Saturday, March 09, 2013

A Fathers' Special Love for Two Special Sons - The Crandalls

Jason on the court for the Bombers. John, fittingly, in the background doing stats — just above the DQ logo.

My friend, Doug Crandall, is a gifted writer.  He collaborated with Scotty Smiley in writing the phenomenal memoir, "Hope Unseen."  This morning,  I read Doug's latest Blog post about his sons, John and Jason.  Doug's love letter to his sons - especially to John, is deeply moving.
As Doug described his teenage son, my first thought was that at a very young age, John is displaying a form of servant leadership.  Another friend and award-winning author, Donovan Campbell, has written a book that will be hitting the bookstores in one month.  In "The Leader's Code," Donovan writes about the kind of character that is required to be a great servant leader.  As his proud father describes John Crandall, he seems to exemplify the kind of leader that Donovan is talking about in this book.  I encourage you to read what Doug has written about John.

("The Leader's Code" can be pre-ordered now.  It will be reviewed in this Blog next week.  It will be a best-seller like his prior book, "Joker One.")

The Make-Up Story

by Doug Crandall
“I want to be good at something people care about.”
-John Crandall
There are only a couple things I remember about the night my oldest son was cut from the freshmen basketball team at Richland High School: it was dark and drizzly outside when I picked him up, and he cried right about the time we went over the first speed bump.
“I’m sorry buddy,” I said, with hurt in my heart that only a parent can really know.
“It’s no big deal.”
“It is,” I consoled. “It is. It has to hurt a little bit, and that’s okay.”
And that’s when the tears started to roll. He didn’t cry hard. He didn’t make a sound. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw the tears. And I understood. And I hurt.
I told him he’d given it a good effort. I told him there were lots of players; the coaches had to make some tough choices; if he really wanted it, he should work hard and try again next year. Of course it would take a warrior with a heart of steel to come back and try again – but I’d seen him fight before. You never knew when John would get that spark in his eye. If in a few months, the spark replaced the tears, he might give it a go.
His chances of making the team had been slim. We have maybe 25 pencil marks on our wall — just behind the kitchen table — marking the growth of our four kids for the last three years. In November of 2010, John was pushing 5’4”. He was maybe 105 pounds. Although lightning fast and super aggressive, he had badly broken his leg in a soccer game during the fall of 8thgrade – just before the start of middle school basketball. His ball-handling and shooting skills were unrefined.
But he loved basketball. Really loved it. And so he tried to make the team. But he didn’t. There were two teams that year: an A Team and a B Team. 5’4” and 105 lbs with not much basketball experience over the last couple of years didn’t get him on either one.
So the tears flowed. And my heart cracked just a little bit more, as it had several times before for this guy: my oldest son and my underdog.
I wrote a book once (Hope Unseen) about a blind army officer who climbed mountains, earned his MBA, and taught at West Point. What John Crandall did the next morning reflected the courage of a Scotty Smiley – and I mean that. It’s difficult to try(out) and to fail. It’s doubly difficult to “fail” at something you love. But if you truly love it, you endure. The next morning, John decided he would ask the coach to be the team manager.
Tough kid. That’s what I thought to myself when he told me. This kid is displaying an admirable toughness that will endure far beyond his memories of any freshmen basketball games. I have only four memories of freshmen basketball: 1. being totally incapable of turning the correct direction during zig zag defensive drills during a practice at Odle Middle School; 2. debating the merits of Republican political policies with our volunteer assistant coach Pat Daly; 3. Jeff Richards leveling a guy who continued to the basket after a foul had been called (and the refs not knowing what to do about it); and Chad Forrest hitting a buzzer-beater to send us to overtime against Newport. The game was in the small gym and Dion Earl, Dan Chase, and Russell Hairston (who played football at Washington) were on the team. None of those details matter – just pointing out that’s honestly all I remember. Those four things and my coach – Steve Files – who gave me confidence in myself I’d been lacking after a brutal 8thgrade year.
As a freshman in high school, I could not have done what John did that morning: suck it up and drive on.
I’m not sure what John will remember about his decision to join the team as manager, but I hope someday he looks back and gives himself a whopping portion of credit. I hope he forever reflects on the courage exhibited by his 14 year old self.
Several days later, John sat down to breakfast in a black, Richland Bombers sweat jacket. It had the Bombers basketball logo on the front chest and some white piping on the sleeves. His posture spoke of his pride. The tears had evaporated more quickly than expected.
Fast forward to sophomore year and John chose to continue on with basketball as the statistician for the varsity squad. Trying out for the sophomore team never really crossed his mind I don’t think. By October of 2011, the line on the wall had moved up only 2 ½ inches. He’d competed in cross country that fall, earning his first varsity letter. After a fall full of running, keeping the stats made sense. He was excited.
John learned quickly that mastering a computer-based, basketball stats program was no joke. Simultaneously watching the actual game and entering each piece of action into that program proved daunting. The previous statistician – Tait Meyer – left big shoes to fill. We worked together on it a bit, but I could see his confidence waning through the first few games. I had a John-centered view of the world in those moments, but I thought the task of nurturing him through the process – of getting the most out of him and rewarding his spirit – was more important than his precision in those first months on the job. But life brings hard lessons, and unquestionably, the greatest (but oft-forgotten) benefit of sports is a non-real-world opportunity to learn and grow. High school basketball is not combat. High school basketball is not the ER. High school basketball is not even Wall Street or Walmart. It’s a game.
I’m speaking to myself now in a sense – reminding myself it’s a game. Because watching John struggle through the task of keeping stats hurt just a bit. I wanted to protect him. There were moments I saw things and wanted to get angry. But I let it go. There was so much for him to learn, and none of it was about rebounds and assists.
John’s role as statistician and then co-statistician resulted in a unique feat at the end of the year. He earned another varsity letter in soccer that spring, making him the only male athlete at Richland High School to letter in three sports: cross-country, basketball (program assistant), and soccer. Of course one of the letters came from a non-playing role, but as my memory took me back to the trickle of tears I saw when our Honda Accord climbed that speed bump in the Richland High School parking lot, it didn’t matter a whole lot. I was super proud of him. Proud of what he had done, but much more proud of who he was and would become.
The real compelling part of John’s journey – from my point of view – takes the form of his little brother. While I’d assess John’s athletic ability as being akin to my own, Jason, who is two years younger than John, grabbed from his mother’s womb some of her athletic genes. As we have heard it from some of my father-in-law’s friends, ‘”Steve Anderson is the best athlete in the history of Issaquah High School.” Grandpa was quarterback, point guard, and shortstop. He played basketball and baseball at Seattle Pacific University (Seattle Pacific College at the time) after turning down some offers to play Division I, largely to stay close to his high school sweetheart. That worked out well for me at least as they produced a son and a couple of good-looking daughters, one of whom I married.
When he was in second grade, it became evident Jason could shoot the ball. He had a natural form that shouted, “this is easy.”  In 4th grade, he played youth basketball at West Point with 5th and 6th graders, John included. By the end of 8th grade, Jason’s AAU team had amassed a 98-17 record and won seventeen tournaments. His Carmichael Middle School team went 19-1 over two years, losing once in overtime. He was MVP of the UW basketball camp, scored 35 points in a game, and had a confidence borne of hard work and natural ability. He also earned all As, broke the school long jump record, and played a year up in premier soccer. No question I’m super proud of our second son, but not quite as proud as I probably would be without one eye on John the whole time.
So by the middle of John’s junior year, I had one son keeping statistics and another playing varsity basketball as a freshman. Jason’s role on the Richland Bombers brought him a short piece on television, weekly mentions in the newspaper box scores, and a lot of attention from friends and family. We were at IHop one morning when a friend (and IHop server) approached our table to take our order. Jason sat across from me at the front edge of the booth, closest to the server. John was two spots to my right, next to the window with his hood covering his head.
“Hey! Aren’t you playing varsity basketball?” the server said to Jason with a smile.
Jason nodded and grimaced. To his eternal credit (literally), he is a humble kid.
“That’s amazing,” she said. And as it rolled off her tongue, my heart leapt a little bit with pride for my second son. But at the same moment, my gut recoiled a bit for my hooded eldest, slumped in the corner. Maybe I’m guilty of worrying about it too much. Never been through it before – this parenting of boys who are eighteen months apart. I mean I’ve been through the early years, and the middle years, and I could probably do it better if I did it again. But the moment at IHop where the pretty red-haired girl compliments your one son while not knowing the journey of the other—I haven’t been through that.
“Are you guys twins?” people used to ask when they were younger. #socialawareness
John loves basketball. He told me as much just a month ago or so. He’s a great soccer player. I love to watch him run. His heart is huge. He is wonderful with little kids. He is honest. Doesn’t smoke. Doesn’t drink. Wants to be in the FBI. But…
“I want to be good at something that people care about,” he confessed.
He will understand someday. He is good (really good) at stuff that people care about: courage, integrity, empathy. John Crandall is the stuff leaders are made of, and what he has gone through over the last few years is most certainly making him into a leader.
So it was after the state playoffs – where Jason appeared on the Tacoma Dome floor as only one of three freshmen who played in the 4A Elite Eight – that I read an entertaining article by a writer from our local paper. The short but well-written piece chronicled some of the unsung heroes of the Richland Bomber basketball program: senior players who hadn’t garnered much game time, assistant coaches, the videographer, and the program assistants.
I stumbled upon the article, ironically, while looking at a picture of Jason grabbing an offensive rebound during a state tournament consolation game. I read half way down until I ran into this line:

“While the coaches are paying attention to the game, someone has to keep track of who’s scoring points and grabbing rebounds. For that, Streufert hands the computer over to a dedicated team of program assistants — Bombers seniors Lauren Bell, Tracey Beo and Jackie Gates.”

Please forgive me for going right back to that speed bump in the moment I read that line. Please forgive me for being overprotective, combative, even juvenile. Like every person who has children should, I love my son John with every fiber of my being.
Broken leg. 5’4”. “I didn’t make it.” Speed bump. Tears. Confidence.
To the reporter’s credit, it was an awesome article written in the spirit of honoring those behind-the-scenes. For some reason, an omission happened, and he was super apologetic. As I write this, I’m not even sure John ever saw the article. I am sure that if he had seen it, he would say simply, “It’s no big deal.”
And it’s probably not. Maybe there are no longer any tears deep down the well of his proclamations of indifference. But I will admit this plainly: whether it hurts him or not, it hurts me. It hurts me to see him put three years in and not get mentioned in that sentence. Because he deserves it more than any kid ever could.
That’s a long route to this leadership lesson: when people count on you, it’s your job to make sure that the John Crandall’s on your team are in that article. There are no excuses. No ways around it. Really no words to say if it doesn’t happen. As a leader. I have made mistakes like this before. I ate pizza once in the warm confines of a small café in Yakima, Washington while seventy of my soldiers were out in the cold. I once forgot to turn a promotion ceremony over to a sergeant first class so he could thank all those who helped him get there. An angry first sergeant chewed me out (I was a captain and company commander at the time).
John was not mentioned in that article. But here is what my freshman taught me in the fall of 2010: wipe your tears away and do something with the disappointment. So tonight I did. I decided to write my own article – to let the world (or maybe just a few friends and close family members) know what I know: the missing two words were not just a name, they were a story unto themselves – the journey of a kid who has taken a beating at times and gotten back up and made the most of it.
John, Jason, and I – along with my brother and niece – visited a school in the impoverished town of Dario, Nicaragua last spring break . Compared to the kids living in those conditions – along with many others around the globe – his problems and challenges may seem small. But our problems are big when they’re our problems: whether job loss, depression, bankruptcy, or getting cut from the basketball team.
What I want you to know John – the first time you read this and when you read it after I’ve died and gone: I’m proud of you.  You are amazing. I love you. I love you so much that when someone forgets you’re a program assistant, I’ll write my own five-page story to make up for it.
Doug Crandall's Blog

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Here is my takeaway from this moving article.  I will be looking today - and over the next few days - for some unsung heroes who could really use a word of affirmation, recognition and thanks.  A waitress, a bus driver, the lady at the counter at the dry cleaners.  I encourage you to do the same.  Doug Crandall and Scott Smiley have written about "Hope Unseen."  Let's not any of us be authors of "A Word of Thanks Unspoken"!


No comments: