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1st and Bench: A Simple Lesson of Manhood


Tuesday was a day I've been waiting for for a long, long time.

My 14-year old son is hard headed. Not that anyone at 14 isn't, but a hard head makes for a soft behind, goes the old adage. My father went upside my head so much when I was growing up (something he now claims to not recall) I have no desire to lift a finger or raise my voice to discipline my son. All the same, I've had a run-in or two with him over the years. I clearly remember in the midst of fracases with my father I stared him down with bloody rage in my eyes. This always made things worse. My son, on the other hand, has collapsed to the floor, a screaming, hysterical mess. I wasn't even able to stay angry at the sight of his theatrics.

My, how times have changed.

Besides, why do anything when Life is such a better instructor? My policy is to warn, once, twice, maybe even repeatedly, but I make sure to give full disclosure.

With fall comes football and on Monday, sonny-boy missed football practice because he didn't know what time it started. The night before I asked him to check. He said, "Okay." This meant it wasn't going to happen. He was visibly upset when his teammates called to tell him he missed practice but got over it quickly since his school had off for Yom Kippur. Over the course of the day he repeatedly insisted that it was a light practice. I have no idea how he knew this since he wasn't there.

My warning to my son: "That's fine, but you are the co-captain of the team. You're supposed to be the example. You not showing up tells the people you lead they don't have to show up either. This isn't going to fly for long. It's unacceptable that you don't know when you have practice. And it's not going to happen again."

My son gave me a legitimate, "Yes, Dad." He understood.

Unfortunately for him, I wasn't the only one who felt this way. When I arrived to my son's game Tuesday afternoon with my daughter, I saw him on the sidelines standing suited up. And that's all he did --- stand --- for the entire game. I missed the first quarter and initially thought to myself, what could he have possibly done to get yanked out of the game so early? Finally, I realized he never entered it. And neither did a few other starters who paced the sideline with him.

After the game I introduced myself to his defensive coach (a man who looked like he could eat me for lunch) just for the sake of being polite. Incorrectly assuming I wanted to know why my son didn't play he shook my hand and immediately stated that he had to make an example out of my son because he's missed practices (this was his second time for the exact same reason).

I told him that was my son's problem, not mine. My job is to get him where he needs to be. His job is to know when and where he needs to be.

My son got a nice bitter taste of what it means to be a man --- something he covets as a football player and an aspiring Air Force pilot. You mess up, you pay the consequences. He's heard this a thousand times from me, but this time it was something that truly mattered to him. And based on the size and demeanor of the defensive coach, I'm almost certain he was dealt with harshly.

My son sobbed loudly in the car on the way home. I told him it was one game, that he needed to accept responsibility for his actions, that he had the opportunity to turn himself around, to shake it off and to do his best to ensure this never happens again. "This," I said, "is what being a man is really about." He ran inside our building dragging his uniform and backpack behind him and closed himself up in his room to cry some more. Part of me laughed and part of me truly felt his pain because I know it myself and experience it often as a Man. An hour or so later he emerged from his room to eat dinner and do his homework. He left his trash everywhere around the house and didn't do any of his chores for the night. He was a miserable, gangling, teenage mess.

Next lesson for another time: Your bad day has nothing to do with me or you not fulfilling your responsibilities.

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