For years I carried a bag to every soccer and basketball practice and game. A blue duffle, it held everything I might need to be the best coach I could be. My water bottle and an extra for the player who forgot theirs. A bag of Tootsie Pops. Practice plan, game line ups and handouts for the devotional. A league manual and the Bible. Pinnies and goalie gloves. Pens, paper, whistles, first aid kit and a towel.
This worn-out shoulder bag was my “back pack”. Others had helped me fill it – fellow coaches, my pastor, parents, the league director and my spouse. I had collected the lessons, experiences and values that I needed to fulfill my role as a coach. I always had it with me. It seemed to hold a solution for most situations. As the years passed, it was recognized as a resource for others as well. Forgot your water bottle? Ask Coach Jeff. Need a bandage for your knee? Ask Coach Jeff. I watched with satisfaction as the newer coaches followed my example and filled their own bags.
Finding their Treasures
At Be There Dad we talk about filling the backpacks of the children we engage. We encourage dads to include those lessons, experiences and values the children will need in order to fulfill their purpose and be the best they can be. In Charlotte, dads have been filling back packs for a dozen years. I am delighted to see that some of their children are now beginning to pull out and use the treasures that have been carefully placed for them.
Recently, the Young Black Leadership Alliance (YBLA) conducted a service project in which high school juniors (called Ambassadors) collected toys for children who might not be as fortunate. Then, those Ambassadors personally delivered and distributed the toys at elementary schools. You can imagine that it was a wonderful event. Those receiving toys were delighted. Those delivering the gifts experienced the joy in giving. Among those Ambassadors were two children of men who have been Be There Dad leaders for many years.
Reading to Children
The father of the first had started a program in an elementary school where dads periodically go into classrooms and read books to young students. Teachers and students alike have loved that engagement. We have used this example over and over to encourage other dads to do the same. The father had placed that lesson in his son’s backpack, too. So on this day of service, in the image of his dad, the son read a book to a room full of appreciative students. Having seen his dad – his role model and hero – do the same; he felt the responsibility and had the courage to give his personal gift by entertaining the children.
Recognizing the Value
While participating at another school, a female Ambassador had a text exchange with her dad (another leader within BTD):
Daughter: Do y’all have a dads group at (this school)?
Dad: We do not. I am sure they could use one…Just need one or two dads who would be willing to lead it
Daughter: I might mention it to the assistant principal
Dad: You definitely should…
How many times do you suppose this young lady had heard her dad talk about the value of dads groups in schools? From her dad she had learned the value of his presence, so she wanted to share. She also had learned that to get something started, she needed to have the courage to step forward and make it happen. Her dad says, “get stuff done.” Those lessons were in her pack.
These two examples show that the seeds planted by dads are now blossoming into actions. Years of nurturing and dads just being there. Reinforcing a culture of giving and caring. Patience. Understanding. Encouragement. Allowing their children the time to realize the gifts they have been given. The Power of Presence. The kids carry with them the tools to address many situations. They will find ways to use them because their dads showed them how. I wonder, as these young people grow into leaders, will their peers recognize the wisdom and values they carry with them? Will others look to them for guidance and inspiration? Where should we go? Ask Nigel. Should we do that? Ask Maya.
Sharing Our Light
Every year at this time I remind us of the tradition many churches celebrate during Christmas Eve worship services. As the congregation sings Silent Night, from a single candle a flame is passed to all those present. One person at a time. Passing the light. Sharing the spirit of faith and hope for the year to come. Illuminating a sanctuary. Then, congregants going forth into the world using that light to shine in the darkness.
As dads age, we hope the lessons, experiences and values we have given our children will be like the candles we light each Christmas. We hope they will be accepted by all and that one day those children will use them to fulfill their own purpose and to love their neighbors. My own hope and faith in our next generation was rekindled by the actions of these youth. I wonder – if we fill their back packs with caring and sharing, will our children make the world a better place?
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.