There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still. Ecclesiastes 1:11
Solomon has a point here. When you think about it, who and what do you remember in your life? It’s surprising what sticks and what doesn’t in your twilight years. I took an accounting of my life the other day. It didn’t take long. What’s telling is hardly anything would appear to be notable enough for anyone to recall, if I barely can. So much effort in life is expended for so little lasting impact in the final analysis.
Based on what stuck in my memory during my inventory, I’ve decided that there is a common denominator to who and what we are most likely to recall; a dad’s actions, and most of all, his words.
I still vividly remember the summer of 1974 that I spent in the blazing Florida sun as a carpenter’s helper. This was a summer job before my junior year in college. I was with a framing crew building house after house. In the end, I practically carried and cut to size every 2×4 used in the house. On top of that, I carried, hoisted and nailed ever sheet of plywood that would become the home’s roof, and we built two-story houses! The first day I almost passed out. I was always sore. I was always sunburned. My hands were calloused. My left thumbnail was black for months. Every day after taking the two showers necessary to cut through the grime of sawdust and sweat, I’d complain to my dad (who arranged for the job) and express the desire to quit. Every day he said no. His few words? “This is good for you.” Was it? There’s value and accomplishment in working hard, yes, but the takeaway here is that I’ll always remember those arduous days in the sweltering heat, and a dad who would not give in. It made me a better man. After all, when he was my age he was somewhere in France fighting a world war.
I will also always remember the Rudy story in my life, which had elements of my earlier experience. My son was five foot nothing, 100 nothing, possessing not a modicum of athletic talent (relatively speaking) when he first went out for his high school football team (at an athletically storied Catholic boys school). He was cut in his first and second years on the last day, devastating for him and me. In his third year he resigned to be a trainer, that is for practical purposes, a “water boy.” At least he could hang around the team. In his last year he asked the coach if he could try out again. The coach skeptically replied that he didn’t know how many seniors he’d want to carry on the team who would not play, but he let him participate in spring football. He dressed for the spring game in a JV uniform but did not see the field.
Come fall, the football coach had resigned and another took his place. Evaluating his returning stable of running backs, he just assumed my son was fifth string, not on the bubble. From there he commenced his first high school football season. On his first touch of the football in preseason he ran a good 30 yards for a score. It was called back. He eagerly left too soon. Before the half he was being run exclusively and was on the verge of scoring, but time was allowed to elapse by our team. From there he paced the sidelines the whole season with no playing time.
He got in his runs though, everyday on the “meat squad.” It was brutal. When he broke off a good run, the defense sought revenge after being excoriated by the coach. He amazingly survived with no injuries. In a game deep into the season, on Senior Night, with mom in the stands with a corsage, the parents told me the coach said he’d be getting my son into the end zone that night. Yeah sure, I thought.
Well, he entered the game in the first half and scampered for 17 yards, and ran a few more times after that. In the second half he was again inserted on a drive heading for the end zone. He gained positive yards until, just a few yards from pay dirt, there was a pile of players. The opposing team excitedly indicated fumble. My heart sank. But from under the pile emerged the team’s star lineman with the ball.
With about 4 yards to go they handed off to my son one last time. Things went into slow motion. He started right and cut towards the goal line. But unlike his best chance to score in peewee football, he launched himself through an opening created by that same lineman and rolled into the promised land. His coaches and fellow teammates went wild. After the game, with the Rudy theme playing in the background (at least in my head) there was a ride on the team’s shoulders, the game ball, and tears.
Unbeknownst to everyone was my son’s ardent desire to quit in the earliest days of camp, with far too many excruciating pile ons. On a telephone call on the way home, he said to me he was hanging up the helmet. My response? Much like my dad would certainly say, “You’ve come too far. Quitting will mark you for a lifetime.” He didn’t. Now, at a comparatively young age, he’s a top executive in the region’s power company, with three boys of his own to influence.
Is there no lasting memory as Solomon asserts? Well, like it or not, a father is likely to be the most memorable person in one’s life, for good or bad. What he does and what he says does stick, and is most likely to get passed on to the next generation.
What does this say to the absence of this key influencer in families today?