Sitting in a bar last weekend with some of the top high school football coaches in the country, a coach with more than 100 career wins came to my table and asked me if he could sit down and talk for a few minutes. He was one of the presenters at the clinic and said he wanted to ask me a few questions.
What the hell would he want to ask me? I have won one game in the last two years. Does he want to know how to keep a head coaching job despite not winning?
"Yea Coach, ask me anything," I said.
"First, can I buy you a beer or anything?"
"No, thank you. I am good."
"Well, I overheard you last night talking to some other coaches about how you lucked out that your kids were with your ex-wive this weekend, allowing you to come to the clinic. My wife just left me and took my three kids. She told me she is going to fight for full custody because she doesn't think I can be a single Dad with all the responsibilities that come along with coaching.
"I don't know what to do. She is right in a way... football takes so much time. I don't know how I can do it all and yet still do what it takes to be a coach. But, I can't not be around my kids. I am seriously thinking about quitting football."
I was floored. I never imagined that this is what he wanted to talk about when he sat down next to me.
I have been exactly where he is now. Five years ago and two months after my youngest daughter was born, my ex and I officially separated. At that time, I wasn't coaching football and there was no way I could have coached at that time.
I was too heartbroken, too emotional, and too overwhelmed to do anything than other than survive. In a flash, my whole life was in disarray and I saw no way to overcome the state I was in.
The only thing that got me out of bed at that time was my kids. I had no choice. They needed me to function as mininmally as I was for their own survival.
Honestly, if I was given a choice of staying and raising my kids on my own or running as far away as possible, I might have chosen the latter. I'd like to be able to say that my love for my girls made me stay. But, what really made me stay was that those little girls needed me to.
I remember so many nights leaving work, rushing over to their daycare facility to pick up a four-month-old, two-year-old, and three-year-old, running to my piece of shit two-bedroom apartment (after leaving a beautiful five-bedroom, two-story house), feeding them anything remotely healthy, bathing them all, and then finally getting them to bed. That three-hour process was much harder and exhausting than the nine hours of teaching and coaching high school kids.
The things is, I always hated when I was complimented for being a good Dad. To me, all I was doing is what I had to do. Single mothers do it all the time and never get praise for it.
Instead of throwing kudos out to those men who remain Dads and do their share of parenting after a divorce, people should look down on men who don't do it. That is something I have no empathy for... men who turn their backs on the children when the marriage falls apart.
Reliving all that, I had an answer for the Coach.
"Coach... you have to decide how important football is and how important being a dad is to you. If they both are important and are worth fighting for... then do it. My kids are at football practices, games, and team functions with me. If I am there and it is their week to be with me, then they are with me."
"You can do this Coach. You can do both. It isn't always easy, but it is better than not doing it. And, you know what? My kids love being a part of it all. They feel like they are on the team and take the losses just as hard if not harder than me. But, they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
"Coach, this is going to sound stupid, but I have watched a million kids' movies over the last few years and one really helped me through this. You ever watch, "Finding Nemo"?
"Yea," the Coach said with a laugh.
"Remember when Dory and Nemo's Dad begin their journey looking for Nemo? Dory kept singing that song, "Just Keep Swimming". Didn't matter how far they had to go, the only way they they would get there was to keep swimming.
"Well, Coach... you may not always want to do it, but you got to keep swimming."