Getting It

A few days ago, Bob Hoose—a friend and colleague of mine over at Plugged In—wrote a short blog about a kid who passed his math exams and whose father was over the moon about it. Not particularly blog-worthy, you say? That’s true … except that the kid recorded his father’s reaction and posted it on YouTube.

I don’t get teary-eyed watching YouTube very often. But this touched me. And if you’re a dad, maybe it touched you the same way.

See, when I see this father’s emotional, almost delirious reaction to his son’s success, I see the release of months of worry. I see all the nights and weekends that never landed on YouTube: The father helping his son with homework. I feel the strain the father felt with every progress report. I hear the frustrated, maybe angry conversations he had with his child—a child he knew could do better. And when he saw his son’s final grade, he realized that their work—both of their work—paid off.

That camera didn’t just document a single moment: Years of parenting went into that two-minute, 37-second clip. A lot of tears went into that exaltation. A lot of work went into that joy. I see the culmination of a journey the two of them—perhaps unwillingly—took together.

 He’s getting it, he might’ve thought. He’s getting it.

The kid got a “C,” by the way—not a grade most folks would typically get excited about. But maybe that’s reflective of fatherhood, too. First of all, we always grade on a curve. But we also know that the biggest victories aren’t always reflected in something tangible—something we can pin on a refrigerator door. The moments that stick with us are more ethereal, but no less powerful.

I didn’t help my kids with their math homework much: By the time they completed fourth grade, their arithmetic skills had likely surpassed mine. So the lessons I tried to pass on—often awkwardly and not always successfully—weren’t things you grade. I tried to emphasize the importance of kindness. Civility. Toughness. Resiliency under pressure. The last one was particularly important to me. After all, we all have our talents. We’ve all been greatly blessed by our Creator. But those talents aren’t worth much unless we develop the courage and tenacity to use and grow them.

When I think about the pride I have in my own kids, I don’t immediately recall Colin scoring a winning soccer goal, but of him protecting the goal, blood running out his nose and down his chin from a knee he’d taken moments before. My proudest memory of Emily wasn’t her winning a race, but running in a cold, dark rain—her glasses so smeared with rain and sleet that she could barely see.

I still remember what she looked like after the race—teeth chattering, her eyes all but invisible behind her glasses..

She was only 12 or 13 at the time, but it seemed to me like she’d made a step toward womanhood—the ability to do what’s needed when it’s not much fun, to push through a bad situation and cross the finish line.

She’s getting it, I thought. And to warm her up, I gave her my coat and a great big hug.