I was six years old when I won my first national championship.
Most of my favorite teams I had as a kid seemed to always lose on TV. But they never lost in my front yard. In my front yard it was just me and a football. I would spend hours a day throwing it to myself. Every catch was another touchdown. Every drop was pass interference on my invisible opponent. I was the master of one man football games. I could not be beaten.
By the time I was seven I think I had won somewhere around 32 national championships.
I was working outside a while back when my son asked me if I could play football with him. I was in the middle of rerouting the Y-brace through an old catalytic converter, or maybe I was just picking up tree limbs. I don’t remember. Either way, I had to finish what I was doing and there wasn’t a lot of time for an all out football game so I taught my son how to play one man football.
He was about to learn from the master.
I showed him the right way to throw a football straight up in the air and how to catch it with his hands instead of his nose.
When I finished my instructions, I went back to work. My son was having a hard time. Almost every ball he threw to himself went way behind him and hit the ground before he could even turn around.
His frustration was evident and increasing.
But I was pleased to see my son struggling.
When I was his age, I had no choice but to throw the football to myself. If the neighbors were busy, it was just me. But my son has it different. There’s someone else on the receiving end of the balls he throws. He may not be that great at one man football but he’s getting better and better at catching passes from his dad.
But I have to be careful here. There’s a temptation for me to be what has been referred to as a helicopter parent. You probably know the type. These are the parents that hover over every single thing their kids do, allowing them no room to explore, fail and succeed on their own.
Earlier this week the Atlanta Falcons were scheduled to play the Green Bay Packers. The game would be in our yard. My sons were Matt Ryan and Roddy White. I was assigned the role of Aaron Rodgers. But before the game started, I sent both boys out into the yard while I finished up some things inside.
I watched from the kitchen window above our sink as they prepared their version of the Georgia Dome for the big game. Once everything was set up, my son started throwing the ball to himself, thinking back to the lessons I had taught him weeks before. He was still struggling. He did catch one pass he threw to himself, but he caught it with his nose instead of his hands.
My instinct was to quickly run outside and check on him but I stayed inside.
He began to cry and run around in circles. It was obvious that he wanted to run inside but he stayed outside.
I’m learning that being a dad isn’t just about being there for my sons. Sure, being there is very important but fatherhood also involves training my sons for when I’m not there. I probably won’t be right there with them when their heart is broken for the first time or when a bully sets his sights on them. But in being present now, I can train them how to respond like men of God when those days come and they’re all alone.
Christians are forever secure in the grip of their Heavenly Father. Nothing can pluck us from his hand (John 10:28-29). But earthly fathers are different. Our job is to slowly let go, trusting our sons and daughters to grow in the godly discipline and instruction we have taught them.
A minute or so after my son stopped crying I walked outside and became Aaron Rodgers. I gave it my best shot but the Falcons were just too much for the Packers that day.
And at the ages of 6 and 3, my sons won their first championship.