The gleaming Lucite award bore the words, “North Carolina PTA Oak Leaf Award, Be There Dad Male Engagement Program”. I placed it on a shelf in my office among other awards I had collected, mostly during my years coaching recreational soccer, which I like to think provide some measure of my life.
Among them is a simple gray sweatshirt that bears the autographs of twelve-year-old soccer players I coached years ago. The autographs were signed in the hand of each player with sharpies of red and blue. At the top in larger letters is written TEAM ICELAND.
I wore this sweatshirt to soccer games in spring and fall when the weather was cool. It is too big for me, but I liked the way it kept me warm inside and out. Whenever I wore it, I would always get questions and comments from parents and fans. Most wanted to know about the team and the players who signed it. Often a dad in a more expensive warm-up would admire mine. I wondered if he would trade the designer’s logo on his for the scrawled names of my twelve- year-olds. I wondered how many others among the crowd would trade their stylish clothes for my old gray shirt.
On the bookshelf sits a photo album with Team France on the cover. A work of art, it is a scrapbook, a collection of pictures put together by a team mom. The pictures inside show action shots of 6 year olds. One shows a player kicking a ball. Another shows two players smiling with arms raised after scoring a goal. Three red-cheeked players sit on a bench during a hard fought contest on a hot afternoon. A circle of players listens intently to Coach at halftime. And a last shows a prayer circle of joined hands and bowed heads. Images that will last forever.
There is a stack of plaques, each with a team picture. The inscription from the league is the same on each, “Let your light shine …” A soccer ball sits in the corner. On each panel, a young player has scrawled a message and signed his or her name. They say, “I love you Coach” “You’re the Best” “Thank you, You’re Awesome” and simply, “Love, Emily”
In a drawer, there is another scrapbook. This one made by older players themselves. Each one contributed a page and one of the girls put them all together. I have notes from parents and players of all ages, thanking me for taking the time to be the coach. Some are done artfully with color and style. Others are simply scribbled on pieces of paper.
Sometimes, when I need inspiration or motivation, late at night, I sit alone in my office and re-read these notes that I have read so many times before. Tears come to my eyes. My heart beats faster. I feel warm all over. I feel the love. These treasures are reminders of time, relationships, and the lessons I tried to teach. They are confirmation that some of it did stick after all.
I am not a pack rat. I regularly clean out my office and the garage. I do not keep things that are no longer useful or important. I am not a collector of anything. I have few treasures from my past. But on the day I die, when my children sort through the artifacts from my life; wherever I am, they will find a soccer ball, a couple of scrapbooks and a bunch of thank you notes. Perhaps they’ll even find me wearing a faded sweatshirt that says, TEAM ICELAND.
And so on this Saturday, I add to my small collection. I know already that this engraved crystal is another vessel to hold things only I can see. Like the faded sweatshirt, only I can read the names of “players” etched on the surface. This time those names are grown men who have committed themselves to their children and their schools. They are the Be There Dads who worked so long and hard to help our program be successful. Reflected on the surface are the faces of six of those Dads who stood with me at the celebration dinner. Like my soccer ball, this trophy holds memories I will carry in my heart. It too will be here when I am no more.
This week I will lead a BTD workshop on setting priorities. I will try again to help dads discover what is truly important in their lives. At times like this I am grateful for awards and the recognition of my peers. I enjoy the applause, the celebration and words of encouragement. I am proud of what we have accomplished together and the metrics by which others measure our success. My heart was full as I stood before a standing ovation as the “front guy” for The Be There Nation. But I am ever mindful that these are simply measures of our progress on the path.
The real treasure is found in the time we spend with our kids and our presence in their lives. Together with our children, the journey is still the prize. The trophies will be the pictures etched in our minds and the memories held in our hearts.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also