In an earlier post, I told you about my youngest son's early season football experience with his line coach/defensive coordinator. Well, here's an update which I'd like to share with you. It came as a surprise to me, and in the middle of a terribly difficult week for our family. Whether the timing of it was a coincidence or a result of the events of that week, we may never know. But I have no doubt that it will have a profound effect on my son for the rest of his life.
Last Tuesday, my wife's father passed away. He was 80. My mother-in-law and he were married for more than 57 years, and they adored each other. They have five children, all of whom are married, and 14 grandchildren. As my brother-in-law said on the day that Dad died, the "in-law" is just a formality. Not one of us - children, grandchildren, or in-laws - ever felt like we weren't one of the most important people in their lives. And my three children were no exception.
The older four grandchildren were with him when he passed away, my older son and my daughter among them, as were his children and their spouses, and Mom. Fifteen of us gathered around Dad to say goodbye and to pray for him on his journey to Heaven. As difficult as it was to lose Dad, it is equally heart-wrenching to watch your children suffer and not be able to ease their pain.
We had told my youngest son to go to school that day, and to go to football practice afterward. Adhering to his routine would distract him from the inevitability of his Grandpop's passing, which we all knew would come in a matter of days, if not hours. Dad died late in the afternoon, during football practice. There were many things to take care of before the funeral home was called, so there was no rush to get my son over to his grandparents' house. We sent my oldest son home to get him after he came home from practice.
When he arrived, he went up to Grandpop's room to say goodbye. He was terribly shaken, kneeling at his grandfather's bedside and sobbing. It took about ten minutes for him to collect himself. He joined in the pain and grief of the family, as well as the reminiscing that begins the healing process. It was an emotional night, but within our sorrow was the sense that Dad couldn't help but be proud of the family, his family, and the love and support that was demonstrated that night and throughout the following days. By the time the evening ended, thirteen of his grandchildren (the 14th was away at college and on her way home), all his children and their spouses, and Mom all gathered in their home, as we had on so many other joyous occasions, mourning our great loss, sharing stories, and thanking God for the tremendous gift he had allowed us to share.
Wednesday, most of the grandchildren that are in grade school and high school stayed home and spent the day around the family. During the day, my youngest son and I had a few minutes alone together. I asked him how he was doing, and how his day had gone the day before. What he told me both surprised my and filled me with pride. It also demonstrated that maybe more coaches do "get it," even if they don't always know how to express "it."
The offensive linemen were taking a break from drills. They were sitting down, waiting for drills to resume, when the coach approached them. They stood up to get ready for the next drill. The coach stopped them for a minute, and called my son to the front of the group. The coach put his arm on my son's shoulder, and said, "I've been meaning to do this for a while now. I want you all to know that here's a kid, a senior, that knows he won't play a lot. If he were on almost any other team, he'd be starting and having a lot of success. But he never complains, he does everything I ask him to do, he works hard. He's a great teammate and a great kid, and he's been a pleasure to coach. I just wanted him to know that I appreciate him and that I'm glad he's on the team." His teammates that were gathered around him all cheered.
The coach may never know how much that meant to my son, or to me. He could not have known that my son was only minutes away from receiving the worst news of his young life. The same coach who had made him feel so bad earlier in the season had lifted his spirits higher than he could have ever imagined.
There are two lessons to be learned here. The first, a lesson I (again) learned, is that we too often judge people solely on the little snippets of them that we see in public. There's more to a person than the small slices of them that we encounter. They're seldom as bad (or good) as they appear to be in those snapshots or sound bites. I made a judgment about the coach based on the way he interacted with my son on that one day. I was wrong about the coach and his motives. And while I don't excuse the language or tactics of the former interaction, I have a better appreciation and respect for the coach than I did earlier.
Second, we cannot always know the effects of our words on the young athletes we coach. We cannot assume that we'll get a chance to make up for earlier mistakes. We cannot know what each of them faces everyday, or what events they may have to endure. Each interaction we have with one of our youngsters can have tremendous impact, positively or negatively, whether it's for a day or for a lifetime. We just don't know which ones they might be.
Because of that coach's words, my son will know that hard work and dedication and selflessness and camaraderie count for something, even if it's not always apparent. I have no doubt that my son will remember that moment in front of his teammates for the rest of his life. When he thinks of the day his Grandpop died, he won't remember the sadness. He'll remember all of the special moments he shared with him. He'll remember how he felt in front of his friends on that day, and how proud his Grandpop would have been to hear that story.
For that, I can only say, "Thanks, Coach."
Posted By: Jim Roynan