By Chris Read
As I watched my son at the school playground the other day, I noticed he was off playing by himself instead of with the rest of the kids. When school ended, I asked him why he hadn’t jumped in and played with the other kids and he just shrugged, said he hadn’t wanted to that day, and moved on. It would be easy for me to start worrying about whether he is fitting in at school or not but instead it takes me back to my days as a young boy on the school yard.
To say I was never the outgoing type would be a gross understatement. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times I bowed out of a doing a book report or presentation of any kind, just so I wouldn’t have to speak in front of more than two people at once. Like my son, the only time I would really let myself go was while with my friends, on my turf, in the comfort of my own home. My parents didn’t make a big deal about my quiet nature and I have no intention of pushing my son into situations he doesn’t want to be in.
The funny twist to this story is that my son and I are currently the spitting images of my father and I at these same ages. My dad was always the outgoing type who would speak up in all situations. He ran his own business, spoke at events, coached my sports teams and even taught at a local college. At the time, all of these were things I could never imagine having the courage to do. Little by little, however, as I tagged along with my dad, I started to feel a change taking place.
I started helping him run his softball clinics, which led to working with the Special Olympics and a part time teaching job at an indoor baseball facility. I began to enjoy the feeling of helping others and realized that there was nothing for me to gain by allowing my shyness to hold me back. These days, I am the one running a business, coaching my son’s team and speaking at conferences, and it feels great to know that not only did I beat the anxiety but that I also have this experience to share with my kids one day.
When my father passed away suddenly a few years ago, I felt anxiety creeping back. What if I had a question about how to do something around the house, or how to deal with a particular fatherhood situation? How was I going to raise my children and be a good father without my father around to lean on for help? I let this anxiety eat away at me for a couple of years before seeking professional help. I still find it funny that the solution to my problem came from responding to a cliché: “Tell me about your father…” Truth is, though, it was in reminiscing about my upbringing that I understood who I wanted to be as a man.
These days, any time I worry about how I am going to deal with a situation, whether it be as a parent or as an individual, I think back on the example my father set for me and I realize everything is going to be alright. Through the lessons he left behind, I’ve transformed myself from introvert to extrovert and from being an anxious mess to being cool as a cucumber. It’s also important to note that my mother has played and continues to play an equally important role in helping to shape the man I am today.
I don’t know what the future holds for my own children but I do know what kind of lessons I want to pass along to them while they try and figure it all out. Patience, compassion and the ability to ask for help will all be at the top of that list. As for my son and his quiet nature, I have no doubt he will find his passion and figure out what kind of man he wants to be. If I can play some small part in shaping that man, I will consider it a parenting victory.