Maybe when I am old, I will look back on the year 2014 as the year I realized that my Lucas is his own man. He’s such an amazing kid. I adore him. But dang, it hasn’t been easy.
Here is Lucas. A week ago, he scored his first buck.
Allow me to give a little background: My husband is a high school basketball coach. His love language is sports. His identity is tied to sports. He believes that athletics shape a kid and character, and I agree. Over the years, it’s been rewarding to watch young boys become men through the challenges and joys that come through basketball.
However, I’m pretty sure that we’ve unknowingly bought into this belief that athletics was the best way, or the only way, for a young boy to become a man. And our middle boy, Lucas, suffered under that expectation. We’re changing our tune.
Lucas is athletic. He’s super physical. My favorite football memory of him is when he carried the football down the field as one, then two, then three guys wrapped around him and hung on. He lowered his head and dragged them for another 15 yards until the dog pile finally overtook him. He got up with a grin and a little swagger. That’s just Lucas.
But Lucas is a lot more than that. Sports are fun, but not important to him. He’s got other dreams. He’s a creative thinker, a totally out-of-the-box kind of guy. His perspective is bigger than most somehow. He draws witty cartoons and loves to create with iMovie. He loves technology. He’s a skater-boy, a little rebellious and attracted to the edge. He thinks nothing of the bruises and scrapes that come from the risks he takes on his longboard or his BMX bike or snowboard.
He also forgets to turn in his schoolwork, and he’s a class clown, often throwing out a choice joke for a laugh at just the most inappropriate time. Many a patient teacher he has had.
Last year, he begged to quit AAU basketball. “What?! If you give up AAU, you probably won’t play high school basketball,” we said. Horrors! AAU is what we do. Is there any other way to spend our days than carting him across town for practices and games? It may sound strange to those of you who have lives outside of youth sports. But for those of us who have spent our last years completely bought-in and sold-out, making a final decision was a process for us. And a fight. Ray and I fought our own selves. And we fought Lucas.
In a situation like this, parents often feel like they should win. The process was keen for Ray and I because we thought our side was best. Our thinking was along the lines of, “if Lucas needs more character to be built in him, it will benefit him to get it from youth sports.” In addition, we were also fighting with him over an addiction to technology, and it was difficult to separate the two battles. Looking back now, it’s easy to see how messed up and short-sighted our thinking was. But that’s where we were. It took time and much conversation with Lucas, learning to listen to what his heart was saying to us. At some point, the lightbulb finally lit–He’s 14 and he wants to try other things with his life. We need to allow him to explore these things. We need to allow him to be who he IS, not who we think he should be.
So we lost the fight over basketball. But we won a little of our son back.
I’m so proud of my husband in the midst of it. He spent this summer reconnecting with Lucas. They created a “Lucas-only” toolkit. They purchased used skateboards and pieced parts out to create a custom board. Ray found a used BMX trick bike for Lucas, and watched as Lucas perfected his tricks.
So it was a shocker to us when we encountered the next battle in late August, right as football season began. For a variety of reasons, Lucas’s 8th grade season was cancelled at the very last minute, leaving him without a team. He had several options: 1) join his local public school team, 2) join a friend’s Pop Warner city team, or 3) join his private school’s high school team, where his sophomore brother and a few other 8th grade schoolmates/friends were. In our small-school league, if there are 30 high school players or less, 8th graders are able to play JV.
Lucas chose none of the above. It just so happened that the day he was making a decision was also the day that his body was being overtaken by a strep virus. He was an emotional mess. He couldn’t think straight. He was scarily irrational. He had night terrors. The strep seemed to take his brain and shake it like a Coke can. We witnessed the explosion.
So he missed the first practices as his body recovered. After he was no longer contagious, he attended a couple practices. On day 7, he had a sudden full-body rash reaction to the penicillin antibiotic. It set him back again. On day 10, he returned to practice and got taken down while carrying the ball. Weirdly, his chin strap sliced into his chin and left a deep cut. We were called immediately, and ended up at the Urgent Care for the 3rd time in 10 days. He had 6 stitches. And he was done with football. He refused to go back. His love for the game was gone.
Again, Ray and I were at a crossroads. We tried for several days to force him back, thinking that it was a fear he needed to push through. But he wouldn’t budge. I pray that his stubbornness will someday serve him well, but in the meantime, it is crazy-hard to parent.
Two wise friends gave me counsel. They encouraged us to empower him to make his own decision. And ultimately, that is what we did. We sat down with Lucas, left our emotion behind, and calmly told him several things. First, we told him that we thought he should stick it out but that it was no longer our decision. Rather, it was his, and we would support him in his final decision. Second, we asked him to go through a process in his decision-making. We asked him to meet with his youth pastor for outside counsel and wisdom. We gave him several verses, not coercive ones, but ones of promise of direction and hope and wisdom. We asked him to look them up, read them, and then spend some time talking personally to God about what was on his mind and heart. Finally, we told them that if he quit, he would 1) need to meet with his coach to explain his decision and 2) let us know what activity he wanted to pursue instead.
He went through the process. And quit. But he told us that he wanted instead to go hunting this fall. He also said that he wanted to go to youth group consistently, something that unfortunately often gets lost to the busy schedule of athletic practices and games.
Truly, I miss watching my Lucas play football. But I’m so proud of him.
He spent the next week taking the online hunting certification class. And then the next Saturday, he and Ray attended the 4-hour field course. Had he played football, there would have been no extra time for this.
Both of his grandpas are hunters and they were thrilled. Unfortunately, neither could hunt with him this year. So Lucas’s 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Hansen, graciously and generously offered to take Ray and Lucas out. I’m still so touched by that. I’m also touched by Ray’s commitment to Lucas. Ray does not like to hunt, but for Lucas’s sake, he attended the class, assembled the gear, and purchased the hunting tags. That’s what a good daddy does to connect with his son.
On the third time out, they spotted a buck and quietly motioned for Lucas to take aim. Lucas stealthily lifted his gun, sighted in, and shot. His first shot entered at the shoulder and pierced the lung, killing the deer instantly. It makes me sad to see such a beautiful creature lay limp. And yet, with this one beautiful creature, Lucas will feed our family this winter.
We let go of our expectations. He wins. By doing so, our middle child was able to be his own man. It is a loss I am happy to claim.