Back in the day, the label “LOSER” didn’t have quite the meaning it does today. After all, winning and losing is what sports and competition are all about. Someone or some team loses and others win. But, if you were labeled a “QUITTER,” (both then and now), that was a different story. Here is how my dad handled that.
I made the starting line-up in basketball in grade nine after being cut from the team in grade eight. Initially, I was pleased to be on the team, and to this day I don’t really know what happened to change my mind. For no real reason, about two weeks into the practices, I just quit. Perhaps it was that fourteen year-old, know-it-all syndrome that some go through. Or, maybe I just needed a major attitude change. And no one dared let me know that – except for Dad, that is.
Dad didn’t say much to his kids when it came to their participation in extra-curricular activities. Quiet by nature, he let us decide what we wanted to do. There were times that I wondered if he even knew what I was playing. One rule he did have, however, was “if you started something, you finished it.”
On that Monday in December when I came home directly from school, I listened closely from my room as Mom greeted Dad at the door. Wouldn’t you know it? Dad was working the day shift and got home shortly after I did. “Dave’s home,” she said softly. “Why?” he whispered in return. Apparently Mom gave him a shoulder shrug because I heard no response from her.
With my bedroom radio playing, I distinctly heard Dad kick off his shoes, and the sound of his stocking feet trekking down the carpeted hallway seemed too loud to be real. I had lumps in my throat many times before, but this time it was as if I had come down with the world’s fastest growing goiter.
“No practice today?” Dad asked. “I quit,” I replied sheepishly.
“Why?” Dad inquired. To this day, I wish I had a better response for him, but all I could come up with was “I don’t know,” as I refused to look him in the eye.
A silent pause, then I heard “Before supper, how about hosing the car off?” Dad asked. “Sure,” I answered.
Wow! That was easy, I thought, not making any connection with what Dad was doing. The day had been warmer than usual and the car needed cleaned badly, so I wasn’t about to argue over this small request.
When finished, I came in for supper with a great feeling of relief. “Dad was ok with this,” I thought to myself. Getting comfortable and ready to eat, I was hit out of nowhere with “Before you pull the car into the garage, how about sweeping it out?” Dad suggested. I barely had enough time to look his way, but nowhere near enough time to answer, and he continued, “Tomorrow that basement will need swept out and cleaned.” “And Wednesday I want the ice scraped off around the house where the roof meets the gutter.”
“Thursday, I’d like you to make a trip to Costlow’s Mink Farm – I heard they’re hiring for the pelting season.”
I was raked over the coals the next morning and embarrassed as I asked my coach for permission to return to the basketball team. He made me squirm in front of a homeroom full of students. I was belittled, humiliated and red-faced. (The concept of “self-esteem” hadn’t been invented yet.) As much as I tried to keep that conversation low- key between the two of us, he was bent on making sure everyone knew what was going on. “So you think you can quit one day and just waltz in here and return when you want,” he blasted.
Although I didn’t realize it until years later, I guess I deserved his harangue.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he said I could return. And as much as I tried, I never did again enjoy the relationship I had with him prior to my “quitting.” Deep inside, I knew I no longer deserved that either.
To this day I have never started something that I did not finish. I often felt like quitting many endeavors including my schooling, but always managed to Lord, forgive me up my self-pity and complete what I started. And I raised my own kids with that same attitude. FINISH WHAT YOU START. Like a pill, too massive to swallow, life’s lessons sometimes stick in your craw for a long time.
You see, before there existed overly permissive parents, there was a Dad who couldn’t see any value in quitting. Before there were highly educated pseudo- psychologists who believe that a youngster should be left alone to make his own decisions, there was a Dad who did not complete high school.* And before parents thought that to show leniency was to convey love, there was a Dad who tacitly taught that love meant being very tough at times.
* Due to the onset of WWII, Dad was drafted into the service at the end of his junior year.