For the past few weeks, Kaleb would talk about running, about racing during Phys. Ed. class, about coming in first or out of first, of girls versus boys (they outnumber his fellow little guys 3-to-1) and about pain in his left leg. He would run for hours on a court, a ball field or in the yard, but when it came time to talk about the Turkey Race, the leg's pain would come up.
He was uncomfortable, talking about the race. Last year, he didn't run, then talked about running this year. Last Friday he became openly angry at the idea that the race was longer, that the smaller kids would run a shorter race and they, the first graders, would run the same distance as the fourth graders. He vacillated between bragging and complaining, fast as wind or slow as turtle, confidence and fear.
He is My son, who watches My every move and absorbs My every action. He knows I am competitive, that I play to win and expect to win. He also knows I have bailed on My promise to run The World's Best 10K race...because My left knee hurts too much. He was leaning towards skipping his race, too. But both his mom and I assured him We would enjoy seeing him participate. So he ran.
Running with fierce concentration, Kaleb gained no ground lost at the start. He came in last, was downcast, but smiled and laughed with the other boys and climbed back into the grandstand, his green "Participant" ribbon pinned on his shirt. He walked towards Me and only when he buried his head into My body did he let the tears flow.
"I didn't run well," Kaleb said to Me. "I came in last."
I hugged him, holding back My tears. I know full well how painful a loss can be, for they all hurt Me deeply. Therein lies the problem: I only count victories, and they never mean as much to Me as a loss takes away from My heart. I did what I believe a good father does: I grew up enough to help My son. I assured him he ran well, that the most important thing was that he did run, for he could always point to that effort and say "I tried." Kaleb made no excuses, cried a little while longer, then composed himself. It took Me longer.
Later, in the car, he became angry at himself for running last. I pointed out to Kaleb that he had run well, for three boys had jumped the start and one boy got in front of him, breaking his early rhythm. Kaleb told Me that was Marcos. I said that most boys would have tripped or pushed, but that he had run well by avoiding the accidental intrusion, even though it cost him a stronger finish. He accepted the point, but made no excuses.
He later told My sister, My mom and his cousins that he'd come in last, his little body slumped with defeat. My sister encouraged him to prepare for next year, and judging by the way his face softened, that may have been the final salve on his injured pride.
For Kaleb is proud...just like his father. He wants to win, just like Me. But he is so much more than his father, for unlike Me, Kaleb has the courage to face failure as a true possibility and meet it head-on when it happens. Kaleb has learned some lessons from Me, but he has mastered one I haven't: Failure is not final.
For you see, My son, I don't see it that way. I seem to take risks, more so than the average person, but in fact, I really play it safe. Facing a race I cannot succeed in--to My standards--I bail, rather than accepting what I can do and doing it, with fierce concentration and accepting whatever the result might be. Unlike you, Kaleb, I am often so fearful of My failure that I don't even try.
It is now up to Me to ponder long and hard on the lessons I am knowingly and unknowingly teaching My son and on the lessons Kaleb can teach Me. I'm hoping that someday I can grow up to be more like him.
The Jenius Has Spoken.