Posted April 18, 2012 by jimhigley
I had the honor the other day of being part of a group of folks who chose the winning essays from this year’s IFI /Chicago White Sox Illinois Fatherhood Essay Contest. Over 18,000 kids from the state of Illinois submitted essays this year – honoring their dads, step-dads, grandfathers, or father figures. The Illinois Fatherhood Initiative is the sponsor of this annual event. As I read the piles and piles of essays I was given, I was not only moved, but I was reminded of a story I wrote a year ago – celebrating one of the things I love about fatherhood. I hope you enjoy.
There’s one thing I have to tell you about myself before you read any further. I’m not a runner. And while I’ve found myself participating in a number of races over the past few years, please don’t ever, ever think of me as a runner. I’m slow. I wasn’t blessed with a beautiful gait. I walk often. And I rarely check my time. Maybe you’re a runner. But I’m not. Honest.
Now that we have that covered, I have a story to share with you about an “aha” moment I had after recently participating in the 20th Annual Livestrong Austin Marathon and Half Marathon.
The story has nothing to do with the race itself (thank you for not inquiring about my time), the course (any illusion of Texas being flat can now be dispelled), or the reason I continue to sign up for race after race (another story for another time).
The story has to do with something I learned about fatherhood an hour or so after I finished the race.
I was walking back to my hotel, a few blocks away from the finish line, and I had one thing on my mind. No, it wasn’t the sensation of nothingness left in my legs or the taste of dried salt on my lips. All I was thinking about was getting to a phone so I could call my kids. I have three of them. And I missed them. It’s as simple as that. I’m a single dad raising them alone so my world pretty much revolves around theirs. I needed to find out what they were doing in the 15-plus hours since I flew down to Austin. I wanted to find out about school. I wanted to hear about the details of their day, what they ate and what they were doing.
Nothing mattered to me as much as hearing their voices.
It’s a feeling I’ve grown used to in the many years I’ve been a dad. It began the instant I held my oldest child in my arms within seconds of him being born. I remember looking in his eyes in the delivery room, with the flurry of nurses still running around, and thinking to myself that my life would never be the same.
I had no idea how right I was.
And that’s why a phone call was all I had on my mind as I hurried back to the hotel that sunny, Austin, Sunday morning.
A block or two from the hotel, I stopped at an intersection to wait for a break in the traffic. As I stood there another finisher—a young guy—stepped up and stood next to me so I glanced over to him and smiled. He smiled back.
And we continued to wait with the post-race traffic circling around us.
As I looked at my watch, I noticed he was holding a bouquet of flowers in his right hand. Actually, it was a ginormous bouquet of flowers. Upside down. Resting against his legs. At first I thought it to be just a little unusual.
Then it registered. So I peered back over at him again, without moving my head as I snuck another look. Yep, a big bouquet of flowers tied with long flowing ribbons. And, a shiny, gold trophy was gripped in his other hand!
Somehow amid the bustling streets of Austin, I managed to find myself alone on a street corner with someone who was obviously a very serious runner.
“Did you just win this whole thing?” I blurted out without giving a thought to the words I was using, the appropriateness of my question or any other running etiquette guidelines I might be violating.
The young guy just smiled a big smile and replied, “I did. Not my best race. But I did.”
I later learned that “not his best” was a marathon time that was a couple minutes faster than my half marathon time! I was hanging on the street corner with running royalty.
But that’s not what made the lasting impression on me. It was what he said next.
“I’m sneaking out of here,” he said with an ear-to-ear smile. “My wife and I just had triplets and I’m dying to get to the hospital to see my kids.” He then held up his wrist to show me the three hospital bracelets he was still wearing to celebrate his new trio.
“Awesome!” I replied. “I’ve got three, myself so I understand. Congratulations, my friend. You are a lucky man.”
“We’re both lucky,” he said as he extended his hand to me. “We’re both very lucky.”
Then, with a tiny break in the traffic, he bolted and—like a gazelle—threaded his way through the street and disappeared.
And all I could do was stand there for a brief moment and let the irony of the situation sink in.
For all our obvious differences, I realized that our similarities were far greater. And certainly more meaningful.