A few months ago in an article entitled Ambushed By My Cousin, I told you about how I promised a cousin of mine that I would write about what I thought parents should be doing to raise their boys into decent, honorable, and respectable Catholic men. In the Ambushed article, I talked about the men on both sides of my parents’ families – the Williams men and the LaHood men.
When I was in high school (in the early 1970’s), my dad’s brother, Bill Williams, developed an interest in CB radios (citizen band radios). He installed one in his work truck and another one in his car. He also set up a small communications center in his kitchen with some fairly sophisticated CB radio equipment that was hooked up to a tower antenna in his back yard.
It was customary for the people who owned and used CB radios to give themselves a “handle” (nickname) that they were to be known by when communicating with each other over the radio. The handle that Uncle Bill gave himself was “Hammerhead.” As I’m writing this, I can hear his booming voice right now talking over the radio: “This is the Hammerhead, are you out there Juiceman?” The reply comes almost immediately, “10-4 Hammerhead, this is Juiceman, what are ya up to tonight?”
Everyone who knew my Uncle Bill would agree that “Hammerhead” was an appropriate name for him. He was a big, strong, tough, no-nonsense man who wasn’t afraid of anyone. If necessary, he would (justifiably) hammer away on someone in order to get what he wanted. He took pride in being known as “the Hammerhead.”
One Sunday afternoon when I was a senior in high school, my mom’s brother, Ed LaHood, stopped by my parents’ house to visit. After he parked his car in the driveway, he called me and one of my brothers over so he could show us the new CB radio he had just installed in his car. When I told him that Uncle Bill had a CB radio, he said: “What’s his handle. I’m going to try to get him on the radio right now.”
After I told him that Uncle Bill’s handle was “Hammerhead,” Uncle Ed turned on the radio and started talking into the microphone: “Hammerhead, are you out there? If you’re out there I need to talk to you.” After trying a couple of different channels, Uncle Ed struck gold. A reply came over the speaker: “This is the Hammerhead, who am I talking to?” Uncle Ed responded, “This is Batman.” “What can I do for you Batman?” said the Hammerhead. With a smile on his face, Uncle Ed replied, “We’ll, I’ve heard you think you own the airwaves in this town, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t.”
For the next 10 minutes, the Hammerhead and Batman jostled back and forth with Batman repeatedly challenging the Hammerhead’s manhood. The Hammerhead did everything he could to try to get Batman to agree to show up at the next local meeting of the CB club (where the Hammerhead would have been able to handle the matter his way). For obvious reasons, Batman had no interest in revealing who he was. He just wanted to tease the Hammerhead and get him all worked up.
On the one hand, there was my Uncle Bill who used his CB radio as a tool to interact with a small circle of like-minded friends, all of whom had a great deal of respect for him. On the other hand, there was my Uncle Ed who used his CB radio as his newest electronic toy to play around with and, at times, taunt and tease other people over the airwaves.
I’m telling you this story to illustrate a point. I don’t want any man who is reading this to get the impression that he has to be a certain personality type or possess certain traits in order to raise boys into real men.
Despite the fact that these two men were complete opposites, they (as well as all of my other uncles) had a particular philosophy they all shared in common when it came to raising their boys into men.
There was an occasion when I was in 7th grade when I got into trouble with a friend. While we were sitting outside of the Principal’s office waiting to be disciplined, I kept telling my friend: “When my dad gets home tonight, he’s going to come down on me like a ton of bricks.” In my imagination I could feel the ground moving from a huge dump truck that was rumbling toward me (in reverse) with an audible warning signal – beep, beep, beep, beep… then the bed of the truck would lift up and dump a massive pile of bricks on me. That’s what was going to happen to me when my dad found out what I had done.
My male cousins and I all knew how far we could go with our dads before the pile of bricks would come crashing down on us. Even though the Williams and LaHood men had dramatically different ways of interacting with and disciplining their sons, they all challenged us to live up to a very clear set of standards. If we didn’t perform up to those standards, they turned into hammerheads.
So what was their first order of business in transforming their boys into men? It was to train them on how to work like real men. In fact, while we were growing up, learning how to work was just as important as getting a good education.
So I have a question for you: When is it that we get our sons involved in sports? Do we wait until they’re 16 years old before we sign them up for baseball, football or basketball? If not, why not? So why do we wait until our sons are 16 (or older) before we push them into the workforce?
Listen closely. There are four primary components to success: (1) knowledge; (2) attitude; (3) activity; and (4) measurement. All of these components are necessary for success in any endeavor, including playing sports and working in the marketplace. In order to excel in any sport, a boy has to have an intricate knowledge of every aspect of the sport he is engaged in, as well as years of experience; he has to develop the right attitude about practice, teamwork, winning, losing, persistence, resilience, self-discipline, self-denial, and self-restraint; he has to actually engage in the activities that are required to develop and hone his skills; and he has to constantly measure his progress so he knows what he needs to work on to improve his performance.
So I’ll ask you again: Why is it important to get our boys into competitive sports at an early age and not as equally important to get them working in the competitive marketplace at an early age? With all other things being equal, if an NBA coach had a choice between a young man who started playing basketball at the age of 6 and another young man who started playing at the age of 16, which man do you think he would choose to play on his team?
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about what I’m saying here. For multiple reasons, competitive sports play a critical role in preparing a boy for adulthood, but introducing that same boy into the workforce at an early age, and then giving him the knowledge and training he needs to excel as a worker, will help to set him up for a lifetime of happiness, confidence, self respect, and financial independence.
A lot of fathers dream of the day one of their sons gets accepted into a Division I College to play sports. My dad and my uncles all dreamed of the day their sons would either own their own successful businesses or work as key employees within a successful business. But they knew before that would ever happen, their sons had to first develop themselves into superstar workers.
Next week I’m going to share with you some of the ground rules these dreamers established for their sons so they would be prepared to compete like superstars in the marketplace.