Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Double All-County

Lincoln was selected Most Valuable Player on his middle school football
team this past week, earning his way onto the honorary DeKalb county all-star team. This is a very high honor for him and a testament to his dedication, focus, attitude, academic performance and familial support. In some ways it's an award the whole family shares much the same way we were all responsible several years back for Gina's graduate degree, right down to Casey who was still a toddler at the time.

In addition to my pride in his accomplishment I feel some vindication (which I'm not proud about) for how last year's football season ended for him, which I've never written about until now, so here goes:

You can read past postings to catch up on the adventures of last year's season, especially in the way my role as father continued to adapt and grow. As the season progressed Lincoln's morale began to steadily decline due to the attitude and decisions of his coaches regarding his role on the team. The head coach personally promised me that he would get to carry the ball (something he'd always wanted to do) in the last regular season game, since neither victory or defeat would change the team's post-season standings. Unfortunately the coach did not do what he promised, and Lincoln's spirit was crushed. The next week he missed practice due to the start of the wrestling season and despite the advance notice I gave about this the coach made the decision to bench Lincoln during the first play-off game. Lincoln came to that game fired up and ready to rock and was stunned to be penalized in this manner.

He was devastated and I was furious. When half-time started he came to me and asked what he should do. I told him I would support whatever decision he made. He thought about it a few seconds and then said "I'm done." I nodded, realizing the import of what was happening as I watched a young MAN emerge from the boy in front of me. He walked calmly, directly and unbidden to each coach and extended his hand respectfully and firmly while announcing his immediate departure from the team.

The coaches were "fit to be tied" as the saying goes and stormed over to me simultaneously defending their actions and condemning his. I didn't allow this to continue for long (what good would a continued battle of wills do at this point?) and escorted Lincoln to the car with both our heads held high. I remember we went to Blockbuster and rented a slew of Japanese monster movies to watch together (they're not very good, in case you're interested).

I was emotionally conflicted for months about whether I was enabling a lasting template of what society calls "being a quitter", but I have found that my most abiding feeling has been one of immense pride at the courage and self-esteem he demonstrated in response to the way he was disrespected (I almost wrote "pissed on") by adults who will never be half the man he is proving himself to be.

His team went on to win the league championship without him, so he did not get an opportunity to fully experience the feeling of riding a season all the way to the very top. We've got a team photo from last year that neither of us has expressed an interest in framing. I've had to work hard and not altogether successfully to avoid holding onto a resentment against the coaching staff for the way they handled him. What helped me greatly was simply knowing how toxic such an approach is for me.

I've subsequently looked for and found unintended positive consequences that would not have occurred if this event had not taken place exactly as it unfolded. (So many times in my life I've found that seemingly difficult times revealed hidden meaning as my attitude softened). For instance, this year's personal victory for Lincoln is much sweeter for last year's disappointment. His demonstrated ability to "gut out" an entire season on a losing team while maintaining a perfect grade point average is a resounding rebuke to any implied charge that he is a "quitter". And in retrospect the way he comported himself by walking away from an important game that he cared deeply about brings to my mind Cyrano's grand retort to the charge that giving away his gold was foolish when he proudly responded "but what a gesture!"

So I came to the decision that it was time to finally forgive last year's coach and move on. Almost immediately after I came to this conclusion Lincoln was selected to play trumpet in the all-county middle school honors band. I was surprised but pleased, of course. A few days later he auditioned to determine his seating order in the band and was chosen to be principal trumpet! First chair! Best trumpet in the county! Who IS this man, and how do I deserve him?

Important Addendum as Of December 12th: I'm almost relieved to say that Lincoln did worse than he expected at the All-District level and did not qualify for All-State. Also, he flubbed a solo at the middle school end-of-semester concert and was embarrassed about it. I gave him less than a minute of advice about handling disappointments with dignity and just saying to folks "it wasn't my finest hour" because people may admire you in victory but they will come to respect you by how you handle defeats, even relative ones. I also pointed out that the more goals you ahve for yourself the more often you will not rise to the level of your hopes and expectations. Only a person with no goals is never disappointed in himself. He seemed to shrug it all off like water from a duck's back, which is comforting to see on a number of levels.

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