It’s easy for most kids to gravitate to star athletes when it comes to players they want to be like. What youngster hasn’t played backyard football and dreamt about being Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, heaving the team on their back and picking apart the opponent with clutch throw after clutch throw.
Today, I’ll be making sure to have a sit-down conversation with my kids — especially my two boys (ages 7 & 9) who are really into football right now, and explaining why they need to be like the kicker who just lost the biggest game of his young career. At first glance, it seems counter-intuitive to emulate the player who arguably lost the game, especially in our winning and success-obsessed culture. The reality of life, however, isn’t so glamorous. It’s usually filled with disappointment, hardship, struggle. Whether it be from finances, relationships, internal angst, career, or something else – you can bank on the fact that in this life you will experience some level of pain.
But it’s in these times of pain, loss, sorrow, sadness, disappointment, that we have the opportunity to learn and grow the most. No parent likes to see their child in pain, but if we neglect to prepare our children for the inevitable struggles they will face someday, we’re not doing our job as parents. If pain is one of the only certainties in this life, the only difference is how we respond to it. I want my kids to know what to do when life hits them with a punishing left hook, and so I’m always looking for small examples I can show them along the way.
Cody Parkey is a great example. When the world comes crumbling down, knowing where to seek refuge is critical. Seeking it in worldly places will lead to further despair. We see this when people turn to the bottle or drugs in times of sorrow, only to spiral further out of control. It’s false comfort, a false refuge. Seems like a good idea, but ultimately fails.
Immediately after the kick impossibly ricocheted off the left upright and then the crossbar, my kids (who were cheering for the Eagles) reacted with shock and compassion. My concerned 9-year-old asked me if Parkey would still have a job and be able to provide for his family. Of course, Parkey is making plenty of money – his family will have food on the table for quite some time – but I mention it because I found it interesting that they seemed to know this was not an ordinary situation and things would be very difficult for Parkey. When something grabs the kids attention, it’s always a great opportunity to turn that into a teaching opportunity.
The game ending was our signal to begin the bedtime routine, and like most people with a house full of kids (we have four), bedtime can often be a bit chaotic and time-consuming. But I filed away something I noticed in Parkey’s reaction after missing the field goal. He still pointed to the sky, a reaction normally reserved for after a player experiences success on the field.
Later, cameras caught Parkey joining the prayer huddle at the center of the field that happens after nearly all NFL games.
I’m sure every ounce of emotion in his body wanted nothing more than to hit the tunnel and go curl up in a ball somewhere. Chicago fans booed him relentlessly as he made his way off the field. Eagles players and fans mockingly thanked him for missing the kick.
It’s all part of the territory, I suppose, but after devastation like that, those reactions felt just plain wrong. Celebrating a win is fine, but you don’t celebrate someone else’s failure. Parkey’s teammates immediately consoled him, which was nice to see. But the home crowd booing one of their own lacks basic humanity and decency, as well as intelligence. Do they somehow believe Parkey isn’t aware of how disappointing of a loss this was, and that his leg could – and should – have propelled them into the second round?
I wouldn’t blame anyone for crumbling in that situation. It’s easy to judge from the couch, but try being in a stadium filled with thousands of disappointed fans, let alone walking back into that locker room to face the teammates you just let down.
It’s moments like this – not the actual game – where the men are really separated from the boys. We hear that phrase a lot – worldly application of it usually evokes a machismo that glorifies those who rise to the occasion and win the game. I believe God views it quite differently. I believe the true measure of a man is when he’s at his lowest and darkest hour. When all hope seems lost, when there’s nothing else left – that is when you see what someone is really made of.
I’m in the business of teaching my boys to be men, not to merely win a game. And last night we saw Cody Parkey in a very emotional, low moment. And we saw he is one of the guys who is made of the right stuff.
“The sun will rise tomorrow,” he said during a poised session with reporters after the game in which he expressed his disappointment in himself for his part in letting the game slip away.
He’s going to be fine because he knows God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He knows that although there’s pain right now, there is also hope. God is sovereign. He cares. He has a purpose for all of us and is working all things for good.
As parents, those are the kind of role models we should be pointing to – the ones who have an eternal perspective.