As a young boy I experienced all kinds of problems in my family. My father was a bar owner and a pretty heavy drinker. His behavior was very unpredictable at times, and we never knew what was going to set him off. We were always walking around on egg shells because we didn’t want to say or do something that would send him off on a drinking binge. I knew though that my father had a real interest in me, and wanted the very best for me. He just had a hard time expressing how he felt. As I became older and entered my teenage years my dad started to enjoy watching me play high school and community league baseball. He would go to my games, leave alone when the game was over (as I went with my friends), and would usually say very little to me about my performance. I never really expected him to say anything, so I was never disappointed.
During the summer of 1971 when I was 16 years old, my first cousin Jim and I spent a lot of time together at each other’s houses. We played baseball and hung out with other kids. I enjoyed the visits, and so did he. He was an only child, and I was the only boy in my family. We had a lot in common, and during this time we were pretty good friends. My cousin wasn’t quite as good at baseball as I was, but he was what I call a rooter. He enjoyed watching baseball and really enjoyed watching me play. During one of his visits I had a scheduled game. I had to be at the game early so my dad and cousin came later. During the game I had three hits including the game winning hit. I was the catcher and threw three runners out trying to steal second base. I had a great game. When the game was over my dad drove my cousin back to his house, and I hung out with my friends.
I went home, went to bed and got up early the next morning and left the house. The normal routine was that would open the bar in the morning. My father would sleep a little later and then relieve her in the bar around 11:00 in the morning. He would work until about 4:00 in the afternoon and then come upstairs and take a nap. I can always remember him sitting in his recliner napping in the afternoon. He needed that nap; he was in his late 50’s and had to be ready to work the night shift.
That afternoon, I returned home around 5:00 to find my father in his recliner, but he was awake. He jumped up out of his chair like he had a spring under him. He ran over to me and hugged me hard and said, “I was so proud of you last night.” I thanked him, and I felt him squeeze me like he never did before. I felt the warmth of his body, but even more felt the warmth of his words.
Well, I’m 56 years old now, and I still remember that hug and those words. Sometimes parents can say so much to their kids about their performance that it can almost seem like white noise. Most kids know their parents are going to speak well of them, because they are their parents. But sometimes kids can get a false sense of their abilities when their parents go overboard with the praise. But, the right words of praise and encouragement at the right time can actually change a child’s life. In my case, my dad didn’t offer a lot of praise. As a matter of fact he was very critical of me at times. This experience was life-changing for me. I quickly forgot all the times my father had said critical things to me. As a father myself, I know I have the power to determine how my own children view themselves. A father’s words do truly make a difference.