Today I settled in to watch a documentary about one of the greatest and oldest rivalries in college football, the Army – Navy game. I was mainly interested in how they prepared for the game, the comradery of the players, and the history of the game. I was surprised when the documentary started out by introducing two young men and their families as they transitioned into becoming cadets, as well as division one football players. They followed them as they arrived for the first day of orientation and as they moved into the next phase of their lives. There was the self-discipline of academics, military training and football. These young men quickly learned that the ball players from each school did not receive any special treatment, they were required to endure every task, every test, and the intense military training of every other cadet attending their respected academy. They each had thoughts of leaving, but their love of country, family and team overcame any thoughts of abandoning ship or going AWOL. This was a wakeup call for these academic all-Americans that were number one at their former high schools. They had gone from the apex of attention and popularity to the end of the grunt line at chow time. This was a mind-altering change for these young men, the world they once knew was now transforming. This transformation would take these young men and turn them into America’s future military leaders. The pride that was on their parents faces as they watched their child walk away, knowing in four years, that child would be an officer and a leader of soldiers, whether it be on the ground, at sea or in the air. These young men were taking their first steps to become military leaders. These same parents also had the realization that after their child’s graduation, becoming an officer and being deployed there was always the chance they may never come home again. Another possible transformation for an entire family with hopes and dreams for their son, their daughter, their hero. It is a transformation that has the endless possibilities anytime a soldier enters the field of battle.
Everything I watch, observe, or listen to now, whether it be a documentary about Military Academy football, a movie about the underdog becoming a hero, a commercial about life insurance, a family on the beach, a dad and his young daughter walking holding hands, I associate it with my transformation. The transformation of being a father of two, to now being the father of one. I find myself tearing up at almost every feel-good moment I witness, no matter the media. I look at the world through a whole new set of eyes, damaged eyes, tear filled eyes. I have become more aware of other people, their feelings, and their lives. I have also learned from this tragic transformation you never know what a person is going through in their life at any particular moment. When Lindsay passed away there were so many people that came up to us and told us they had also lost a child. These were people I have known my entire life, as well as strangers and neighbors. I have learned to take a step back, stop and think before I ridicule or judge anyone, because, number one I do not have the right to do so, nor do I have any idea what they are dealing with at that particular time in their life. I have also learned that you can’t put a super natural force field around your other child. You can only do what you have done their entire life up to this point, continue to pray for their safety and happiness. I cannot stop Jarrett from living his life to the fullest, as much as I want to put him in a box and protect him from any danger. His was raised to know right from wrong, and make wise choices, I can only hope he will take what he has been taught, continue to learn every day and flourish in this life. As he walked across the stage at Wilmington Christian Academy and Cape Fear Community College I was just like the parents above, my heart was full of pride and tears for one of our future leaders. I have also learned, at the end of the day what truly matters. It is not the petty arguments we have with co-workers, the person that we think does not like us for whatever reason, how much money you have stashed away, how big your house is, how many cars you have, or what kind of designer clothes you are wearing. What truly matters is family and the love they have for one another. The time you spend helping that child with their homework, pushing that bike and picking them up when they fall. Picking up that ball and glove and playing catch them. Sitting very patiently while they fix your hair, put on make-up and paint your nails. Being there when the traumatic questions of the teen-age years are asked, and answering them, truthfully. This is something I learned in a class at work and it covers not only a career but personal life as well, “Be Here Now.” What a huge statement these three words make. No matter what you are doing at the time, “Be Here Now” give that person, that task, that child your full attention. It is not the money you spend on your child they will remember, its the time you spend with them. My hope is that Lindsay does remember and cherish the time we had together, because nothing I ever bought her is worth more than that. If you try to buy your child’s love, remember this, one day they will have everything they want, but they will not have what they need, your love. Always put to rest any disagreements you have with your child, hug them, kiss them and most importantly tell them you love them before they walk away.
Just like the parents of these young cadets above, we watch our children walk away so many times. They take their first steps as a toddler, they walk into classroom for the first time, they walk into a ballroom for their prom, they walk across a graduation stage, they walk down a wedding aisle, they walk the halls of a hospital waiting on the birth of their child. Every day, our children walk straight into the battle field of life, and we, as parents, never know when it will be for the last time.