Friday, June 15, 2012
On Fathers, Quitters and our Future
It was the summer of 1977 and I was in my first year of Little League baseball in the little hamlet known as Hugo, Oklahoma. I had already played three years of Pee Wee baseball and thought I was getting pretty good until I found myself on the bench - game after game after game. It seems that our coach did not think I was very good (he was probably right) compared to the older boys on our team so he allowed me to go home from every game in a uniform that need not be laundered.
I was getting pretty sick of this situation so one night - in the middle of a game - I left the dugout and walked home. I had quit my team.
When I walked in the front door I saw my father sitting in his favorite chair after a long day at work watching television.
He looked up from 'Bonanza' or 'Gunsmoke' or some show like that and said, "I thought you had a ball game tonight?"
" I did."
"Well, what are you doing home?"
"I quit. The coach doesn't ever let me play so I quit."
The next moment in my young life - while now 34 years in the distance - was one of the more monumental ones I have ever experienced. It was a moment where a man looks at his son and says something that will shape his son's character for a long time - perhaps forever.
My dad, "Big Jack" as my friends called him, put out his cigarette (slowly, as if something really profound was forming in his mind), looked up and said, "Boy, let me tell you something. You get your glove and march yourself right back to the ball field. You apologize to your coach and your teammates and don't you ever quit in the middle of anything again. If you decide at the end of the season that you don't want to play baseball anymore then fine, you can stop playing then. But don't you ever quit on your team again."
When I got back to the field my coach did not even know that I had left. No matter. I did what my dad told me to do and ate crow in front of my friends.
Seven years later, in June of 1984 I watched my father proudly co-sign my college baseball scholarship offer. It was perhaps the greatest moment of my life as an athlete. I felt a great sense of satisfaction from this moment - a moment that would have never happened had my dad not so clearly informed me back in Little League that being a quitter is not acceptable.
This spring I finished up another year of coaching Little League baseball for my youngest son. I have been doing this for both of my boys for several years and have learned something about men and their sons today.
We are in big trouble.
I half-joke with my brother that it is a good thing America has vastly superior military technology because if we had to fight it out man-to-man with some foreign invader there are probably somewhere between 4 and 14 nations that would wipe the floor with us.
What I see today on the baseball field, in my classrooms and in society as a whole is a nation of sissies. I mean good old-fashioned whining, crying, spoiled sissies.
Out of every 10 students who complain about my classes (never face to face), eight or nine of them who gutlessly crawl to my boss with words like "unfair", "too hard" and "unreasonable" are males.
When they email me to cry about their grades they never understand anything I tell them about personal responsibility, a work ethic, showing up on time, studying or anything else. I have no idea where my college-age daughter is going to find a real man to marry. The young men I routinely encounter dress like bums, have the vocabulary of a pine stump and have no intestinal fortitude whatsoever.
There are a few exceptions, of course, but not many. I wonder, who were their dads?
With the 11 and 12 year old kids I coach I spend so much time trying to get them to stop crying at every little difficult bump they encounter that it feels like I am more of a therapist than baseball coach.
I had two kids quit my team this spring with fathers who claimed I was "unfair" to their sons.
Unfair? These two kids had one hit (combined) out of more than 50 times at bat. When the second one quit the team his father actually had the nerve to contact the Little League to find out "where his trophy was". This is the same "father" who erupted on me because I asked his son to walk 10 feet to tell the scorekeeper something during a game.
I wonder, what will these kids - these kids who were allowed to quit - be like when they are 19? What will they say about an 'F' on a test? What will they do when they don't get a job, or lose out on a promotion or have to face any other tough moment in their protected little lives?
The real world - outside of America - is becoming an increasingly harsh place when it comes to good jobs and a stable income. Inside America, I am afraid that we are raising a nation of soft, uncompetitive crybabies that will be wiped out by their Chinese and Indian competitors.
So, on this Father's Day weekend I want to say "Thank you, Dad" for kicking my tail out the front door that summer night when I was an 11 year old. It was the best thing you could have ever done - and something fathers all over America should be doing if we are going to have a republic filled with mentally-tough men, capable of dealing with the harsh realities of a life where fairness does not enter into anything.