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The Nitty-Gritty on 
Father of the Man

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

“The child is father of the man.”

I’m not sure where I first saw that written--whether on a t-shirt or a billboard or tagged on a wall--but it was recent and it caught my eye. “The child is father of the man.” Sounds like a riddle, and I love a good one.

"I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you," Christopher Abrams might have said to his father had they been in Lord of the Rings instead of the Hoop Shoot Finals.

After running across it a few more times, I finally turned to Google. Turns out the line comes from “The Rainbow,” a poem penned by William Wordsworth in 1802.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It means that our experiences as children--the lessons we learn and the habits we form--shape the adults we become.

“The child is father of the man.”

When I sat down to watch and arrange the footage from my interview with Phil and Christopher Abrams, the line kept popping through my head. I chose Father of the Man for the title because the film starts with Phil talking about his dad. Then the title appears, so we naturally assume that the story will be about Phil’s father.

But we quickly realize that it’s really about Phil and the person the Hoop Shoot helped him become.

You see, he’s a former participant. We learn that as a 9-year-old in his first year of competition, he made it all the way to Regionals before meeting his match. Phil describes his defeat there as an eye-opener.

“You’re good,” he says, “but there’s somebody out there who has worked harder and is better.”

When it comes to developing grit, losing is part of the process. Yet, too often in youth sports today--at least at the beginning levels--we protect our kids from defeat. Whether through participation awards ("Everyone's a winner!") or by not keeping score ("No one's a winner!"), we shelter them from failure. But as adults, one thing we know is that failure is everywhere. Gritty people know how to deal with it. And they learn to deal with it by dealing with it.

General Patton said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

He had grit. So does Phil Abrams.

He didn’t give up when he lost at Regionals as a first-time participant back in 1982. He kept trying and made it back four years later. But he lost again. Twenty-nine years later, his son Christopher finally carried him over the hump.

“You guys have provided a great vehicle for these kids to participate in something that teaches them a work ethic, a drive, success, failure, how to cope with both,” Phil says. “How you react to failure and success is very important in all things. It really teaches that.”

Can there be a better endorsement for our program and the lessons it teaches than a former participant who encourages his kids to compete?

“The child is father of the man.”

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Father of the Man.

Comments

  1. I put an extra "the" in the closing slide of the film, but I bet if Wordsworth hadn't been concerned with meter, he would have done the same.

    ReplyDelete

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