April, 2006,I was devastated. My daughter had just called, she lives in Florida, to tell me that her brother, my only son had died. Over the years I had met and had known many who’s children had died. In an instant I tried to remember what I had said to them and realized how shallow those words must have sounded.
There I sat in a wheelchair, 100 pounds overweight, suffering from an arthritic condition and spinal stenosis which had progressed significantly since my military service in the Vietnam era. I hadn’t worked in three years. The unreliability of my physical body simply wouldn’t allow it. I would have days when I couldn’t lift a coffee cup or make it from my bedroom to the bathroom. To say I was depressed at the time would be a vast understatement. Many days I had sat wondering is this all there is? I had become a true burden to my wife. The difficulty I had getting dressed, taking a bath, combing my hair, or brushing my teeth was a constant reminder of my inadequacies. I had begun to rely on her for everything.
For my entire life I had worked. In my childhood I always had two or three odd jobs in the neighborhood. I would be raking leaves, cutting grass or shoveling snow anything to make a few dollars for the family budget. As an adult no matter what I was involved in, I would find myself totally immersed. I would always dive in headfirst and consider the consequences later. Whether it was simply an approach to work or my incessant desire to please, I was a workaholic.
Many years ago my wife, in her infinite wisdom at the time, signed my four-year-old son up for soccer. I had seen the game I had even played it and I knew right then and there I had no desire to be involved. As luck would have it the first day that I took him to practice I was told that if he were to get to play it would be contingent on finding a coach. I had no real knowledge of coaching and I had no intention of finding out, but he was so upset at the prospect of not being able to play that I was compelled to agree.
Until that moment he had really never gotten excited about much of anything. He was very like his mother in that respect. But soccer seemed to captivate his very being. He was all consumed he went nowhere without a ball at his feet. I can still hear the thump, thump, thump of the ball hitting the back of the garage. He had taped with duct tape a 1 foot square as high as he could reach on the wall. I wasn’t a very good coach that first year and that was in part due to the fact that the players I had been assigned were those that had been rejected by other teams. I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered at the time had I known… But who’s to say?
His excitement was infectious. I soon found myself as I had done in my work, head first immersed in soccer. I couldn’t get enough. I read everything available at the public library. I ordered books on drills and practice plans. I took the FIFA refereeing course and even joined the league’s board of directors. I took every course offered on coaching and my horizons widened exponentially. Soon I had the requisite skills and knowledge to be a credible coach. I won championship after championship both in the recreation league and with travel teams. Of course the one key element in all of those teams had been my son. I learned to love the game and the time we shared and both of our participation at all levels.
April, 2006, I sat in the front pew at the service for my son, not a funeral but more a celebration of the person he was. As I looked around the church and saw hundreds of faces I had never met and probably would never know. I wondered what I could possibly say or whether I could say anything at all. As I stood at the lectern and looked out at all those faces all of them anticipating words of wisdom, I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I would never see him again, but that the thought of him would surely live forever in the hearts of all of these people. I don’t think I said anything profound or significant that day in my short reminiscence but did say that I believe the measure of a man’s success is and how he touches those around him.
I believe that parents should never outlived their children but if they do they should take the opportunity to appreciate what that child brought into their lives. I believe that as a parent it must become an obligation to find that one thing that our children love and then share it with them. Had I never become involved with a soccer I know that a large portion of the time that I had spent with my son would have been lost and for that I believe soccer is the greatest game on earth.
As to myself, well, I lost near 100 pounds, changed my diet and lifestyle and was determined to get out of the wheelchair and see that this really wasn’t all there was to see. I now live with a new purpose to life and just as when my son was four years old I’ve found soccer again, and yet again I coach. Every day that I’m involved, every day I get to associate with other people’s children that are involved I can feel my son and his spirit all around me. I tried to spread the word… I believe soccer really is the greatest game on earth.
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