Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quitters Never Win...

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I was helping Kailey with her homework. Like probably most kids her age, Kailey has good days of doing her homework and lazy days. Fortunately, she has more good days than lazy ones. But when the lazy ones hit, they are doozies. She is usually overly tired and the homework seems to require a little more thought than your average, run of the mill addition or subtraction worksheets. I'll try to ask her questions that will prompt more thought about the question, when what she really wants is for me to just give her the answer. When I continue to ask her questions, she breaks down. "Da-ad. I can't do's too hard!"

This is where the pep talk comes in, where I tell her that she can do it and that she just needs to work a little harder and not give up so easily. We were at this point on that afternoon two weeks ago. Kailey usually settles down and settles in after the pep talk, but not on this particular afternoon. After at least two additional failed pep talks, out of frustration I blurted, "C'mon Kailey, don't be a quitter!"

I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. I don't want to be the type of dad who categorizes his children into camps of "winners", "losers", or "quitters". I do, however, want to raise two girls who work hard and don't give up in any of their endeavors in life, who don't feel like they are entitled to anything but will strive to achieve their life goals and dreams. And it starts with the simple things, like putting in the extra effort on difficult homework assignments. But right then I felt like the world's biggest jerk. And a hypocrite.

I took a deep breath to apologize, but before I could do it, Kailey blindsided me with a question: "Were you ever a quitter, Daddy?" Her question was completely sincere, but it staggered me nonetheless. It was as if, at that very moment, she could see into the most vulnerable, fleshy underbelly of my soul and was prodding at it's most tender spots. My gut reaction was to put up my defenses and deny it, to portray myself as a pillar of strength. If her question had been posed with even a hint of malice, that's probably what I would have done. But it wasn't. It was a question from a curious 8 year-old who wanted an honest answer to an honest question.

I took another cleansing breath, sat down next to Kailey and confessed that, yes, I had had moments in my life where I had not given my best effort or had given up altogether, and that they were moments that I was not proud of.
I told her that one of the reasons I wanted her to learn to work hard and never give up is so she might not experience similar regrets in her life. And I told her that as long as I knew she gave her best effort in anything she did, I would be proud of her. I don't know whether or not she fully grasped what I was trying to explain to her, but she seemed content with my answer, and we proceeded to work through her homework with no further issues. It was a precious few moments where I was, once again, disarmed and humbled by my oldest daughter.

I know that I won't be able to fully protect my girls from failure and regret. In some ways, they are unavoidable experiences that help form character. But I also know that they will become stronger women if they can learn to work through those times of adversity rather than avoid them, come up short, or bail out completely. The saying goes, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." That's where Diane and I come in as parents, to teach the girls how to play this game of life, the good times and the bad. And if they need a dad to lean on a little bit to help them get through the rough times, I'll be here.

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