When I was young -- elementary school aged -- I played soccer. I played well, actually. My parents had multiple clippings and video tapes from games in which I was the winning scorer, or in which I scored multiple goals in a game. That's a little ridiculous, even in the clumsy, slow-paced style with which People Who Are Small play the game. It wasn't that I was a supreme physical specimen, or that I had been coached or trained better than any others. I don't know WHAT it was, actually. Considering how my game went from middle school on, it appears to have been dumb luck.
But one thing I know didn't HURT my game back then was the encouragement I got from the sidelines. See, when you go to little league or peewee games, there are basically three kinds of parents. One is quiet, and studious. They support their child or children by showing up and watching... and they probably tell them after the game how well they did or give them pointers about various ways they might improve. The other two kinds are loud. One of those is angry-loud. They shout at the refs. They should at their angel's team mates to pass the ball. They shout at parents behind the other bench. They shout at parents behind their own bench. they shout at their own kid. And they are discouraging to all involved in their manner.
The third kind is how my parents -- and many others -- were. They cheered. They were encouragers. If you ever have had or do have the privilege of seeing one of those home videos, God Bless You, you'll hear my mom's voice throughout, encouraging not only me but my team mates, and possibly even the other team (well, no). But my dad was intense. He didn't cheer as much as Mom, I don't think, but when it really got good, when the superstar was in front of the goal ready to let loose a shot to the upper-right corner, you might catch a glimpse of him in the corner of the screen kicking at his own imaginary ball and you might definitely hear him lavishing praise on the players and especially on his son. He was a soccer player too (and a darn good one, I might add), and he couldn't help but get wrapped up in the game...but more than that he just wanted to help me do my best. "Come on, LEE!" he would yell. "Get in there! Take a shot!"
That was a long time ago. My dad changed a lot over the years. I did too. I played soccer throughout school, til my senior year, when I was too out of shape and not willing enough to work hard enough to do well enough to play. Dad never beat me up about that, though I know it must have disappointed him and my mom both that I hadn't given my best effort. Dad had quieted a lot by that time, and I was the typical teenager, begging not to be parented too much. My parents were wonderful in those years about continuously teaching and being there to support me but also letting me take my own path and learn my own lessons. I can only hope to be as good as they were at balancing parenting and independence.
I went to college and didn't make it at college either. And I was broken when I talked to my dad and mom from my dorm room and told them I needed to come home. And they took me back home, and loved me more than ever before during the next months when I struggled with my own failures. I couldn't quote a single word from any conversation I had with either of them during that time, but I know that at the time of my life when I needed it most, my mom and dad loved me unconditionally. And my dad until the day he died continued to bear some of the burden of the sacrifice they laid out for me during that time. My mom still bears some of it now, though not for much longer. And it's been a long, LONG time since I heard my dad yell and encourage me from a sideline, but the sound is so clear in my head. They have so consistently loved and encouraged me during the last 15 years, through several employment and school situations... and they still love and encourage me today. Even my dad still encourages me today.
See, I have some things to do. There are some jobs I need to finish. I need some closure on a few things. And there are paths I have to tread which I don't even see yet. I have an incredible, winding, long road to travel. I have no idea where it goes, but I know where it starts, and I know that my dad, now in his perfect state -- in his perfect, whole, holy, energetic, happy, joyful, athletic, and final state -- is standing on the sideline, and will never leave it again...and I can hear his voice in my head -- and maybe in my ears. "Come on, LEE! Get in there! Take a shot!" I'm gonna hit the goal this time. And if I don't, dad will still be there, cheering me on, and I'll keep shooting til I get it.