Heathen #1 On The Fly

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”                                                                              – Johnny Cash

Great quote, right? I stole that from a friend’s Facebook feed today, thereby proving that I can actually get LAZIER than just using Wikipedia as my sole research source. Pathetic, really. But, it seemed actually relevant, and here’s why: today was Track & Field Day for the kids in our school district. As a parent, you’re invited to attend, or actually work the event, depending on how much you love your child. I mean, I love mine and all, but since I don’t want to come across all helicopter-y (and, I forgot to sign up), I participated from a spectator’s vantage point.

What that loosely translates into is 4 hours of roasting on shiny metal bleachers while your offspring participate in parachute and rubber-chicken tossing events off in the barely visible distant horizon. Desperately, you search the bleachers for a familiar face so that your descent into mild skin cancer won’t be a solo journey. As a father, it’s imperative that you find another father to chat it up with, so that there can be some common conversational topics (damn liberals. Damn conservatives. Damn weather. Damn people) and so as to stir up the least amount of salacious gossip. Beer is not served at this event, and it’s socially frowned upon to show up to your kids’ track meet at 9:30am with a frosty beer in hand (found THAT out the hard way), so you’re left with an apple, some water and time to passively parent.

So you settle in and wait. And wait. And wait. Wait for the actual Running Of The Second Graders, the only event that will take them past the parents at any point in the day. You idly sit there and marvel at how the long jump mostly consists of kids coming off the asphalt, not jumping at all, but just hauling ass into the sand and landing on their cabooses and grinning like foxes in the henhouse.

Which got me to thinking. A lot.

The friend I was sitting with has gone through a lot with his family. I’m currently waist deep in my own troubles, constantly worried that as it comes to my role as a father, I’m failing, paranoid about so many, about so much. Throw your troubles in the public eye, and there’s never a shortage of your peers who have a lot to say about it. To everyone. And I’ve been guilty of defensively throwing up my own barriers, shutting out the haters, hating being shut out by the judgers. It’s a vicious cycle and you hope that your friends will help see you through it all, all the while knowing it’s a process and journey you must endure on your own. You know who’s problems are the worst in the world? Mine. That’s what we all think, but then I need to stop and truly think: I have my children, they have their health and home and love from their parents, and you can’t quantify that. I need to start being just a little more grateful for what I DO have, not the other way around. It was either getting philosophically deep up there in the nosebleed seats or I was in the beginning stages of heat stroke.

As the little girl in soccer cleats, shin guards and a tutu came around the track bend, destined to finish last in her heat, but pushing through nonetheless, I found myself admiring her grit, the spirit in her face and the chutzpah to dress herself like that for a track meet. Parents were cheering her on, chuckling at her Little Engine That Could mindset, probably thinking the same thing: “C’mon, kiddo. Keep charging. Don’t give up, ever.” If only as adults we treated each other with the same genuine encouragement, given without condition. Many can and do, and I’m grateful for their presence in this world.

Everyone is fighting their own battles. Everyone. We’re all struggling, whether it’s with our kids or how to program our remotes. I watched each of these kids run their races, limbs flailing, the obvious athletes cruising into victories while the majority of them clutched their sides and twitched like ants under the magnifying glass, stumbling and weaving across seemingly impossible distances, but finishing always, sometimes with only one shoe on. They were fighting their own battles, swimming in the sunshine and freedom from the classroom walls.

My own son took last in his own heat, by a long shot. He was crestfallen, kept looking at me with the kind of eyes that get puppies adopted. I couldn’t stop grinning at him through the fence.

“Dad, I came in last. Last.”

“I don’t care, son. You were IN the race. THAT’S what matters to me.”

His face slowly shifted, thoughts careening through an 8yr. old’s restless mind. Then, he saw his buddy, tiny little Andy who finished last in his own heat wearing jeans and cowboy boots, and the two took off to throw water balloons at a coach, laughing all the while and forgetting their troubles.

As the kids loaded back up onto buses and the parents were assessing their own sunburns, I heard my my boy say “Yeah, that’s my dad. He ‘s always at these things. He’s my hockey coach, too.”

I might fail at a lot, but as it stands with my boys, I’m in the race. All the way to the finish line, even if it means crossing it with only one shoe on.