Spent all week trying not to be That Guy and acquiesce to the suddenly rampant-on-social-media conviction that there is some sort of “war” on Father’s Day.
I’ve found rumors of such attacks against other holidays to be overstated and borderline paranoid.
Then I awoke Sunday morning to no less an authority than the Chicago Tribune asking me the rhetorical (I hope) question, “Is Father’s Day Outdated?”
Before you pick up a pen or commence with exercising those typing fingers to issue that suddenly popular admonition — stick to sports — I promise that’s the intent.
Sports are the realm in which we connect with our fathers the most, while learning arguably some of the most valuable life lessons. And by fathers, I mean those good, dedicated men of both the biological and substitute variety.
Yes, as women’s sports deservedly receive their due and become an important part of the athletic landscape, ladies have emerged as some of our brightest coaches. Let’s honor them today and every day.
By and large, however, men are coaching our boys in the games people play, modeling how to behave as men in the game of life.
If you can identify a more important avocation in a frayed, frazzled society desperately challenged to make right choices, well, I’d love to hear it.
Because here’s the deal, and to a large extent I’m sure it was the inspiration for that sensationalistic feature and headline: Many dads have dropped the ball.
Some run and shirk their responsibilities. Others devote too much time to their own hobbies and interests. And yes, for still others, financial or family dynamics make it impossible for them to devote the time their kids need and deserve.
Our nation’s most important surrogate fathers answer to the name Coach. They teach us the value of hard work and devotion to a cause bigger than ourselves. They instill respect for authority while reminding us there’s a method to that madness. They’re present with an atta-boy, a pat on the back or a slap on the butt when it’s needed most.
And they’re universally important.
For example, I was blessed to have a dad who tried his best to balance it all. He took me to the races every Saturday night even when it got expensive. He didn’t beat me when it was time to mow the lawn and he discovered 9-iron divots or bare spots otherwise known as home plate and the pitcher’s mound.
But even while coming from a good home with good parents, I needed that extra presence in my life. My Little League and youth basketball coaches helped instill the confidence and self-efficacy that dads and moms sometimes don’t.
The excellence and genuine goodness of my high school coaches set me on the course of teaching, coaching and sports administration in college. Ultimately I settled on becoming a community journalist, where you can build those crucial relationships with young people and avoid much of the crap that comes with teaching. Their help and inspiration, though, were undeniable.
That was 30 to 35 years ago. Society hasn’t improved. Fewer kids than ever have a significant male role model at home. Many have guardians who can scarcely afford the exorbitant costs of equipment and transportation necessary to compete in these childhood games we cherish.
In the Sun Journal’s tri-county area alone, I knew a football coach who took in one of his star players to prevent him from being essentially homeless. There was also a track and field coach who conducted semi-regular collection drives for gently used sneakers and sweats, to ensure that the low-income kids in his community could play.
I don’t know or care if these behaviors straddle the line of the competitive rulebook, or of good sense. Men such as these are a godsend, and you’ll find them in Maine, Kentucky, and every corner of this country, none of them wanting a dime or a scintilla of recognition in return. Their true payback comes when these boys grow into teachers, coaches, fathers and community leaders in their own right.
The longer I’m in this business, the more I’m convinced how absolutely crucial these sports and the men who teach them are to the betterment of our society. And so I cringe every time I hear someone caution that it’s “just a game,” or that it’s somehow inferior to music and art, or that the funds that go toward it all are some sort of boat anchor on our school budgets.
Neither fathers, nor any amount of adulation bestowed upon the good ones in our midst, should be deemed outdated. But while I appreciate the recognition for keeping my one son in check, today I raise my glass to those who have taught tens of thousands of endangered sons and daughters how to keep it between the lines.
You gentlemen are a big reason America still has a fighting chance.
Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.