A Sense of Purpose
Recently, I watched a PBS concert tribute to Harry Chapin, a wonderfully gifted singer/songwriter and even greater humanitarian in the 1970s. In addition to having popular songs at the top of the charts, Harry received the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal * for his efforts to combat world hunger. Harry explained his extraordinary approach to the charity of donating the proceeds from his concerts as, “I play one night for me, then one night for the other guy.” He believed there would be enough for everyone. In his part of the tribute to Harry, famed artist Bruce Springsteen asked the audience to carry on with Harry’s example of charity, duty and sense of purpose.
The Boss added simply, “Do something”.
Harry Chapin was an American icon and a hero of my generation. But I believe his philosophy remains relevant even today. While each of us may never live up to Harry’s amazing financial generosity, I wonder if we can follow his example of pursuing professional success while still caring for others and staying true to our purpose. Can we stay focused on the values of life as well as the proceeds? And, I wonder if we pursue our values, will the other desired results follow?
The Donut, Not the Hole
This year we are looking towards a system-wide initiative to expand the presence and impact of men in our local schools and community. I am reminded of a moment of influence during my school years. At the end of the year, my fourth-grade teacher wrote in my yearbook: As you travel through your life, ‘ere what be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole. I have remembered those words always and tried to employ their wisdom. Similar to what we hope to accomplish today, this is my personal example of how a man – a male teacher – someone who took an interest in me – impacted my outlook on life. I know he thought that simple phrase summarized the most important concept he had tried to teach his students throughout that academic year. I know one of his students understood. One stepping-stone in my life’s journey, he encouraged me to keep my focus. For me, that lesson of focus has been critical to me finding success in other ways.
So, today I wonder about our roles as dads in schools. Why do we establish and maintain dads groups? What do we want to accomplish as we engage and seek to become present? Why do we assist at carpool line? Can’t kids open the doors and get out themselves? Why do dads read books to classes? Isn’t that what teachers do? Do kids really need someone else to talk to at lunch? Do they need an adult “buddy”? Why do we need dads to be present?
I hope the answers are obvious. We believe the presence of men will help the students fulfill their “promise.” History and research tell us that when dads are present in their children’s lives, good things happen. But, fulfilling their promise is more than just improving grades and raising test scores. Our goal is not just to help students reach predetermined goals or compete with other students. Our goal is not just to help them run faster or jump higher. Our goal is to help our children find their better selves – to learn to work hard, be trustworthy, happy, healthy, self-sufficient, and self-confident.
Our mission is to help young people understand and recognize that within each of us there are better angels who will act civilly and responsibly, take care of the environment, and love our neighbors. Our hope is that by living a life filled with those values, the other tangible “proceeds of life” will follow.
In a recent speech, Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, said, “Parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers… we need to make sure they’re part of the school, just like the students and teachers are.” While the teachers and school staffs do marvelous work in helping our children learn, history shows us that a real difference can be made by parents. How we live our lives. How we teach values. How we hold our children accountable. How we help them dream.
All Know the Way
As we seek to broaden the involvement and impact of men across the community, let us remember that our objective is to impact the “whole” child – head, heart and soul. There is an old saying that my dad used frequently in conversations with me. When you’re up to your [behind] in alligators, it easy to forget your original intention was to drain the swamp. Despite, the “alligators” that may be nipping at us from all around, dads must remember that our original intention is to improve the future for each child. We must continually remind ourselves of that purpose and recognize what needs to be done. We must keep our eyes on that donut and not on the noise that sometimes roars from the empty hole.
A favorite Zen saying goes, “All know the way, few actually walk it.” We must have the courage to walk the Way, then help our children walk it, too.
*The congressional medal seeks to honor those, individually or as a group, “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”