November, Football and Parenting
Thank you for your support—it’s one of the things I’m grateful for today!
It’s November, and that means Thanksgiving and—FOOTBALL! That word might not resonate with all of you, but for many families, the act of sitting back in a recliner to watch a game on Thanksgiving afternoon is as much a tradition as the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. It’s a great way to foster family togetherness and, if nothing else, it offers the opportunity to catch a nap after the big meal.
Football has become a major theme in the Daly household this fall—but I’m not talking about watching NFL games. Rather, I’m pleased to report that my oldest son, Trent, who is now in junior high, played on the football team at his school! And that’s not all. I actually had the privilege of assisting the team as a coach for the junior varsity until the season ended last month.
You may be asking yourself how I landed this unique gig. It all started in September as I was cheering on Trent and his teammates at their football practice after school. The coach of the varsity team—who also happens to be a good friend and former colleague here at Focus— saw me on the sidelines. He said, “Hey, Jim, why are you just standing around? The junior varsity could use your help!”
And so, the next thing I knew, I had been enlisted to serve as the junior varsity team’s quarterbacking coach. Although a hectic travel schedule prevented me from devoting much time to the assignment, it was a joy to spend even a little time with these enthusiastic and energetic boys as they honed their skills throughout the season and learned the ins-and-outs of passing, dropping back, handing off and—more than a few times—recovering fumbles!
One of the reasons I have found it so enjoyable to work with Trent’s team is that it took me back to my youth. As you may know, especially if you’ve read my book Finding Home, I played football in high school. Like any kid at that age, I had dreams of gridiron glory. Those dreams came to a quick end, however, after a shoulder injury.
Even so, my short-lived football career was one of the most memorable times of my life. Much of that had to do with my high school football coach, a great man named Paul Morrow. I came from a broken home and wasn’t a believer at the time, and Coach Morrow took an interest in me. He invited me to his home for meals and allowed me to spend time with a healthy, intact family—something I hadn’t experienced up to that point. Not only was he a mentor and a father figure to me, he also took me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) camp, where I committed my life to Christ at the age of 15. I think you can understand why the opportunity to coach Trent’s team unlocked some very important memories for me that go well beyond the game of football.
As for Trent, well, he had a great season. He held his own, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. I think most fathers—at least those who have the typical male fixation on sports—secretly hope their sons will grow up to be star athletes. That was certainly something that entered my mind when both Trent and Troy were born. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in allowing kids to develop their own interests and abilities. But for guys like me, whose visions of being a football star were sidelined by an injury, I think it’s only natural to hope, just a little bit, that our sons will follow in our footsteps (minus the injury, of course).
But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that it is wrong-headed to think this way. We can’t impose our own dreams and desires on our kids. They are unique individuals with unique talents and God-given callings that might not match up with what we, as their parents, envision. Up to this point, though, Trent has not been a “sports kid”—at least to the same degree I was back in the day. He’s much more thoughtful; more scientifically minded. He’s very adept at problem solving and science experiments and creating structures out of Legos.
I have attempted, at times, to gently nudge him toward sports, but again, I realize now that to do so was a bit selfish on my part. When he was probably 5, Jean and I enrolled him in T-Ball. I must confess I was excited because I thought it might be the chance to experience a true father-son moment of bonding over sports. We ended up arriving a bit late to the first practice, so the coach told Trent and I to stand in the outfield (at that young age, parents often accompany their kids on the field). We stood there for a while and fielded a few balls, but overall I got the sense that this wasn’t really “clicking.” After about 30 minutes I looked down at Trent, who was grimacing. I said, “Are you doing okay?” And he said, “Not really.” I asked, “Would you rather go get a milkshake?” And he immediately perked up and said, “Yeah, let’s do that.”
A few years later, Trent came home one afternoon and proudly announced, “Hey Dad, I won a gold medal at school today!” For a moment, I felt that little spark of excitement ignite once again at the thought that he might have caught a bit of his dad’s competitive, sportsmanlike spirit. But it turned out that his gold medal was earned in a decidedly less athletic endeavor—chess!
So when this year arrived and Trent announced, on his own volition and without any prompting from me—honest!—that he wanted to try out for the football team, I was thrilled. But, I wanted to make sure he wasn’t doing it for me. He assured me he wasn’t. He just wanted to experience the camaraderie that comes with team sports. But once again, I have to admit, I entertained visions of him becoming the next Peyton Manning. What father hasn’t done that on occasion? We all want our kids to succeed. We’d all like to see that little spark of interest fanned into flame.
But that hasn’t really been the case with Trent’s budding football career thus far. This fall he played on the b-team, where he fit in very comfortably. He did great at following the coach’s directions. I’m more proud of him than I can possibly express. I admire his determination and his willingness to try something new. He’s a bright, energetic boy who loves to learn and who is growing in his relationship with the Lord. That means the world to me! I want Trent to thrive, and I know that the most natural way for that to happen is to allow him to pursue his own dreams and interests, whatever they may be.
I’ve been reminded again that my desire for Trent to be a sports star is primarily selfish in nature. To a certain extent, it’s a case of me trying to shoehorn my own interest in sports onto my son. The old image of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole seems to apply here. Maybe there’s also an element of me trying to live vicariously through Trent—to relive my own years of playing football through him.
In a strange way, I’m reminded of Tim Tebow’s tumultuous NFL career to this point. After being released from the New England Patriots in August (the third team to let him go in the space of 18 months), Tim tweeted the following: “I will remain in the relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback.” If that is God’s will for Tim, then I am certain he will achieve it, despite the adversity he has faced thus far in his journey. If, on the other hand, God has other plans for Tim Tebow, I’m confident he will have the maturity to readjust his expectations, to set aside his “lifelong dream” in the interest of pursuing God’s best for him.
I have had to readjust my own expectations this year, too. Those expectations were not in Trent’s best interest. I hope that this letter does not convey the idea that I am somehow “disappointed” with the way Trent’s football season turned out. On the contrary! If I am disappointed with anyone, it is with myself for getting carried away with the whole football idea in the first place.
As for Trent, I deeply admire him for stepping outside of his comfort zone and trying out for the team. It is something that will build character in him, even if it doesn’t turn him into a football star. He’s having fun, and he’s learning and growing. Aren’t those things more important than stardom? I have also gained a deeper appreciation for Trent’s analytical mind and his interest in science. Those are God-given gifts and abilities, and they will serve him well later in life. The fact that he’s willing to give football a try this year is just icing on the cake. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I couldn’t be more proud of my son!
Sometimes, not getting what we want, or what we want for our kids, can be a blessing. God may have something else in mind—something far better than what we think we need. Trent’s football experience has helped to remind me that we must hold our own dreams and desires with an open hand, always submitting them to the Lord’s perfect plan and timing. As the book of Proverbs reminds us, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3, ESV).
Speaking of plans, before closing I need to let you know that Focus on the Family has big plans in the works for 2014. In September, I gave a progress report on The FamilyProject, our documentary film and DVD curriculum that are scheduled for release next spring (FamilyProject.com). In addition, we have a number of important ministry initiatives ongoing, from our Adoption and Orphan Care™ activities to our daily radio broadcast to our outreach to young adults (Boundless.org). There’s a lot going on here!
Unfortunately, though, the economic climate continues to be challenging. In September, we had to engage in a staff reorganization effort that resulted in the reduction of several employee positions. While our income has been steady—and for that we are very thankful—we nonetheless had to make some painful adjustments in order to keep these various ministry efforts moving forward.
And that’s why these final two months of the year are so critical. The holiday period is typically when Focus on the Family and other nonprofit organizations receive the lion’s share of their financial contributions. The donations we receive in November and December will be crucial to keeping the ministry on a sound footing in 2014.
With that in mind, will you please consider supporting Focus on the Family financially as we approach the year’s end? A gift of any amount will help. I know the Christmas season is almost upon us and you are likely facing financial challenges of your own. Nevertheless, if you feel God leading you to make an investment in this ministry—an investment that will allow us to offer real help and real hope to individuals and families—I hope you’ll let us know just as soon as possible.
Time and again, the Lord has provided for Focus on the Family’s needs through the generosity of our friends. And we’re praying He will do so again. If He does not, then we will readjust our expectations—just as I’m learning to do with Trent and his football career!—and we will seek His will in figuring out how to do more with less.
Whether you are able to make a contribution or not, I hope you know how truly thankful we are for your continued friendship. It is among God’s greatest blessings to this ministry. As you gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table this year, I hope you will remember just how much we appreciate you. And I hope that you, too, have a long list of blessings for which you are thankful. From our table to yours, have a very happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. Once again, we’re feeling a particularly urgent need to end this year on a strong note financially. If you feel led to help, don’t wait until Dec. 31. We’d love to hear from you right now!