Originally, I had thought about saying something about my mother in honor of her sixty-second birthday. I could mention how she inspired a decades-long passion for poetry and that I enjoy teaching as much as I do due to her influence. My mother means the world to me and I am as close to her as I am to any human being on this planet, but instead, I'm going to be talking about my father.
You see, there was a bit of "bad news" that he had to share with the family. After coaching football for over forty years, he was forced out as head football coach at my high school alma mater. The reason is petty (mostly, it boils down to county politics and the football schedule), but that is not what this post shall be about; it just merely shortened by a year or two a coaching career. Rather, what I want to talk about is my father the person.
So often reviewers such as myself try to dissect a book, pointing out how well-done the characterizations are. Yet what does it mean to have "character," especially a "good" one? Despite having a very different personality from my father, he has been the gold standard when it comes to a "good character." When I was a child, I used to resent all the time he was away from the home, practicing or watching film (then tape, and finally DVD) in preparation for the next game. When I grew older and learned how much he did for my schoolmates and those that followed after, I began to understand a bit better.
He has said to me on several occasions that coaching is a combination of teaching and ministry and based on the stories that I've heard from older ex-players (I've worked over the years with several people who had my dad as a coach at two different high schools), I can believe that. He never really talked about what he would do when practice was over and a player, often one who came from the so-called "broken home" and who had a "troubled situation," needed that ride home or that opportunity to just talk. My dad can talk with anyone, make them comfortable, unless he needs to discomfit them for a greater good.
My father is one of the most moral people I know. Just this past Monday, I was doing an Adult Living discussion in my classroom and I talked about peer pressure and drug use. I told them how my dad refused to take anything alcoholic after my grandfather, a recovering alcoholic, made him promise to never touch alcohol. When he was in Vietnam, his fellow soldiers learned of this when he would not go out drinking with them and one time they raised $100 (or roughly $300-400 in spending money today) as a bribe if he would just drink one beer. He never would.
Some might hear this and think he would be a self-righteous and rigid individual. No, he had a firm set of beliefs he hewed to, but he could be very compassionate and understanding of others and their frustrations. That's not to say that he wouldn't call a spade a spade, for he did not massage egos; he was much more interested in helping so many grow in their religious faith and to become better people. I learned only just now that several times over the 30+ years that he would take players to the annual summer Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Black Mountain, NC that he and my mother paid the way for the very poor, troubled teens, those who perhaps were within an eyeblink of being kicked off the squad and even out of school, to come and experience the fellowship that happens at a camp such as this (my favorite memories growing up were attending these camps; Asheville, NC is one of my favorite spots on this planet due to these memories). He more than spent his entire coaching supplement on giving back to his teams, to his school, and to the local community.
Yet some are not satisfied with that. There are always those who look at the "bottom line" without ever looking at all the tallies above that make a singular figure so meaningless when the final play is snapped and the lights go off in the stadium. Yet despite those people who will be busy for weeks writing letters in the county paper saying why my dad should have been fired a long time ago or that "the community" doesn't support him, there will be those who will remember those little moments that might have made a difference in their lives or in the lives of their family members. Yet I hope that he can be spared the worst of the vitriol and the community division that so often results from this.
Rather, sad as this moment is for him and my family, I believe ultimately good will come of this. Maybe he'll be a volunteer coach or find some way to minister to the needs of those youth who need guidance from someone who is firm but fair with them. I know that he has been a great influence on my life. He used to tease me about certain "sports heroes" and how their foibles had led to me being so cautious about whom I would admire. Yet, looking back, I think as I've grown older and have come to understand him better, I think it is my father who has influenced me as a person. I may not be a tenth of the leader and support he is, but I certainly keep in mind the values he instilled in me when I deal with residents who say that they "don't give a fuck" about school, life, or themselves. This world needs more people like my father and while I'm going to have to get used to him (and my mother, who announced today that she's retiring at the end of the school year due in large part to what happened to my dad) not being a school's teacher/coach, I can only hope that he finds new ways to do both in his retirement.