Sunday, January 31, 2010

Just keep swimming

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."


  1. what an inspirational post for dads AND moms!!!!!I have missed you! I know life gets busy..but its great to see a post from you! I always know it will make me laugh OR cry! tonight you made me cry!!:)

  2. Brett, I adore you because you are always SO honest. It takes a lot to put that out there. And though I can't relate, I definitely appreciate it.

  3. Great - now that damn song is in my head ;)

    I love this post. I mean really love it. Very well said. One that could be given out to many a man.

  4. What a poignant, honest post. I love that you said that he could do both. That both parts of his life were worth fighting for.... That's what many of us modern mamas are doing. Fighting to do both....being a mom home with our kids and being a woman in the workforce doing what we love.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective....

  5. I totally agree with you about the Dad's that seem to "give up on their kids" should look down upon. Single mom's do it all the time, but so do single dads... and kudos for both!

    It just proves how MUCH you are a dad that your comparable lesson is with the show Fining Nemo... :) Being a parent does that to our brains huh? LOL

  6. That was a fantastic post and such great advice you gave him. It's so hard at the beginning to figure out what you're going to do and how you're going to handle everything. I think back just 18 months ago and what chaos it felt like and how overwhelmed I was. My Ex was going to try for full custody as well, I thought my job was ending, and I was terrified. In the end, all I really did was what you suggested: Just Keep Swimming. I focused on the next thing in front of my face and tried to forget about long term results. Amazing, amazing results follow, right? You sound terrific pal. Great job.

  7. Great story and advice. Very inspirational and is hitting me hard this morning.

  8. Involved parenting requires multitasking. For some reason that is a female trait or is encouraged in young girls or something. Whatever it is that is exactly how single moms do it. It's rare a woman would even think either or. Usually it's both and then another 20 things on top of it.

    There are plenty of moms working full time and still carting kids to practice for A, game for B, PTO meeting, review homework, get baths, dinner, and bedtime. It doesn't allow for a lot of "me" time or hanging out with friends unless it's kid-friendly. It means getting a calendar and getting organized.

    If she can do it, he can too.

    You gave spot on advice.

  9. Add me to your fans who adore you.... So inspirational. I needed this today. And by the way, you are such a good friend.

  10. I have never visited before but will be back. I know what the coaching entails - the time even when not on the field. I know what parenting takes - six kids that have been my responsibility for 13 years. You can do as you found out. We all just do what we have to and hope it is enough.

    Great writing that brought tears to my eyes!

  11. My blog twin!! Great Post, moving and poignant. Definitely worth adding to my "read when sturggling" list. I'm officially a fan.

  12. Keep swimming. It's funny because one of the things that I love about Disney movies is that they are so complex, speaking to the adults and entertaining the kids.

    Great speech, Coach.

  13. Beautiful. I bet he sought you out because other people admire your devotion to your kids. You never know who you are changing along the way.
    It takes nothing away from your wonderful advice to say that maybe God put you there at that time for this dad.

  14. Great advice. And even happily married parents have to focus on doing the same thing.

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