Earn It

and you’re so much
like me
I’m sorry

The above lyrics come from Ben Folds’ song, “Still Fighting It”, a track off of his 2010 solo album Rockin’ The Suburbs. At the time, I loved the song for the musical aspects of it: The understated piano opening, the quiet verses contrasting against the loud toe-tapping chorus, and Folds’ voice alternating between soft and soaring. As I’ve gotten older and became a parent, the song’s lyrics have hit me at a deeper level, especially concerning my oldest son, Luke. He’s a lot like me: We’re both more than willing to argue passionately at the drop of a hat over things we believe strongly in, our tempers are kept in check by a relatively short fuse, and often, we end up being our own worst critics, plagued by doubt and insecurities. I’ve heard it said that the traits you can’t stand in other people are often traits you can’t stand about yourself. Now, I don’t know if that happens at a conscious or sub-conscious level, but for me, the character traits that I sigh the loudest over that are present in my son are the ones I can’t stand to see staring back at me in the mirror.

At times, I feel as if I failed him, as if only I did better by him when he was younger, I could save him from turning out like me as he gets older: Struggling with self-doubt and inadequacy, feeling like the oddball who is always on the outside looking in.

A few weeks ago, a situation happened that gave me a lot of hope. We were out at an outlet mall and came upon the Under Armour store. They were running a promotion where if you did a plank for a set period of time, you’d earn a prize. One minute = 10% off your entire purchase, two minutes = Free t-shirt under $20, and three minutes = 25% off your entire purchase. As we watched some of the other kids, Luke expressed an interest in trying it as well. However, when a mat was open and available for him to plank, he backed off. We told him he didn’t have to do it and we went inside to shop. As we browsed the racks of discounted athletic wear, he started in: “What if I can’t do it?” “What if people laugh at me?” “What if I look stupid?” “If I fail, I’ll be a loser.” I told him that his worth wasn’t based on if he could or could not plank…hell, he’s never attempted a plank in his short life. I told him that ultimately, I’d be more proud of him for trying something he’s never done and failing than to not try at all. He mustered up the courage to try again and we headed outside.

It was hot outside the store, even in the shade. As he was waiting his turn on a mat, Luke started to waver again. Sensing the need to bolster his spirits, as soon as a mat opened up, I kicked off my sandals and dropped down on a mat. Originally, I was only going to go for a minute to “show him how it was done,” but my wife and daughters, anticipating the possibility of a 25% off coupon (they know a good deal when they see one), cheered me on. Moment of truth – I’m 25 pounds overweight, out of shape, and haven’t done a plank in over a year. You think, “oh, three minutes, NBD, right?” WRONG. Those three minutes lasted forever. I was instantly transported back to a wooden desk in elementary school, staring at the wall clock and wondering how it was possible for a clock to be stuck at 3:29pm for so long. Finally, the three minutes of torture passed, and I gingerly rose to my feet, beads of sweat trickling off my forehead and dampening my beard. I think that did the trick, because as soon as I got up, he was down in position and awaiting the signal to start. He easily passed the minute mark and popped up happily at two minutes, earning himself a free t-shirt. I smile when I think back on the look of pride and satisfaction on his face after picking out his t-shirt, appropriately emblazoned with a “Earn it on the field” slogan.

Afterwards, he mentioned that he got lucky. I quickly corrected him, “No son, you didn’t get lucky. You got outside your comfort zone, pushed yourself to hang in there when things got, and earned that t-shirt. Luck had nothing to do with it.” A smile slowly crept across his face. “I guess you’re right, dad.”

“I know, son…..I know.”

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