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Ninety Percent of This Game Is Half Mental

  • Steve Lambert The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
  • Published Feb 13, 2009
Ninety Percent of This Game Is Half Mental

The New York Yankees’ great catcher Yogi Berra was famous for his malapropisms. One of my favorite Yogi quotes came from a 1979 Sports Illustrated article. Berra summed up the game of baseball as only Yogi could: “Ninety percent of this game is half mental,” said Berra.

If Yogi had been a homeschool father he might have made the same observation: “Ninety percent of being a homeschool dad is half mental.”

Oh, don’t misunderstand. There’s lots of physical work in being a successful homeschool dad. It begins with being the primary or sole breadwinner, often working overtime or holding down a second part-time job in order to make ends meet in today’s difficult economy. And then there’s the building of bookshelves, dragging home 70-pound sets of used encyclopedias, and driving the family on Saturday field trips.

The most important contribution a homeschool father can make is usually less physical and more mental, emotional, and spiritual. If you’re able to help teach calculus or chemistry, that will be a blessing. But what your wife and children need most from you isn’t another teacher, but rather an encourager and leader.

Leadership is a much misunderstood word in Christian circles today. We have confused the world’s definition of leadership with the Bible’s definition. We all too often think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the take-action leader who bends the world to his will. In homeschooling families, I’ve seen far too many “Terminators” and “Rambos” laying down the law to wives and children in no uncertain terms.

The Bible paints a very different picture. Perhaps you remember the story of Jesus and the disciples, found in Mark, chapter 9: “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:33–37)

That portrays a different style of leadership, doesn’t it? Jesus says it’s less about taking charge and more about serving others.

So what does it look like to become a servant homeschool father? How do you master the 90 percent of the game that’s “half mental”?

Let me offer these three simple principles: stop, look, and listen.

When you walk into the house I know you’re anxious to see if the economic stimulus refund check arrived, to check the bills in today’s mail, and to turn on ESPN. But take a few minutes to stop, look, and listen.

Stop in front of your wife first of all. Look into her eyes and ask her how her day went. Then listen as she tells you.

Nothing else you can do will impart as much life as simply demonstrating that you care and are interested in her homeschooling day. She’s been locked up all day without adult companionship and she needs your attention. She needs to know that what she’s doing actually matters—and that you appreciate her sacrifices today.

Avoid the temptation to look past her at the pile of bills on the table. Maintain eye contact and listen as she tells you about her day. She may share some of her problems and frustrations. Just listen. She’s not expecting you to solve all of those problems. She simply wants to share them with someone who cares.

Now take time to stop each of your children and look at the work they’ve done today in school. Ask them about their work and then listen as they tell you about it. Remain focused and take an interest. Nothing motivates a child more than to know that the work he or she is doing each day actually matters, that someone cares and is interested.

For just a moment, imagine a scene with the great Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi. Imagine that his young quarterback has just come off the field after a difficult game. Sagging in a chair in Coach Lombardi’s office, the young quarterback asks, “What do you think coach? Did you see anything in my mechanics that caused those two interceptions? Is there any better sort of pass rush protection we can implement on the left side of the line to protect me against sacks? Did you think I led the receiver too much on that down-and-out pattern on third and ten?”

Now imagine Vince Lombardi responding: “I don’t know, son. I really wasn’t paying any attention. You say you had some interceptions and sacks today? I was reading the paper during most of the game and really wasn’t particularly interested in what was going on out there on the field.”

That’s the impression we give our children when they work hard for five or six hours during the day and we pay no attention to what they’ve accomplished. We’re too busy with the computer or watching television to notice their accomplishments or to encourage them in their struggles.

When we stop our children, look at their work, and then listen to them tell us about their experience, we speak volumes about their value—and the value of the work they’re doing each day.

Your wife and children are doing important jobs. It’s up to us to act like it. We have the power to demonstrate how important their efforts are. Or we can give them the impression that what they’re doing is really foolishness and nonsense. Even if we don’t speak a word, they know whether we think their efforts have been important by whether or not we’re interested.

The very next verse after Jesus talks about leaders becoming the servant of all the Bible says, “And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me.” (Mark 9:36–37)

When we take time to stop, look, and listen to the works and the words of our children, we are serving Jesus. It’s that simple.

Many of us can talk great spiritual talk about leadership, the father’s role in establishing Godly authority in our family, etc. But if we’re not willing to sit down and look at our 6-year-old’s drawings and commiserate with him about his struggles with reading today, we have denied the very Lord we claim to serve.

Our wives and our children need more than just our checkbooks and our authoritarian decisions about whether or not we’re going to have television in our home. They need our time, our attention, our interest, our patience, and our love. They need to know that the work they accomplished today while we were away from the house really matters. They need affirmation that the tears over handwriting and the struggles over spelling were worth it—that you’re interested and that you care.

And they need one more thing. They need an example to follow.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul encourages us, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

For better or worse, our children imitate us. They watch us closely and they are natural mimics. Have you ever watched your son pretending to shave with a shrunken bar of soap? He’ll twist his mouth to one side as he scrapes his coarse “whiskers” on the side of his chin—just the way he’s watched you do it in the bathroom.

If we want our children to grow up to become the men and women God wants them to become, then we have an important role. Each of us needs to become the man God wants us to become—because our children are watching. By watching us, our children learn how a husband should treat a wife. They learn how a wife should expect to be treated. They learn how to handle success, and how to handle adversity. They learn how to handle finances and how to handle friendships. They learn how to handle popularity and how to handle loneliness. They’ll learn far more from watching us than they’ll learn out of any of those expensive books we bought for them at the homeschool convention this year. And the lessons they’ll learn from watching us are the most important lessons they’ll ever learn.

They can probably get along reasonably well in life even if they don’t know how to diagram a sentence. But we’ve done them a grave disservice if we haven’t taught them how to apologize when they’ve been wrong. Those kinds of lessons are always caught—seldom taught.

Your children are watching how you live your life more than they’re listening to what you tell them about how to live their lives.

You see, your children are playing the “stop, look, and listen” game too.

They’re stopping their games and stopping their conversations to watch you and listen to you when you’re least aware of it: while you’re talking to your mother-in-law on the phone, while you’re discussing your tax return with your wife, and while you’re communicating with the driver who just cut you off in traffic.

They’re watching you read your Bible—or not.

They’re listening to you pray—or not.

They’re learning about how to conduct themselves by watching how you conduct yourself.

So there you are. It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult.

If you want to master the “ninety percent of homeschooling fatherhood that’s half mental,” you’ll take the time to stop what you’re doing and look into your wife’s eyes and then listen attentively as she tells you about her day.

You’ll stop each of your children and look at each day’s homeschool efforts and then listen as they tell you about their day.

And you’ll learn to lead by example by becoming the servant God wants you to become.

Published on February 16, 2009


Steve Lambert and his wife Jane began homeschooling in 1982. Today Steve’s children are out of college, married, and homeschooling their own families. Steve is the publisher of the award-winning homeschool curriculum, Five in a Row (, and he is a popular keynote speaker at state homeschool conventions. He and his wife Jane are also co-founders of Real Life Marriages, a series of marriage retreats aimed specifically at homeschool couples (

Copyright 2008 The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
Reprinted with permission from the publisher.