Earning an F in Failure
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
I was in junior high. And, when I was in junior high, music and music videos were at the center of my entire universe. And not just mine, but every other junior higher and high schooler in the 80’s. To paraphrase Grace at Glenbrook North High School, all of us: the sportos, motorheads, geeks, waistoids, dweebies, and so on… we all wanted our MTV.
And, my personal favorite was the King of Pop. I mean, I knew all of his moves, all of his lyrics, owned all of his records and tapes… the first concert I ever attended was the Jackson’s Victory Tour.
Of course, that was all long before HBO released Leaving Neverland. For those of you who are still unaware, that’s the documentary about a couple kids like me who really did get to meet Jackson and, well… MJ’s reputation, has been infinitely tarnished and now isn’t referred to as simply “The King of Pop”, but “former-pop-star-slash-serial-abuser”.
Now… in addition to singing and dancing to Michael Jackson, another favorite pastime of mine was breaking out some of my dad’s old records and laughing my butt off while I mimicked and recited classic comedy routines like “Buck Buck”, “Street Football”, and of course, the “Noah” trilogy. That’s right… even before he created America’s-once-favorite-dad-Cliff-Huxtable, I was a huge fan of Bill Cosby.
(Could I pick ‘em, or what?!)
As I grew older, through college and adulthood, my tastes in entertainment evolved. I graduated to the point of enjoying and even quoting movies like Pulp Fiction, I learned to play poker after studying Matt Damon in Rounders, I marveled at the grandness of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and as a dad of young boys, I had Spy Kids and even Ella Enchanted constantly repeating on the minivan DVD player. Of course, these are just a small sampling of the movies I’ve enjoyed over the last couple decades, but for those of you who didn’t see the pattern, they are all films produced by notorious Hollywood producer / sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein.
I bring all this up, not to show that I may have really poor taste in entertainment choices, but to ask these questions:
- Is Thriller still one of the greatest albums of all time?
- Are the stories of the Huxtable family, Fat Albert, or Noah asking his neighbor how long he could tread water still funny?
- Can I still sit down with my kid and a bowl of popcorn and watch Paddington, Spy Kids, or Lord of the Rings?
In other words, if someone does a horrible thing, do we erase from history all of the great things we once appreciated?
Or, on a more personal note…forget about the people of the entertainment world who we likely will never meet… what do we do when a personal mentor goes off the rails?
You see, I had a buddy who took me under his wing for a number of years and got me through some really tough times. He taught me some extremely valuable lessons and perspectives on parenting, marriage, how to care for those in extreme need, new approaches to studying the Bible… and even basketball.
And then he fell. He fell harder than a lead balloon.
But, what am I supposed to do with all those nuggets of wisdom he bestowed upon me? Are the praiseworthy principles he revealed no longer true because the messenger was corrupted?
Can purity of truth exist, even in the midst of pure evil?
Now, honestly, I’ve pondered these questions for years now, and I’ve asked wise sages with much higher pedigrees and pay grades than me how to approach these conundrums. One common comment is that I should have never placed mere men on such lofty pedestals. At some level, and at some point in time, all men are bound to falter and fail. None of us are perfect… no, not one.
That’s cool… but wait… what does that mean for my kids?
You see, I clearly remember a moment when my oldest son was three years old. We were playing around and he was mesmerized by how I could make his Hot Wheels car disappear and then reappear out of his ear. Each time I’d do the trick, we’d laugh until our sides hurt, and I realized that I was hands-down the funniest person that my son knew at that point in his life. A couple nights later, he had searched all over the house for his missing stuffed bear. And as a last resort, he asked me to check behind his ear. Surly, that’s where all lost toys were discovered, right? And it dawned on me, I’m not just the funniest man in this little guy’s life… I’m the GREATEST man in this poor kid’s life. Oh, was he destined for disappointment!
I knew then, and I know now, that I’m far from perfect. Nowhere near perfect. I get angry, I say things I shouldn’t, I drink beer, I throw things… and that’s just while watching my Chiefs on any given Sunday.
The hard truth is, we parents will inevitably fail our kids at some point in time. God willing, nowhere near the level as Jackson, Cosby or Weinstein, but our very nature dictates that we will fail at some level. And, through the eyes of our kids, a failing grade is a failing grade.
So, what if they treated us as our society has treated Michael, Bill, or Harvey? What if they completely erased everything that we ever taught them, provided for them, or enjoyed with them prior to our stumbles?
Wouldn’t it be consistent of them to do just that?
Luckily, we have the opportunity to apologize to our kids and make things right. We have the ability to humbly approach them with open arms that can become a high five and a hug.
You see, my son who couldn’t find his teddy bear is now at the stage where he’s misplacing his car keys. And while I may no longer be the funniest, nor the most talented, nor the wisest, and far from the greatest man that he knows, I still have the greatest job of anyone he knows – I’m his dad.
And it’s important for me to teach him how to deal with failure.
Not just the failures of our cultural icons, but of our loved ones – our family members, our friends, his brothers, me… and his own.
(Notice, I didn’t include my wife in that list… because she’s practically perfect in every way, but that’s for another episode.)
Anyway, all of this culminates to this point: we all are going to fail. We all want to be forgiven and offered a chance to make things right.
Now, it may be too late for some. And, I’m not saying that all failures are equal. Some, to be sure, are so egregious that they require incredible consequences.
But, even in light of this, truths are still true. Purity is still good. Honesty is still virtuous.
And… if we hope and pray that our kids will forgive us, how much more important is it for us to model that by forgiving them when they fail? How can we expect them to still remember all the valuable lessons we have taught them when we quickly forget all the joy they have brought into our lives, when we’re blindsided by their rebellion?
In other words, what lessons are you teaching your kids, even when you’re not sitting them down and explaining things?
All I know is this… I came home from work a couple days ago to the racquet of bass and treble pulsing from my son’s bedroom. His music was so loud, it was literally echoing through the entire house and out into the neighborhood. The only thing louder than his music was his own voice straining to sing outside of his natural register.
And I smiled as I heard him get to the chorus:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror.
I’m asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer:
If you want to make the world a better place,
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.