When They Cry

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On Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of picking up my sons from school. When they climbed into my truck, something wasn’t right. One son was his normal self. The other one was not. My parenting instincts kicked in. I asked if something was wrong. He said that there wasn’t. His answer did nothing to ease those nagging parenting instincts so I asked again. This time he said that he wanted to wait until we got home to tell me what was wrong. In private.

By this point, I really knew that something was wrong.

When we got home, I took him to the private place that he seemed to be longing for. When he sat in my lap, the tears poured out of him. And they came out loud.

He explained to me that another kid at school was mean to him earlier that morning. I could barely make out his words between the wailing. I thought about whoever the guy was who made up the saying about sticks and stones and words that never hurt. That guy  obviously never had anyone say anything mean to him. The words spoken to my son earlier that morning had broken his bones.

I let him cry and held him tight. When he got a little quieter, I told him to cry some more. “Get it all out, son. It’s okay,” I told him. And so he did.

When all of the tears were gone, we had a good talk. All of it, the mean words that morning, the tears that afternoon and our private conversation, were an answer to prayer.

Minutes before I picked up my kids that afternoon, I said a prayer. Sitting in my truck in the car line, I asked God to help me to be patient. I asked him to give me the right words to say to my sons. I asked for words of grace. God rarely answers our prayers the way that we expect him to.

Sitting there in that room with my sobbing son on my lap and my shirt wet from his tears, God gave me what I asked for. He gave me not only the words to say but the opportunity to tell my son what he needed to hear.

I told my son that looking like everyone else is a dead end game. I reminded him about his true identity in Christ. I let him know that part of being a man who leads and does significant things means that people will take shots at you for no good reason. I reminded him how much his family loves him and how much more Jesus loves him. It was good to see him smile at the end our our talk and cry session.

On his way out of the room, I thought about my own childhood.

I thought about wrestling magazines.

I used to get bullied a lot. Once, after a nasty encounter with one of the neighborhood bad guys, I ran into my room and looked at wrestling magazines while crying. I grew up in a single-parent family. My mom had to work. I had to spend a lot of time alone. As I looked at those magazines, I wished that Ric Flair could somehow jump out of the pages and give me a few pointers on how to put the figure four leg lock on that bully. It sounds crazy I know. But it’s not uncommon.

A lot of kids today are growing up without a father around. Or if their father is around, all he has to offer them is tough talk on getting over it and a plea to shut up with the crying. I do a lot of counseling for my job. There are a lot of young men who have sat across the table from me who had dads like that. Dads who gave them nothing when the world was giving them its worst.

Dads, there is a difference between whining and crying. Our kids need to know the difference. And so do we. Whining is what kids do when they don’t get their way. When kids whine, they need to be corrected in love and told to stop. Crying is what kids do when their world caves in on them. When they cry, they need to be held and told that it’s okay to cry. Keeping pain bottled up isn’t manly. It’s foolish and dangerous.

I’m glad that God answered my prayer the way he did that day. I hope that through his tears, my son could see what his father had looked for and not found in a wrestling magazine.

I hope that he learned that the world can be a mean place.

I hope that he remembers that sometimes it’s okay to cry, no matter how old or how manly you are.

And I hope that our conversation the other afternoon gave him a vivid reminder that when the tears do come, he is still being held by his Father.

For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

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Dads, Be The Seatbelt

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Like any other six-year-old, Kayson Latham was a little anxious. The roller coaster was about to take off. You could see the fear in little Kayson’s eyes. As the ride began, Kayson’s body rocked back and forth in a mix of fear and bravery. Kayson had two things going for him. His dad was seated right next to him and he was strapped into the ride by a seatbelt.

But by the time the ride was over, one of those sources of security would let Kayson down in a frightening way.

As the coaster made its way down a steep hill, Kayson’s seatbelt came apart. That look of anxiety he had at the beginning of the ride was no match for the one on his face as his seatbelt released its grip and allowed the boy to slide down to the bottom of the car he was seated in.

Kayson’s dad, Delbert, did not come apart. He calmly grabbed his son and did the job that the seatbelt failed to do. For the remainder of the ride, Delbert was his son’s seatbelt. As he held him closely, he reassured his son.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more big hills.”

When the ride was over, Delbert told the operators of the ride about the incident. Their response was something along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s happened before. Enjoy the rest of your day at the amusement park.”

Fathers, there are things that your kids depend on. They depend on their schools to give them knowledge. They depend on coaches to help them to develop character along with athletic ability. They depend on friends to be there for them.

But, like Kayson’s seatbelt, those things have a way of coming apart and letting them down. When that happens fathers, be the seatbelt. Be the one who was in their corner all along, holding them in your loving grip and giving them words of reassurance.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more hills.”

Dads, we have a tough job. It’s hard to find the balance between the insanity of helicopter parenting and the negligence of what passes for fatherhood these days. We have to let our kids fall. But, at the right time and in the right way, we have to be there for them when they do. This requires special wisdom. Divine wisdom.

Dads, you will blow it. No matter how good of a father you are, there will be times when you come apart and fail to do the job you were designed to do. But don’t let this get you down. Use it for good. Apologize to your family when you fail them.

If you’re any kind of a dad, there’s a good chance that your kids think you’re the fourth member of the Trinity. Use your mistakes to remind them that you are not God. Use your mistakes as a reminder to them and to you that you need God just as much as they do.

Dads, even when we fail, we can teach our kids a valuable lesson. There will come a time when we will not be there for them. Our kids will one day become adults who will have to navigate their way through life with only the memory of us. What then? What will they do when they’re in their sixties and you are gone and their seatbelt fails them?

That depends on what you teach them when they’re six.

If you, “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they will know that they are held by a Father who will never fail, come apart, grow weary or abandon them.

Dads, your kids will be let down. Coaches, teachers and friends will come apart on them. When that happens, be the seatbelt. As imperfect as you are, your example will help the to be more aware of the presence and loving, eternal grip of their heavenly Father.

And when the day comes that their ride is over, they will hear his voice.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I’ve had you all along.”

“There are no more hills.”

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 (ESV)

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My Journey To The Father Of The Year Award

Steve Perry, singer from the rock band Journey, poses on a boat at a shipyard where he is shopping for a boat. August 19, 1981 Sausalito, California, USA

When they hand out Father of the Year plaques this year, I’ll be getting one.

The lady had a beautiful voice. She was singing hymns and we were listening on an iPod one Sunday morning. As I saw it, it was the perfect music for us to listen to as we ate breakfast. My then four-year-old son saw things differently.

“Dad, put on some man music.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant by man music. I can’t remember what I put on instead. If I know me, I went with a selection from Waylon Jennings. Nothing prepares your heart for worship quite like Waylon Jennings.

It was then that I knew what I had on my hands. This kid wasn’t going to be one to settle for just any kind of music. He had a particular ear for a particular sound.

On Thursday night, it was that particular ear that let me know that I had done my job as a father well. Even if my son grows up to do something terrible with his life like rob banks or cheer for Auburn, I can live in confidence that I have at least raised him under proper musical guidance.

We had just gotten in the car after his soccer practice. When the engine turned on, so did the radio. It was playing one of those pop songs that sound like every other pop song. You know the type. Some woman was singing about how, “They can’t tear us apart.” Pop songs always sing about how “They,” whoever that is, can’t tear the singer and her significant other apart. What is it with pop musicians’ relationships that everyone wants to tear them apart? Anyway, that’s what the woman was singing about while a computer was making some sound that no actual instrument on earth could make.

This lasted for about 3.12 seconds until my son with the discerning ear spoke up.

“Dad, turn it.”

Man, I was proud. In fact, that moment is currently number 3 on my list of 25 Proud Fatherhood Moments. It’s right behind the time that he stuck his tongue out and booed when we drove by the campus of Georgia Tech and that time he climbed the wall and touched the ceiling while wearing nothing but a Batman mask and cape.

I obeyed my son’s request.

After a few minutes of flipping through the stations, the familiar keyboards of Journey’s Separate Ways boomed though our speakers.

“Dad, turn it up.”

Once again, I obeyed my son’s request.

And the rest of the way home, I knew that everything was going to be okay. Taxes might go up. They probably will. Someone will start a war with someone else for no particular reason. Those little green worms will eat my tomatoes. The Falcons will forget how to play defense in the fourth quarter. But my son will know the difference between the classics and the garbage.

Once we got home, I let the boys watch the Chiefs smack Peyton Manning around a for a few minutes before bed. When it was time, they reluctantly obeyed and found their way under their covers. I prayed over them and put on some relaxing music for them to listen to as they fell asleep.

Finally, their day was over.

Well, almost.

I heard the door to their room open and the sound of small feet pounding on the floor. It was my young son with the gift of musical discernment. He had one last question.

“Dad, can we listen to Journey?”

I said yes and sent him back to bed.

As he searched in the darkness for his favorite song, I leaned back in my chair and started thinking about the best place on the wall for me to hang my Father of the Year plaque.

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The Voices In Their Heads

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The boy could tell that his dad was serious. The old man’s eyes didn’t blink. That’s how they always did when he talked serious. He wasn’t mad. Just serious.

“Rule number one. Don’t point this at anyone. Ever. It’s not a toy.”

“Yes sir.”

“Rule number two. Know what you’re shooting at. If you’re not sure, don’t shoot. Understand?”

“Yes sir.”

The old man reached out his hand and handed the rifle to the boy. The boy walked with the rifle pointed down at the ground. He knelt down behind the tree, took a deep breath and one last look at the red can the old man had sat on the tree stump several feet away.

When the boy put his face up against the scope, the target transformed. It was no longer a red can. The old man whispered in his ear.

“There’s the bear, son. It’s him or you. Focus on your target. Breathe like I taught you and, when you’re ready, put your finger on the trigger and pull.”

This time, the old man’s voice was more reassuring than serious. He still meant business but what he said lifted the boy’s spirit. The boy’s imagination had now taken control of his nerves.

The boy tried his best to look through one eye. Winking still didn’t come easy for him. Not as easy as it did for his dad. The old man promised him that it would come in time.

“Can you put your hand over my eye?”

The old man gently placed his hand over the boy’s left eye. The hand was rough and worn from years of work. Somehow, it still comforted the boy.

Finally, the bear that used to be a red can came into sight through the scope. The boy’s heart raced. He slowed it down with two deep breaths.

One.

Two.

As the last little bit of that second breath made its way out of the boy’s mouth, he slowly moved his finger down to the trigger and pulled.

The shot penetrated the silence. It wasn’t very loud but it was loud enough for the boy. There was a better sound. It was the sound of the tiny BB hitting that red can that was playing the part of a bear.

The boy couldn’t keep from smiling. He tried to stop. He knew that it was only a can that he hit and he didn’t want to get too excited over such a small accomplishment. But he couldn’t help it. The smile wouldn’t go away.

When he turned around, his eyes immediately caught the old man’s eyes. Those eyes that were once wide opened were now shut. The old man’s calloused hand was wiping moisture away from them. And the smile on the old man’s face was just as big as the one on the boy’s. The boy still hadn’t figured out why grown ups sometimes cry when they are happy. He didn’t say anything. They both just kept smiling.

Twenty years had passed since that day in the woods. A lot had changed. Cancer had taken the old man. The boy was now a man. It was hard for the man to say it but the old man was better off. He wouldn’t like the world that he left behind.

Each day brought more violence. Twenty years ago, the names of strangers were read on the news during reports of another murder miles away in the big city. Now, those reports were more frequent. The locations were closer. And the names were more familiar.

Last week, Mrs. Davis was shot in town.

This morning there was word that Bill Gleason had been shot. He lived two doors down.

The man carried a gun with him everyday. It was his job. To protect and to serve. Even on his days off, he still carried a gun. As bad as things had gotten, he still never had to pull his weapon on anything other than a deer or a turkey. He wanted desperately to keep it that way. But he was no fool. He knew the odds. The time would come soon.

Finally, on the evening of September the 10th, it did.

When the shots rang out, everything at the high school football game stopped. The players stopped. The fans were too shocked to move, for a few seconds at least. Even the people who were just there to socialize had stopped. It was like someone had hit the pause button. And then the fast forward button.

People were running everywhere trying to get away from the gunman. No one knew where he was. In the chaos, some ran right too him. It was the last thing they ever did. In a matter of seconds, nine people were down. And the gunman was doing his best to make that number higher.

Sirens could be heard in the background but the man knew that they were still several minutes away. He reached under his jacket for his gun. He was off duty that night. But he never was truly off duty. He didn’t pull his gun yet. Simply remembering it was there did him a lot of good.

It was easy to find the gunman. The sounds of his gun and the sight of people frantically running from the home concession stand gave him away. The man ran against the crowd. His right hand was resting on his gun that was still holstered under his jacket. His left hand was clearing people out of the way.

Finally, the crowd was behind him. The gunman was in front of him with his back turned, looking for another victim. The man drew his weapon.

In an instant, his mind went back to those days with the old man and the BB gun. He remembered the rules just like the old man was telling them to him again.

“Rule number one. Don’t point this at anyone. Rule number two. Know what you’re shooting at.”

The man knew what he was about to shoot at. He had no other choice but to point his weapon. He was sure that the old man would understand.

When the gunman turned around, his gun was pointed at the ground. The man had him in his sights and walked toward him. How he wished that his target was a red can or some imaginary bear that was born in the old man’s mind. But it wasn’t. It was a kid.

This kid wasn’t much older than the man was when he was learning how to shoot. It was like he was looking in a mirror at a younger version of himself. He felt sorry for the gunman. Although he didn’t know him, the man felt like the two had a lot in common. The only difference was the voices in their head.

The man could still hear the voice of the old man telling him rules and affirmations and stories about imaginary bears.

No one would ever be able to agree on what voices were in the gunman’s head. They just knew that they weren’t good.

 

The sirens were drawing closer.

The man yelled at the gunman. As he yelled, his eyes didn’t blink, just like the old man’s used to do.

The gunman’s eyes didn’t blink either. They were glassed over, ruled by that day’s drug combination.

“Police! Drop your weapon! Now!”

The gunman raised his weapon.

A shot rang out. It was somehow louder than the approaching sirens and the screams of the crowd.

A few minutes later, three news helicopters were flying overhead and dozens of reporters were on the scene. As they carried on with their live shots, they tried their best to mask their excitement by pretending to be concerned.

They all said the same thing.

They talked about how the guns needed to go. They discussed what the police should have done better. They brought up the background of the gunman and the off duty officer who bravely confronted him.

The man watched it all on his television that night. He couldn’t turn away from it. One reporter called him by three different names before finally getting it right. It was almost comical.

The man stayed calm throughout the whole ordeal. It was that same voice. The old man’s voice. The same voice that calmed him down all of those years ago was still replaying through his head.

The man finally turned the television off and tried to fall asleep. Finally, left alone with his thoughts, he started to grow afraid. Afraid of what could have happened. And he wished. He wished that he could hear the old man’s voice again in person. He wished that those calloused hands could cover his eyes again, this time to wipe away the tears.

And, more than anything, he wished that the gunman, and everyone else for that matter, had grown up like he did with an old man who cared about him. Maybe then the voices in their heads would have been different.

Maybe everything would have been different.

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Soccer And The Art Of Fatherhood

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Being a dad will change you.

Back when I was single, I thought that soccer was one last attempt by the communists to take over America. Now that I’m older and a family man, I’ve learned that such an idea was absurd. Clearly, the communists are trying to take over America by getting elected as congressmen and senators.

Soccer is just a sport.

It’s a sport that my kids play. So now I love it. I even coach it. I use that term coach loosely. Seeing as how I didn’t play growing up, I have no idea what I’m doing. I basically just throw balls at kids. Coincidentally, I just described every Georgia Tech head football coach.

Wednesday night I watched soccer. By myself. For some reason, my cable provider is having it out with Fox Sports so the match between the US and Mexico wasn’t on our TV. Until I found the Spanish station. So there I was, late at night, watching a Spanish language soccer broadcast. And I loved it. Especially this part.

“Goooooooaaaaaaaaal!”

It was the only word I could understand. I heard it twice. The only other Spanish words that I know, I learned in high school. There are two of those words. Zapatos and baño. I never heard those words on Wednesday night. But, if I ever need to find a bathroom shoe while visiting Madrid, I’m in good shape.

The US won the game 2-0. Two nil, I think, is the proper way to say it.

The next morning, I talked to my kids about it. It was a quality father and son moment. Take that, communists.

Being a dad has changed me.

I don’t stay up late anymore. 7:00 in the morning is sleeping in for me. The Netflix screen on my TV has been taken over by movies recommended for children. And a soccer ball is no longer what you use to shoot hoops with when there’s not a quality basketball around.

No one will ever accuse me of being a communist.

But you might say that I’m just getting soft in my old age.

That’s okay.

I know that it’s just part of being a dad.

And I like it.

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In Defense Of Youth Sports

He walked over to the sidelines with a frown on his face. Another tie. But I was still proud.

My son had just finished his last soccer game of the weekend. In this particular game, he spent most of his time battling against one of those nine-year-olds who has a five o’clock shadow and drove to the game. As soon as my son got to me, I turned him around so that he could see the giant he had been going up against. I spoke into his ear.

I told him to look at how big that kid was. I told him that he virtually shut down that big kid for the entire game. I told him that he had done what most kids his age would have been too scared to do. By “most kids,” I meant me when I was his age. There was no way that the nine-year-old version of myself would have gone against that kid. But my son did. And I was proud. So I told him.

I told him that he was brave.

I told him that he acted like a man out there.

That’s what I love about youth sports. For all that tends to go wrong at practices and games across our country due to overbearing parents, out of control coaches and spoiled kids, there is still a lot of good that comes from these weekend rituals.

It’s important that parents not rely on a sport to do for their kids what only a parent was designed to do. It’s been said that sports builds character. Maybe so. But the character that’s built isn’t always good. It’s the parent’s job to shape, add to or even tear down what’s being built.

Parents, your kid’s sport should be a tool in your tool box not a babysitter to occupy their time or a god to master them.

From the time when they were babies, I taught my sons how to listen. When they were old enough to kick a ball and have a coach, my sons started to become listeners. The living room and kitchen table are the classrooms where my sons learned their lessons about integrity, listening and effort. The playing field and the school playground are the internships where they’re able to put what they have learned into practice. Like their father, they don’t always do it right. That’s okay. Class is always in session back home in the living room and at the kitchen table.

Your kids may not get a college scholarship because of their sport. But they will have to make tough decisions. They will have to deal with difficult people. They will be tempted to quit when they need to go on.

It’s then when they’ll think back to their youth sports days. The days when they were first able to live out what you taught them. They’ll think about the giant they had to defend. And they’ll carry on with what needs to be done. Because that’s what their sport taught them.

Youth sports can be costly. You can pay dearly with your wallet and your schedule. But if you’re smart, you’ll be glad that you did. Even if your kid can’t one day pay you back with a scholarship or signing bonus. You are making memories together that will not soon be forgotten. But, more than that, you are making men and women.

And sports is one of the best tools you can use.

Never Let Your Kids See You Cry In McFarland, USA

Never let your kids see you cry. That’s a rule in some unwritten parenting book from long ago. A few days ago, I tried to obey that rule. It didn’t work out too well.

One son was invited to a birthday party at one of those places where they have pits filled with plastic balls where kids sit and pee. I knew that sitting around watching kids pee in giant ball pits would make me cry.

Never let your kids see you cry.

So my wife got to go to that giant germ pit which is represented by, of all things, a rat. I decided to take my other son to see a movie. We saw McFarland, USA.

I went into the theatre expecting Remember the Titans with running instead of football. That’s pretty much what I got. It followed the usual formula for Disney produced sports films. Outcast kids + down on his luck coach who initially doesn’t want anything to do with said outcast kids + adversity + great athletic accomplishments + singing and dancing montage + inspiration. Predictable as it is, I like this formula. It’s sort of like watching YouTube videos of soldiers surprising their families by coming home early and showing up at halftime of some football game. You know what’s going to happen but you can’t quit watching.

My son and I couldn’t quit watching McFarland, USA. There were a few times that I looked over at him to make sure that he was holding up okay during the two plus hours of non-cartoon involved cinema. He was doing just fine. His eyes couldn’t turn away from the screen. He was captivated by the well-told story.

I once heard someone say that you know you’re watching a good movie when you forget what time it is. We both forgot what time it was. For over two hours, our world was in McFarland, USA.

And then it was over.

And that’s when I broke the rule about never letting your kids see you cry.

I looked over at my son and he was crying. Later on he said that they were “tears of joy.” That’s another sign of a good story. When it can make you cry without making you sad. So my son and I sat in that empty theatre and we cried. For a second or two, I was doing one of those cries where your shoulders move up and down. And my son saw it all through his tear soaked eyes.

And I’m glad.

So I say, forget about the parenting rule that says that your kids can’t see you cry. When your kids see you cry they see that you are a person. A person with feelings. A person who cares.

Later that day, we all met back up at our house. My son and I still had that post-cry feeling in our eyes. My wife was on the verge of tears after spending all afternoon watching kids pee in the giant pit of plastic balls. My other son was wondering what was wrong with all of us and when he could go back to see the rat again.

My sons finished their day with their customary Sunday evening run. My oldest son said that he was thinking about McFarland, USA while he ran. I’m sure that he’ll do that for quite some time. And I hope that he doesn’t forget anytime soon about crying with his dad in the theatre after the movie was over.

So parents, stop holding in the tears. Let your kids see you cry. Let them see your happy tears. Remember, tears go along with a good story.

McFarland, USA is a good story.

And so is your life together as a family.

But like any good story, it goes by quick. So don’t be afraid to slow down and soak it all in with the ones you love.

Don’t be afraid to let them see you cry.

Dads Ain’t So Bad

I was looking for the kid who was all alone. The one with no hand to hold. The one who, when he looked up, saw no one. I was going to be there for him. At least for that day, he was going to be my son.

But I never found that kid.

My son’s class was on a field trip. This was a different kind of field trip. It was one where dads were supposed to come. There was going to be fishing, hiking and learning about wild animals. It was going to be the kind of stuff kids are supposed to do with their dads. The kind of stuff that scared me to death when I was a kid.

I grew up on Creekwood Drive in a home that was led by a single mother. It was the same situation in the house just across from us on Creekwood Drive. And the house next to that one. And several more on that street. I once heard someone call Creekwood Drive Divorce Court.

There weren’t a whole lot of father and son field trips on that street.

So when I showed up with my own son for his field trip, I thought about those days on Creekwood Drive. That’s why I was looking for the kid who didn’t have a dad around. In a way, it was like I was looking for a younger version of myself. But like I said, I never found that kid.

That’s because his dad was with him.

A man was giving us instructions for fishing. He was telling us the boundaries we should stay in and he was making sure that we all had a pole and some bait. When he was done talking, every kid headed for the shore with a fishing pole, a bucket of bait and a father.

When we were done, the man who gave us the instructions was confused. He told one of the teachers that he and his staff usually have to spend the whole time helping kids fish. But not this time. That’s because every kid had a father there with him. So, with nothing else to do, the man just went fishing with all the rest of us.

When we were all done, I spoke to my kid’s teacher. I wanted to know if this kind of thing was normal. Did they always have so many dads show up for field trips? The teacher wasn’t nearly as amazed as I was. That’s because this kind of thing really was normal.

The next day, my son had a soccer game. I was busy coaching my other son so I got to the game just before the scheduled start time. I noticed something was wrong. I didn’t see any colors other than the maroon jerseys of my son’s team. The other team didn’t show up.

My son’s coach made the long walk across the field to give us the news. I was expecting a see you next week, thanks for coming out anyway speech. Instead, he had an idea for another game.

“If any of you dads would like to play, the boys are up for a challenge.”

So we spent the next hour playing our sons in soccer.

One dad was wearing flip flops. One dad looked like he belonged on the Brazilian National Team. One dad looked more like he belonged on the Brazilian National Spelling Bee Team. That one was me. But we all played. And we all had fun.

The dads played hard. The kids played even harder. The moms took pictures from the sidelines. The older brothers and sisters cheered and tried not to make fun of that guy from the Brazilian National Spelling Bee Team.

There are a lot of deadbeat dads around. But, for one weekend, I didn’t see any of that. Instead, I saw a bunch of dads who took off of work and missed out on a few hours of sleep to make it to a field trip. And I saw dads who were willing to get hot, sweaty, and maybe even look a little foolish just so their son could play a soccer game.

The media doesn’t paint fathers in a very good light. Homer Simpson is probably our best representative. We are usually seen as indecisive slobs who are growing up slower than our own children.

I didn’t see any of that last weekend. I just saw dads being dads. None of us are perfect. But we were there. And that’s a big part of what it means to be a dad. Just being there. Engaged. Sacrificing. Loving. Fishing. Running.

I started my weekend off by looking for a nervous kid who was all alone.

I’m so glad that my search came up empty.

Maybe, just maybe, that kid isn’t as easy to find as the one who lived on Creekwood Drive.

Encouragement For Dads

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Nick Diaz punches like a girl.

In fact, he doesn’t even really punch. It’s more like a slap.

That’s what Nick Diaz’s opponents say before they fight him.

And then, more times than not, they get knocked out.

When we think of fighters, we think of big men throwing huge punches. We don’t think about Nick Diaz. He’s tall and thin. His stance is open, leaving his face vulnerable for attack. His punches are, well, sort of like slaps. His punches are small.

But those small punches add up over the course of a fight with Nick Diaz.

Small punches win fights.

It’s easy for fathers to think that being a good dad means big trips, big purchases or some combination of the two. So we buy our kids tickets to the Super Bowl. And then we beat ourselves up for the next six years as we try to save up for the next big ticket item that proves our fatherly worth.

But the stuff good dads are made of is different. Anyone with enough money can buy ponies, tickets and nice cars. Only good dads make the effort to train, love and guide their kids in the day to day.

Good dads know that small punches win fights.

Like when your kid wants to tell you about something that he built on Minecraft. And you put down your iPhone. And you listen to what he has to say.

Or all of those times when your daughter sees you open the door for your wife.

Or the days that you turn off the TV and lead your family in a short time of Bible reading, prayer and singing. No impressive musical productions. No three-point sermons. No Latin. Just you taking some time to tell your family about how good Jesus is.

Those are the things that will never get you on the cover of a magazine.

Your kids may not even talk about those things the next day to their friends.

They’re just small punches.

But they win fights.

When your son grows up to have a wife and kids of his own, there’s a good chance that he’ll be an engaged husband and father because that’s all that he saw from you.

When your daughter starts to consider her options for marriage, she’ll stay away from smooth-talking fools because they just don’t measure up to the way that she saw you treat her mother.

When your kids go to church, they’ll know that Jesus isn’t just to be worshiped on Sunday mornings. Tuesday nights right before bed are good too.

Small punches win fights.

But beware.

This works both ways.

Your family is open to attack. But it’s not what you’re probably thinking. Most likely, a bunch of guys in ski masks driving a creepy van aren’t coming into your home tonight to mess up your family. Your enemy is subtle.

He knows that the images on your computer can do a much more destructive job on your family than any gang of van-driving hoodlums.

He knows that if he can just get you to listen to the couch when it calls your name after a long day at work and let your wife take care of the kids and the house, he’s well on his way to victory.

He knows that if he can convince you that the spiritual leader of your family is your pastor or some guy on TV, anyone but you, he’s got a good shot at making sure that you raise kids who will abandon the faith when they grow up.

Nothing big.

It’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Small punches win fights.

Nick Diaz wins fights, not because of his big swings but because he’s relentless. He never quits. Not until the fight is over. Even then he sometimes keeps fighting. One time, after a loss, he tried to settle the score with his opponent in the emergency room where both men were being examined after their official fight.

That’s the kind of father that you should be.

Never give up.

Never settle for stumbling from one big ticket event to the next.

Focus on the small, every day tasks that come with being the leader of your family.

It is there that the fight is won.

And lost.

If you’re not paying attention.