James Harrison’s Instagram rant has been all over the media lately. If you somehow missed it, he posted a picture of two participation trophies, with the following caption:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

This caption was followed with the very powerful (I’m dripping with sarcasm here) #harrisonfamilyvalues.

Based on this quote, Harrison apparently wasn’t present when his kids were given the trophies. Maybe he was busy working? Maybe he was at a strip club? Maybe he just doesn’t like going to his kids’ games because they apparently aren’t good enough to win. Could it be that he is embarrassed by them, and therefore has to start this public rant against participation trophies?

Harrison was an outstanding athlete in high school. He was wooed by many major football powerhouses, including Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame. Those schools decided not to offer him a scholarship after he reportedly shot a BB gun in his high school locker room, was suspended for obscene gestures during a game, challenged an assistant coach to a fight, and didn’t keep his grades where they needed to be.

As a pro, Harrison was a great player, but he is also one of the more frequently fined players of all time. Along with being known for cheap shots on the gridiron, he has also taunted numerous people off the field, including his own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Harrison is quoted as saying he hates Goodell.

Harrison was also arrested in 2008 for assaulting his girlfriend, who is the mother of his kids.

Harrison family values? Hmm…

I’m really not interested in questioning Harrison’s past or current morals or values. I am more interested in understanding why the media and so many others are praising Harrison for his stance on participation trophies. Why are people so angry about kids being given trophies for trying? What’s the big deal? I wonder how Harrison’s six and eight year old sons feel? They never asked to receive the trophies, and may not have even expected to get them. Surely they weren’t crying and whining until they had to be “shut up,” as Harrison states? He acts like he would prefer the coach scream, “You guys are shit!” at the kids before seeing his boys get some insignificant piece of plastic to put on their dresser for a year or two.

Oh, by the way, being awarded for participation is nothing new. 30 years ago, when I was a kid, I had plenty of trophies, medals and ribbons that I received for participating on bad teams and/or in sports I sucked at. They were nice, but I didn’t sit in my room and stare at them all day. It was a pat on the back — a way of saying good job and thanks for playing. The winning teams usually got something nicer, which was fine. We all knew who won or lost anyway, we didn’t need a trophy to tell us. Maybe I was odd, but I don’t remember caring all that much about trophies, whether I “deserved” one or not. Once in a while I won the big trophy, but it didn’t feel much different than the participation ribbon. The potential of winning an award never had anything to do with my level of competitiveness, but getting a little piece of hardware usually made me feel a bit happier, win or lose.

As a parent with young kids, I’m less concerned with making my kids earn a trophy than I am with them being happy. There is plenty of time for them to face the “real world,” and I’m confident that they will adjust as needed. As an adult, it’s been my experience that the most well-adjusted, productive and nice-to-be-around people are usually the most genuinely happy people. The extreme go-getters who stop at nothing to build a career and make a name for themselves (and by the way, who have a tendency to miss their children’s games, recitals, etc.) aren’t always as successful, happy or with-it as they want to appear.

Trust me, I know parenting is extremely hard. I screw up a lot! No one wants their kids to act entitled or spoiled, and we all want them to be the best adults they can be. I’m sure James Harrison had good intentions. Let’s keep in mind, though, that every generation has been worried about their children, and despite all the problems in the world, the earth is still spinning along with all of us trying to hang on.

So think about letting your children have some fun. Let’s tell them their participation trophies are great, proudly display their less than mediocre art work, and smile while listening to their mistake-filled piano playing. Remember that a happy child is a healthy one, and the kids are alright.

  

There was a time when I didn’t think I’d have a second child.  My wife and I had our first child, Jack, less than two years after we were married.  We of course were thrilled, and because we wanted at least two kids who were close in age, we started trying again just a few months after Jack was born.  But, as is often the case in life, things didn’t go as we planned.  Six and a half years and a couple (at least) of miscarriages later, I had resigned myself to the fact that Jack would be an only child.  We were fortunate to have him, and to be honest, I didn’t know if I wanted another child any longer.  I was in the latter half of my 30’s and my wife was on the doorstep of 40.  I didn’t want to put her at risk of a dangerous pregnancy or another devastating letdown.  When we were told about a specialist who might be able to help, we agreed that we would give it one last try.  I’m so glad we did.  In 2010 my wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl we named Ainsley.  She completed our family, and made us who we are today.  I can’t imagine our family — or life in general — without her.  She is beautiful, smart, funny and kind.  She has made me a better person.  What more could a dad ask for?

Six months ago I had a midlife opportunity (it may possibly have seemed to others to be a crisis) and quit my job of almost 20 years to become a stay at home dad.  Taking on major change and/or major risk is not part of my M.O., but, with great support and encouragement from my wife, I took a leap.  The first three months of my “retirement,” for lack of a better word, were spent with Ainsley.  Each morning my wife went to work and Jack went to school, and the two of us were left to have amazing adventures.  We did something every day — hikes, parks, libraries, tennis, picnics, movies, and more.  We read books, told stories, sang songs, and laughed.  A lot.  More than anything, we had great talks.  If there are any parents who think you can’t have good conversations with your five year old, I would challenge you to try harder.  We truly became best buds.  I’m not sure who enjoyed our time more.

Before we knew it school let out for the summer, and Jack joined us.  The three of us continued to have great fun, but he’s much older and isn’t always interested in doing some of the things we enjoyed in the beginning.  He’s at the age where he would rather hang out with his friends.  I get it and certainly don’t blame him.  What I was too naive to appreciate or understand while we were trying to have Ainsley is that it gave me a long period of time to spend solely with Jack.  I’m very thankful for that now.

When I left my career, I was on a quest to find happiness.  I feel truly fortunate to say that I’m finding it.  Happiness doesn’t mean every day is wonderful, instead it’s about learning to enjoy the moments that matter; to relish and remember them.  After all, it’s individual moments that make up our forevers.  If we slow down and pay attention, we will find that these moments are not few and far between, but are actually all around us, just waiting to be experienced.  Those more enlightened than me refer to this as being mindful.  I have found that being mindful is quite easy, as long as I remember to remind myself…

When Ainsley was a baby and would cry in the night, I would usually offer to take her so my wife could sleep.  I would go downstairs to our couch and lay her on my chest, where she would almost always settle down very quickly.  I would listen to and feel her deep, calming breaths as we both fell asleep.  I offered to help not only for my wife, but also for me.  It felt so good to hold her.  At that moment nothing else mattered.  This is how I have felt the last few months — nothing else mattered.  Nothing else could compare.

Tomorrow Ainsley starts kindergarten.  She’s so excited and so ready but, selfishly, I’m not totally prepared to let her go.  Everybody talks about time moving so fast, and man, it really does.  I would love to be woken up tonight — just tonight — to find a crying baby needing to be nestled on my chest.  Instead, she will excitedly wake me in the morning.  My wife and I will walk her to school for the first time, new backpack and lunchbox in tow.  I will remember to pay close attention to her expressions and actions until the first bell rings, and we have to leave her so she can start her own new adventure.  I don’t mean to be overly sappy, as I realize she is only starting kindergarten, but it is another step in what is a long staircase of simultaneously exciting and depressing (at least to me) events in our children’s lives.  I admit there is a part of me that doesn’t want my kids to grow up.

I am eternally grateful for the experience I’ve had over the past six months, and look forward to so many more great times to come with both of my children.  The future will never be quite like the past, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be equally good — or maybe even better.  Although she’s very young, I think Ainsley will retain at least a few faint, fond memories of our recent time together.  I know I will never forget.