Ever since Everett was old enough to walk, I’ve done my best to instill in him 2 things:

  1. Be an Ohio State Buckeyes fan
  2. Be a Cleveland Browns fan

Lest you think I’m joking…I’m not.  Now that he’s 10, I think I’ve done a decent job as I watch him cheer loudly for the best college team in the nation…the Buckeyes.  Conversely, he’s learned what it’s like to deal with continual disappointment…the Browns.  “There’s always next year” has been a well quoted statement in our home.

So, obviously, the best way to make him a fan is to teach him the game of football.  I didn’t play football when I was a kid.  I offer a few reasons…maybe because I was small, maybe because I lived on a farm and had to help and football practice conflicted with harvest season, maybe because my confidence wasn’t there for a variety of reasons.  Nonetheless, I didn’t play.  But I was a fan.  I love the game of football.  Such a battle of talent and will and good fortune and attitude and preparation.  You face your opponent eye to eye on the battlefield, and the victor is often not just the most skilled, but the one who just had a bigger fight inside of them.

We’re blessed to live in a farmhouse with a couple acres to have a garden, some trees, and ample room for a makeshift football field.  It’s there that I remember tossing Everett a very small football when he was just old enough to walk.  He’d drop a hundred passes, but I didn’t care.  I knew if he kept at it, he’d figure it out.  Soon enough, he’d be in 1st grade where he was able to play Flag Football.  It’s super fun to watch these little kids figure out the game and make good friends.  At the time of this writing, Everett is currently about halfway through his 4th grade Flag Football season.  He’s having fun, and he’s improved a lot.  Don’t tell him, but he can throw a spiral better than I can.  And, his young legs can cut and juke better than me.  We’re still working on his attitude when things don’t go his way, but I’m confident that will come with time as well.

On our makeshift football field, we always make up with epic plays that if successful, will win the ‘game’.  He usually gets to be Chris Olave, and I select Tom Brady (hey, we’re about the same age you know).  “Ok buddy, it’s 4th down, we’re down by 5 points with 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter.  We’re on the 30-yard line.  Catch this pass and we win!”  Then I whip a long one and “Chris” cradles it softly in his arms as he scores the game winner!

…Then, there’s times when he misses.  Being a man of emotion when engaging in football, I can’t help but offer a loud gasp of disbelief when he misses the catch that he should have had.  “Come on buddy, focus!  You had that!”  Deep inside, I struggle with encouraging him vs. letting him know when he could’ve done better.  He could’ve caught that pass, he could’ve reached his potential, he could’ve won the ‘game’.

Then, there are times when we switch.  I get to be the receiver, and I select Jerry Rice (to which Everett asks “Who’s he?”).  And Everett gets to be the quarterback, and he selects Baker Mayfield.  Uh huh…told you I taught him well.  Same game situation as before, only I go long for the pass.  Now, a couple disclaimers.

  1. I’m not as fast as I once was, but
  2. I’m as good once as I ever was.

So, I dart down the field for the pass.  And, in typical form, Everett launches a beauty.  I’d like to say I catch it every time.  But the fact is, I don’t.  Every so often, I miss the catch too.  Sometimes it’s right in my hands, and I don’t quite know how to explain it, but I lose focus and the ball drops, and I lose the ‘game’.

…And you know what, unlike my reaction when he misses a catch, Everett never says a word to me.  He never reacts disappointed.  He never gets mad or tromps off the field because I missed it.  And, it’s hard for me to say, but he never treats me the way that I usually treat him in the same scenario.  He simply waves me back and says “Come on Dad, there was a penalty on the defense!  Let’s try again!”

He just refuses to make me feel bad.  He’s far from perfect, but this, my friends, is an admirable trait.  Don’t you think?

To be clear, this isn’t a recent phenomenon.  I’ve been aware of this ‘skill’ from Everett for several years.  He simply refuses to make me feel bad for screwing up.  He’s far from perfect, but this, gentle reader, is a commendable virtue.  In the heat of the moment, I ride him about this or that, missing the catch or the play.  But when role-played in reverse…and I mess up…I receive no criticism…rather, encouragement.  “Try again!”  Comes the call.

…His silence is deafening.

…Sometimes I want him to yell at me, to get frustrated, to tell me to catch it better next time.

…Perhaps that’s my deluded way of wanting to make myself feel better for how I treat him.

…Perhaps it’s my frustration that my emotions are too tied up in the performance of my child, and not enough on encouragement of him.

…I don’t know.

But I’m learning.

I’m trying.

I’m not giving up.

He’s got me on this one.

I can learn from him.

I can learn to get better about expressing my frustration toward others.  I can learn that sometimes it’s best when I say nothing at all.  Sometimes a little encouragement is all that’s needed.

Dropping a pass.

Missing the grade.

Not meeting the deadline.

Coming up short.

Missing the mark.

You know when you’ve failed.   When your best just wasn’t good enough.  We don’t need others yelling at us about something we already know.  When you see someone missing the mark…stay silent…learn from my 10 year old kid…don’t make them feel worse.

Instead, offer a helping hand.  “Let’s try it again!” comes the call.

Then, run the play again.  Life’s too short to get hung up on the failures.

Pick yourself up.  Life goes on.