Tuxedo

Carter and I were riding in the car this morning.

“They had a meeting with all of fifth grade this week as a reminder about how to act at lunch and in class and with friends,” he says, “this one kid got in trouble a few times for doing things, like real bad things he shouldn’t have.”

An unusually warm February sun shone in the window. I thought about what he said.

Do you know what a gentleman is? I asked.

Not really, he said. I took a breath.

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Open doors.

Say please and thank you, loud enough to be heard.

Pull her chair out. Push her chair in.

Ask to hold her hand.

When the time is right, ask to kiss her.

Be a friend. Stand up for the bullied and stand up to the bullies.

Be a leader. Make those around you better.

Talk. Listen. Respect.  Shake hands. Say goodbye. Look people in the eyes.

Stand at the table when people arrive or leave.

Make your word your bond. Tell the truth. Be honest. Mean it.

Be a good man. Be a good friend. Be a good husband. Be a good father.

Be confident.  Give confidence.

Celebrate wins. Learn from losses. Apologize for wrongs. Don’t gloat over rights.

Be humble. Be sympathetic and empathetic.

Does it make sense? I asked.  He nodded. I think, he said.

Me, your father, and your great grandfather were raised to be gentlemen, to be good men.  I expect you and your brother to be the same, I said.

I want both of you to be known as good men.

He smiled.

We drove on into the afternoon.

Night Swim

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This past weekend, Val headed to the beach with her sister and mother while I was home handling some errands and spending time with the boys.  On Friday, the pool we joined had a movie night/night swim. I took Carter over as Aiden was sleeping at my mother’s house.

We sat in the parking lot as the pool had closed their gate for thirty minutes to get the lights up and pool ready.  They were also showing a movie and had to get the large screen set on the lawn next to the pool.  As we waited in the car, the parking lot filled with families.  Other cars arrived and started dropping off teens for the swim.  When the time came, the gate opened and we made our way inside.

I took position on a bench while Carter played with his friends.  In about twenty seconds I realized how much time had passed.

Things I wish I’d known twenty years ago:

1/  Everyone is insecure- The crowd was a mix of the “popular kids” and the outsiders.  One girl ran past me telling her friends “People want me in the pool and you are all up here hanging out.  I don’t know what to do!” Some guys swam in full t shirts, others without. The posturing was interesting to say the least.  If there’s anything I’d tell myself at 17 is that all people are insecure, not just you.

2/ These years aren’t forever I thought everything was huge.  All the conversations, interactions, days in school and days in summer.  I thought it all mattered for the rest of time. It does not. Time is fleeting (in the words of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the sun will rise tomorrow.  Eventually, it fades to memories.

3/ Have fun– A group of kids stood off in the corner hanging out and watching the others swimming, laughing and joking around. I know, from my own insecurities, that I missed out often on experiences and taking chances.  Courage is not an easy thing, often it may seem  cool to stay off to the side, but you must take advantage of the moments and grasp them tightly.

Because soon you’ll be a dad, watching your son swim, and wondering where all the time has gone.  You’ll know, soon enough, he’ll want to be dropped off and ask you to wait in the parking lot.

The fear of a parent is not missing out.  It is not how our kids will survive and will they make it though to adults. The fear is not having enough time.  It is knowing that one day they’ll leave the house and start their own families.  One day they’ll have their own lives and your conversations will change.

You’ll watch them graduate, meet significant others, stand in front of you and exchange vows. You’ll see them in their own house and get the call one day that you’ll be a grandparent.

One day there will be no 10 year old to take to the pool. No player to drive to baseball practice. No head resting in your lap as you watch a movie on Friday nights. No one strolling into the kitchen to give you a hug just because.

One day they’ll be out there, on their own.

And you’ll think of the day you sat at the pool and watched him swim and you’ll wish, just for a moment, that you could go back there and do it all one more time.  Have one more summer night as the sun set, listen to the laughing and splashing, and maybe you’ll get up and join him.  Maybe you’ll tell him how proud you are. Maybe you’ll stop checking email and just be there in the moment.

Because one day he won’t. He’ll be the sum of his childhood out there in the world and, God willing, be a better man than you.

Creating Your Legend

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be adding some posts leading up to the release of my new men’s devotional at the end of the month. Let the countdown begin!

This week, the world of college basketball lost Dean Smith, legendary coach at the University of North Carolina whose tenure included guiding Michael Jordan, the greatest to play the game.  I’m not a huge basketball guy, but I found myself reading the stories and response to Smith’s passing.  In doing so, I found a valuable lesson in the untapped potential of men.

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Photo Credit: cuppycakelolz via Compfight cc

A phrase that kept coming up in the memories of Smith was, “a second father.”  Many players stated he was the father they never had and they admired his influence. He was a man who taught his players beyond the hardwood. He valued skills that would apply into the world after college.

He graduated 96.6 percent of his players over a career of almost four decades, an impressive number that reflected how much he valued academics.

In 1967, he provided the first scholarship to an African-American basketball player in the University of North Carolina’s history. Imagine this move in the midst of a state, place, and time still dealing with segregation.

As men, what can we learn from Smith’s life?

Our reach expands wider than we know. Even if you aren’t a coach, you will influence the life of a young person out there.  It can be your children, family members, or the children of friends. You have a daily chance to make a difference. Reach out, Talk. Take action. Share your passion with a young person in need. Being a father is one of the greatest blessings in life.  Being known as a “second father,” is just as high of a calling and one you shouldn’t miss.

Push your boundaries. Legends take root in breaking ground.  They do things faster, stronger, and better than anyone before.  Smith, in shattering the racial lines at his basketball program, was working to pave the way towards a new future.  How could this look for us? Find an outreach, charity, or volunteer opportunity. It can be down the highway, the block, or at the corner. Push yourself and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

Two final thoughts to remember from Coach Smith himself as you progress through your week:

“The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring.”

“There’s a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option.”

 

The Importance of Fatherhood

This post in our marriage and family series is focused on the male half of the equation and inspired by the current message series at our home church.  You can find videos of the messages here.

The other night we were watching the Philadelphia Eagles preseason football game.  I cover the Eagles for the website Philly Sports Space. It is something I love to do as I’m a huge fan of the team and analyzing the game.  Carter was laying on the couch watching it with us as Aiden was already in bed.  The broadcast cut back from a commercial to show a group of Eagles’ cheerleaders dancing.  The image then cut to the players.

“Dad can you put them back on?”

The question came from the couch. Val and I looked at each other.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“The cheerleaders.  Can you put them back on the t.v.?” Carter asked.  Then he laughed.   I’m not ready for that conversation, not at six years old!

At church we are going through a short series on Marriage, Love, Sex, and Dating.  The message today, delivered by Pastor Scott Kramer, talked about some responsibilities of men in our marriages and relationships.  He mentioned how society does not help us in the fight to make women equals and not commodities. He talked about how the early church was revolutionary in seeing women as people and not slaves or items to be sold. Turn on the news, check your smart phone, it would not be long until you find an article from the sports, music, or entertainment world written to objectify women. And wow, men, do we eat it up.

Scott mentioned starving your eyes and how these images hurt our marriages and relationships.  They create unrealistic expectations of significant others. They sell the fantasy and, in times of struggle, fantasy can be very addictive.

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I just started reading Manhood by Terry Crews. Crews is an actor and a former NFL player and a man of faith. He’s the star of Old Spice commercials, over forty films, and hundreds of television episodes. He is married to his wife of twenty-five years and they have five children. He also battled a strong addiction to pornography that almost cost him his marriage. (check out his commercial below and you’ll be singing the song all week)

In the beginning of the book, he talks about growing up with parents who battled nightly and a father who was an alcoholic. He and his siblings were abused. They relied on each other to survive.  He mentions going to church and just wanting to be good enough for God, to avoid sin at all costs, to be a handler (as many children of alcoholics are) and make everyone happy. He realizes how this isn’t possible.

I love his honesty and his profession of grace.

As men we have important jobs. We stand in the gaze of our children.  Our sons and daughters learn from our examples. They see what it means to be a support for a family. If we want things to change, society to be different, women to be respected, the work force to even out, and the future to brighten, then it starts with us. Want to change poverty and stall crime? Be there as fathers.  Want to start chipping away at racism? Be there as fathers. Want to stop the violence? Be there as fathers. Engage. Support. Listen. Respect. Serve.

I don’t know about you but I want my boys to be the difference and live the change.

I want them to have hope, to reach out hands in support, respect and value women, hold doors, say please, say thank you, tip well, and pray with their own families. I want them to see Val and I as inspiration.  It is a big job but, with God, anything is possible.

~Matt