it.
Bonus: Marriage is serious business. Don’t enter into it lightly. Don’t give up on it too easily. It takes work, just like anything worthwhile. Shame on you if you aren’t willing to work at it. And parenting, it’s even more serious business. It’s the most important job you can ever have. Do it well. Do it better than your own parents did. It’s your best chance at changing the world
I got one of those strange invitations from my wife tonight to go for a run. I decline those invitations approximately 100% of the time (because she runs marathons and I sit in a recliner and read books). But since I got an AARP packet in the mail today, I was struck with this strange urge to prove something. So I agreed to go for a run downtown with her.
At the end of our run, we coasted downhill along the sidewalks of west Grayson. And I was hit with the strongest flashbacks of childhood. Traveling those same sidewalks on a skateboard. Click-click, click-click, as the wheels rolled over the cracks on the sidewalk as a 12 year-old.The block between Landsdowne and Hord St was the closest thing to a skateboard park we could manage, with its downhill slope and sudden dips. Grayson Pharmacy, Sears, Dollar General, Tots & Teens, and Western Auto. Flying past them all as fast as we could manage.
Always with my big brother and usually one or two other boys from Holcomb St, Paradise Hill, or Cardinal Hill crowd, making a pass through downtown on the summer days that we were left to entertain ourselves. The words of our parents pounded into our brains, “You boys better watch out for people walking out of the stores, and don’t run over them!” (I’m pretty sure somebody plowed and elderly lady one day, but it wasn’t me). We always stopped in Steve Womack’s Land Office to check in with our mom while she worked, and let her know we were alive and together. She gave us a lot of freedom and trust, partly because she pretty much had to, and partly because she just loved us unconditionally, no matter what kind of goofy stuff we got into. She showed us trust.
We would usually venture on down the street to visit our dad at his store. Some days we would hit him up for $3-$4 and that was plenty to feed us both at the Grayson Restaurant. I was always afraid to ask my dad for money, because it usually resulted in him asking a few questions in return. And there was always that thought in the back of my head that my dad thought my hair was too long or that I shouldn’t wear my hat backwards. But he usually didn’t mention those things……..usually.
Our parents weren’t together then. But they were both still raising us. And I’m thankful for that, still today. We knew what was expected of us, even when it wasn’t spoken out loud. We knew how much our parents loved us, and we knew what they believed in. Today, having three kids over the age of 18, I don’t have trouble picturing any of them muttering the phrase to themselves, “My dad would kill me if I did that”. And I think that’s pretty cool. They know they are loved, and they know what their mother and I expect of them and believe in. And I think, in the midst of all the silly talk we hear about privilege today, they understand, just as I do, what privilege is. Family, love, freedom, boundaries, responsibilities, and belief in God.
And sometimes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I wish my kids could experience what I experienced as a kid. Neighborhood wiffle ball games, a day spent in Town Branch, violent pickup football games, walking to and from school, and skateboarding down Sunset Hill and the KCC cemetary hill. Times were different then. And they were good. My mom, my dad, my brother (and later my sister) and our large crowd of friends. My childhood. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope our kids say the same thing someday. Click-click, click-click, click-click.
The Parkland Kids. Squarely in the public eye.
“If that were my son……….”
What would I say? In analyzing some newsworthy situations, sometimes the proper balance of facts and feelings can be found by asking this simple question,
“What if my child was in this situation?”. Maybe your kid misses 12 free throws in the spotlight of March Madness. Or maybe your kid walks into the national news spotlight following a tragedy. Yeah, they chose the spotlight. Either way, they’re still your kid whether they’re 17 or 21. Hopefully you would be able to keep them grounded in some truths that they are probably yet to possess.
So if my son, like activist David Hogg, went charging full throttle into the daily circus of news broadcasts, social media, and the world of tacky memes, I’d be sure to pass on some fatherly truths:
“Son, I trust you to use your brain and make sound decisions. I won’t be silent if you walk away from the truths of God’s word, but otherwise you need to form your own opinions, make your own decisions, and learn from your own mistakes. You and your classmates have endured a tragedy that will stick with you for entire lives. Your grief doesn’t make you an expert on other matters but it does mean that you have the attention of a nation. Don’t let it go to waste. Your opinions may not align exactly with mine or many others, but I’m proud of you for standing boldly for what you believe. Just make sure you understand why you believe what you believe. Don’t let your thoughts and words be solely dictated by fear, frustration, anger, or grief, while accepting things as facts that just aren’t true. Don’t let your feelings be swayed by those who cheer you on or exploit you simply because your ideas about solutions match their own. Choose your tone and your words wisely. People will listen to you because of your pain, but only to a point. Challenge people to think, but don’t simply challenge them. Don’t just invite them to argue. The public eye and social media are cruel places. Once you enter, your words and your tone will dictate how tough it will be, but you will not be immune to criticism. Don’t tie together things that aren’t truly connected, “If you don’t agree with my opinions, then you want people to die” sort of statements. Because those are just lame tactics that adults are using already. To be heard by those with opposing views, speak with humility and honesty, but with passion. To truly be an agent of change instead of an agent of further division, cast aside all forms of arrogance and limit profanity. People don’t change their opinions or their ways because others act like they’re stupid. Don’t give people a reason to tune you out. Opinions will differ widely on the degree to which government regulations offer any lasting solutions to problems. So while so many people have arrived at the idea of “somebody needs to do something”, don’t waste the opportunity to speak boldly (regardless of political views) about the “power of one”. The somebody that needs to do something is me and it’s you. Challenge your peers to commit to being better parents than their own have been. Challenge your peers to be aware of their surroundings and know that they have the power to change life paths and outcomes for others. They can’t make a difference for everyone. But we all have to make a difference for some. It becomes necessary at times to push for legislative changes, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the solutions to all our problems lies in governmental actions. Be strong. You’ll have to be, because you don’t know what’s coming. Pray for wisdom and listen to those who are wise, not just those who agree with you. Fight smart. Don’t waste the opportunity to make a difference. It lasts your entire life, even once you fade from the public eye.”
Yeah, I should tell my sons those things. I think they’d need to know. I’m not talking about views on gun control. I’m talking about making sure kids understand the power they have, not in influencing the government but in influencing the world.
But that’s just me. That’s just something to think about.
Middle age. What is it? When you’re younger, I suppose it’s just an age group, maybe 45-65. But once you arrive there, it becomes something totally different. A peculiar beast that brings unfamiliarity to a life that was just starting to show signs of routine. Kids are raised (for the most part). Over half our vocational life is most likely behind us. We’re more comfortable in our own skin, but that skin obviously isn’t what it used to be. Physical abilities aren’t what they once were. But neither is our level of life experiences or the understanding that they bring. Things are just noticeably different in so many ways.
Most of my Class of 1986 classmates and I will be turning, or have already turned, 50 in 2018. I’m sure we all are beginning to develop our own quirky stories and outlooks on this whole aging process. But some things are certain. We look different. We feel different. And we see things differently than we did even just a few years ago.
Men are often accused of clinging to childlike behavior traits until the day they die. That’s mostly true I guess. Most everything I found to be funny at 18, I still find funny today. The music I enjoyed at 18, I still enjoy today (because 1970-86 was simply the best music era ever). The pretty girl that was by my side then is still there today, 32 years and four kids later.
But plenty of other things have changed, some drastically.
-The hairline. Full head of hair, to peninsula, to male pattern baldness, to “Oh heck! I better just shave it because it’s better to be bald than to be balding”.
-The sad realizations. That I am now older than George Costanza and Captain Picard were when their characters found fame. And I’m way older than a white-haired Sparky Anderson when he ruled the baseball world of the 70’s managing the Big Red Machine.
-A different perspective. A different view of old TV shows. Feeling creepy when you watch Gunsmoke and think, “Wow, I didn’t realize what an attractive woman Miss Kitty was”. At the same time, knowing that today’s world is sorely missing wholesome shows like Gunsmoke, and representatives of goodness like Matt Dillon.
-The payback. Knowing that, for every time I cracked a joke in my youth about someone’s hairy back, at least five hairs have appeared on my body in places I’d rather not have them.
-Sleep. In younger days, my body could find rest on a hard floor, but I was kept awake with a mind racing with planning, plotting, worrying, and just pondering about the uncertainties of life. Today, my mind finds greater peace, but my body requires the perfect mattress, the perfect pillow, and that one perfect position that brings painless rest.
-Physical appearances. Wrinkles. Loss of muscle mass. Classic dad-bod. I remember as a younger man, seeing couples in public and wondering, “How did that old buzzard get such a pretty young wife?”. And here I am today, looking like a man of 60, married to a wife who can pass for 30. If there is a re-casting of Hart to Hart, my wife could be cast as Jennifer, and I would surely be Max. Where’s my cigar?
-Bad habits. In younger days, one might avoid consuming alcohol late in the evening in order to avoid a morning headache. Today, I avoid foods that are heavy in salt and preservatives for the same reason…….usually.
-Exercise. Talking about it more than I actually do it. Old enough to know the benefits. But still young enough to be undisciplined enough to never make it a routine.
-Temper. Fewer things make me angry. But many more things irritate me greatly.
-Respect/wisdom. Knowing that people older than me have experienced and seen more than I have. There is value in their words. Realizing that the majority of our population is now younger than me, so maybe those younger generations can find some value in the words of my peers and me.
-Clothing. My heart and my closet still claim that I’m a Levi’s and white t-shirt guy. But my daily wardrobe usually consists of khakis with a stretchy waistband, a baggy sweatshirt, and one of my few remaining t-shirts that don’t cling to tightly to a dad-bod that I am yet to embrace.
-Commercials. The ones I used to laugh about……I realize they apply to me. I catch myself listening a little closer to ads for products that completely ignored before. Low energy, low T, digestive health.
-Energy. What is that? I had mono a while back, and I feel like it never left.
-Denial. Never facing the truths of the things that I can no longer do. Usually because I don’t even attempt certain things anymore. So, in my mind, I can still beat all my kids in a footrace and jump up and come somewhere close to touching a basketball rim.
-Truth. Knowing it’s possible that the best is yet to come. The apostle Paul was probably close to my age when his ministry started, and you’d have a hard time finding a man who had a greater impact.
Age. It’s just a number. It doesn’t take a full head of hair and smooth skin to impact the world. Tomorrow isn’t promised. But for each one I’m given, I’m certain that I’ll have a better idea of what to do with it. I hope you will too.
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:
“Keep shooting, the next one’s going in”
“It’s okay, just keep playing”
“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 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.