I wrote down the title of today’s episode on November 22, 2014 at 11:31pm. But that was then, this is now.
It’s getting hot here in Dallas.
About a week away from Thanksgiving in 2014. The beginning of the holiday season.
Here in America the annual “holiday season” kicks off, literally on Thanksgiving week. Families will gather around big tables filled with all the usual high-calorie foods, including one appropriately named, “stuffing.” And we will stuff.
Here in Dallas, we’ve got a little football game that has been a tradition since 1966. Every year the Dallas Cowboys host a Thanksgiving Day game. Now college teams are getting in on the action. It’s a post-meal tradition that results in a bigger game beyond the one played in the stadium — seeing who can stay awake to actually watch football.
The day is a celebration. The actual giving of thanks is likely more subtle in most homes. People who may not think of praying to thank God for the food might do it on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. But I suppose simply being surrounded by friends and family causes even the callous among us to have moments of awareness that whisper, “This is nice.” Not all “thank you’s” are filled with spotlights and loud public address systems. Some just happen in our head. Quietly.
When you get older and your tribe has increased, you may be more prone to giving thanks. And when I say “tribe,” I don’t mean Seth Godin’s version – those folks who will buy your stuff. I mean family, the only kind of tribe I personally recognize. I’m happy you’re here, listening to the podcast but I don’t consider you part of my tribe. I consider you a friend.
The holiday season wraps up with the New Year’s Eve celebration. Generally, people go from eating more than they should on Thanksgiving Day to spending more than they should for Christmas to drinking too much on New Year’s Eve. For quite a few, it’s more about excess and over-doing-it than anything! But no matter what you do, or how you choose to live during this time of year, it’s universally a time spent with friends and family. And if Thanksgiving Day is a day to consider what we’re most thankful for, then New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are days to reflect on the previous year and ponder what a new year may bring. Some are hopeful. Others, not so much.
Ironically, New Year’s Day is the time when many people “resolve” to make some improvement. Studies report that most fail. And rather quickly. Less than 3% of all resolutions ever come to fruition. And that might be generous.
As I sit here sweating in June, thinking of cooler times and family, I think of the people who surround me. The ones who call me Dad, or Pappa. We don’t need to wait until “the holidays” to realize the responsibility we have to our tribe, that clan of people with whom we’re related, either by blood kinship or by marriage. When you’re a father, it’s mostly the responsibility you feel toward your children, their spouses and their children — your grandchildren. If you think about it too much the enormity of the circumstance might weaken your stance. Or, it might give you greater resolve and purpose. Oddly enough, it might even do both at the same time.
I was almost 21 when I became a husband. I was 23 when I first became a father. That was almost 43 years ago. It was August 17, 1980 – the hottest summer on record for consecutive 100 degree days in this part of the world. Rhonda was miserable that summer. We had a son, Ryan.
Over 10 years ago my son had a son, his first. And just like that, there were 3 generations of us. My father is 99. That makes 4 generations alive simultaneously. 99. 66. 42. 10. It’s an average span of 30 plus years between generations that runs from 1922 to 2023.
My fatherhood is now a generation away four times over. I’ve got five grandchildren. It’s an odd thing for which one can’t fully prepare. Not so different from fatherhood in that regard. Very different from fatherhood though in a practical sense. It’s a different burden of responsibility.
I began thinking some years ago when the first Cantrell grandson was born that our family name, generationally, was deepening. Until some of us fade from view. Odds are my father will fade first. He’s healthy and doing well. Come September he’ll celebrate his 100th birthday, Lord willing. About 5 years ago he lost two siblings – the only surviving ones, leaving him as the lone survivor among 7. His brothers and sisters didn’t pass based on their ages. So he never figured he’d be quite literally “the last man standing.” Time marches on. With or without us. I’m happy he’s still marching along. Even if the pace is considerably slower. So is mine.
This isn’t about preferences. Of a son versus a daughter. It’s merely the namesake reality of a family name and how the generations of a family are viewed. I’ve got family – members of my tribe – none of whom share my last name, but they’re still family in every sense of the word.
My youngest grandson is Cason Randy Cantrell. Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance. He had my sleep habits the first week of his life (about 8 years ago). That is, he didn’t sleep. Much. Thankfully, he got past it. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure what else we may have in common. But as the youngest of these generations, I’m sure time will tell.
But this isn’t about my family so much as it’s about fatherhood. Mostly fatherhood as you get further down the line. Or up the road. Or maybe it’s down the drain. 😉
The view is very different 42 years later. My son will turn 43 later this summer.
As a dad, few things are better than seeing a son do well. Last Father’s Day – June 18, 2023 – there were the usual conversations about dads and sons. Talk about how sons were better than dad at something dad used to be pretty good at. Some dads don’t handle that so well. Me? That’s been the objective all along. Besides, I’ve never held myself as the standard for my son. Instead, I hoped to provide him a solid example to follow, one that he could (and hopefully would) build something much, much better! Learning from my life has always been the goal – the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s why open communication and lots of candid conversations have been my way of life in the family. My son grew up hearing me say, “I’m not going to be the dad who died having left things unsaid. I’m gonna die probably having said too much!” 😉 I’ve never wanted others – especially family – to wonder what I meant, or what I might be feeling, or how much I care about them.
It’s hard, even for a self-proclaimed wordsmith, to put into words how I feel about the growth, improvement and successes of my son. Now that we’re well into our 4th decade together it’s even more special.
When A Son Eclipses A Father
The satisfaction – the happiness – is extraordinary.
I’ve lived my entire life as a son. I’ve lived almost 46 years as a husband. I’ve lived almost 43 years as a dad. I know what I’m talking about.
Dads watching their kids play sports is where dads want their kids to excel. Too many see themselves through their kids. So if their son isn’t among the best players on the team – that kid that makes a positive difference – then dad ain’t happy. Usually, the rest of us see and hear it when he incessantly coaches his kid from the stands. Or in between innings goes to the fence to push (I’m being kind) his son. I see it in 6 and under sports. Dads pressuring kids to perform well.
Counter that with the dad whose son performs well, doing far better than anything dad could do at that age. While many are proud, you sometimes see a dad who struggles to understand his new place in his son’s life – a place where your coaching is no longer needed (if it ever was). An area of life where the son is just better – and already knows more.
It happens. It’s happened to me in so many different areas of life because my son isn’t me. And I’m blessed because of it. He’s his own person. His own man. But he’s my son and I’m as proud as I can be of who he is, who he has become and who I’m optimistic he’ll grow to be. My son has passed me by numerous times. What could be better?
I frequently encounter dads whose sons are failing to progress on multiple fronts. Their angst is easy to feel even though it’s isn’t my own. I grow quiet during those conversations because it’s not my experience as a dad to my son.
In my coaching practice – GrowGreat.com – the reality is my client’s success is my success. In fatherhood, it’s the same goal. My pride in a client’s growth, my pride in my son’s success is a similar feeling for me. Both include a high personal investment that only has to do with how I may be able to influence and impact them in their journey to figure things out. We’re separate, but connected.
I Was Happy Then. I’m Happier Now!
A kid’s perspective versus an adult’s perspective – they’re often quite different. A young dad’s perspective and an old dad’s are, too. With 5 grandkids now I have a viewpoint I didn’t always have. As I should. It means growth. Increased self-awareness. Wisdom. The very point of this podcast.
Happy is a word that conjures images of gleeful pleasure. That’s not how I mean it. For me, a better – more accurate term – would be contentment, but that word – for most – doesn’t quite bespeak how I feel. People think contentment’s translation is “it’s all fine.” No, for me, it’s way better than just being fine. It’s really good. Fulfilling. Deeply satisfying.
I’m far happier now – as a father of this son – than I was then. Mostly because then it was hopeful, but unknown. I was hoping to get it more right than wrong. I was hoping this little boy would grow up and understand what I was trying desperately to accomplish for him. Hoping he’d grow up to forgive my many short-comings. Hoping he’d figure it out and mostly get it right. Praying he’d learn wisdom and exercise it in his life. Praying the lessons taught about God and the Lord’s Church would be so deeply instilled into him that he’d never forsake it.
When these are the hopes and goals, it’s not easy to be happy. The future is largely unknown.
Now that I’m at least one generation away from those days, I’m happier because today is proof that those dreams, aspirations, goals and prayers have been answered. My son is a better man than me and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Please tell a friend about the podcast!
Wanna help me get a video setup?
I’m planning to start vlogging from Hot Springs Village, Arkansas because the place is spectacular.
If you’d like to help, click the image below to donate a B&H Photo E-Gift Card (use RandyCantrell [at] gmail [dot] com).