In 1987, when my son, Ben, Jr., was 12 years old, I was concerned that he needed a structured after school activity. His mother and I had divorced, I was traveling a lot due to business opportunities, and I was concerned about what he might be doing after school until his mother came home from work. My quick solution to this problem was to convince him to play football at the Boy’s Club.
Two years earlier, he had played Boy’s Club football, but it had not been a good experience because of his coach. This coach was so bad, he had been dismissed from coaching by the Boys’ Club - and he was an unpaid volunteer! So, the next two years Ben, Jr. didn’t want to play and I didn’t press it.
But now, as he was getting older and more apt to go out and find inventive things to do after school, I started pressing him to sign up and play again. Every day for a week, I broached the idea but I just wasn’t having any success convincing him.
As the deadline for registration approached, I implored him to sign up and play. “It’ll be good for you! You are such a great athlete!”
Without hesitation, he looked up to me and said, “I’ll play if you’ll coach.”
WHAT did my son just say? …..WHAT did I just hear?
His comeback hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m a busy man! I am so busy that I have a pilot flying me throughout the southeast and as far away as Texas, West Virginia and Ohio. I have people to see, deals to make, money to earn!
But all of a sudden, in the back of my mind, I heard Cat Stevens singing “the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon” and “when you comin’ home dad, I don’t know when - but we’ll get together then.”
My son was reaching out. He wanted to spend time with me. (A lot of kids at that age don’t even want to be seen with their parents). And Cat Stevens got a little louder in my head singing, “I’m gonna be like you, dad, you know I wanna be like you.”
As I wrenched my heart out of my throat, I heard myself say, “Yes, l will coach.”
Coaching changed my work and travel schedule drastically as I now had to be at the Boy’s Club everyday. But, looking back on it, it’s one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made. Not only did I show Ben Jr. that I cared enough about him to invest my time to coach his team, but it also gave us quality time to share in something we had in common, the love of football. I went on to coach his team for the next few years until he was too old to play Boy’s Club football.
I often wonder what would have happened if I’d have ignored his request. What if I’d have put money ahead of my children? Would he be who he is today? Would he have emulated me and put money before his children?
Today, Ben, Jr. has two children of his own, a boy and a girl, and coaches both in their respective sports. As I sit back and watch him with his kids, I again hear Cat Stevens singing, “I’m gonna be like you, dad, you know I wanna be like you.” Knowing the wonderful dad he is and the good example he is for Jacob and Kate to emulate, it makes me smile and makes my heart very glad. If Ben, Jr’s children are “gonna be like him,” the positive legacy of one simple decision in 1987 will roll on into generations to come.