When my son was born, I had all the typical masculine visions of raising a boy. Demonstrating the fine art of straight-raiser shaving. Educating him in the detailed rules of football. Tutoring him in basic lawn stripe mowing patterns. Teaching him how to put killer back spin on a sand wedge. It’s a right of passage.
So when we showed up at Victory Field in downtown Indy for the Indians minor league baseball game, I was in full-on mentoring mode (with my own father in attendance to add another genetic layer to the tutelage). And from fourth row box seats at that!
How many strikes make an out? How many balls for a walk? How many outs in an inning? If a ball lands on the baseline is it fair or foul?
The youngest Cooper male was getting a multi-generational clinic in America’s pastime (until, that is, he decided to teach his dad a thing or two about life). Between every inning, the visiting players would jog back to the dugout just below our seats, occasionally flipping that inning’s game-ball into the crowd of begging fans. Austin was determined to take one home and would quickly dart to the ledge after every third out to try and claim his prize.
He talked to the other kids looking for tips. Stalked the ushers asking for an inside scoop. Even chatted with a few of the front-row patrons to see if they would give him an assist. He was cracking us up. He wanted a game-ball, and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Nine innings came and went. As the crowd exited the stadium after a big home-team win, Austin was still working his plan, waiting for his moment. “You’ve talked to almost everyone in the stadium tonight Aus, and you still don’t have a ball. Why do you keep asking when you know they’re probably going to say no anyway?” I cynically quipped.
“Because one of them might say yes, dad.”
My 8 year old had just taken me to school.
How many times have I backed off a pursuit because I was afraid to hear a “no?” And not just fearful of missing out on what I was after, but terrified of how that little two-letter word would make me feel about myself? Rejected. Humiliated. Less than. Ashamed. As if being denied was a vendetta on my identity.
I’d like to tell you my son walked out of Victory Field with a storybook game ball that night, just like the kid in that famous Mean Joe Green Coca-Cola commercial from the 70’s. He didn’t. Yet somehow, he still found the inner joy to skip almost all the way to the car (careful not to step on any sidewalk cracks for the sake of his mom’s orthopedic health). Unfazed by his temporary rejection. Unashamed of his failed efforts. Undaunted in his identity. Unafraid to try again next time.
What if he can keep that kind of fearlessness when the stakes are higher than a triple-A baseball souvenir? Sure they might say no. But what if they say yes?
A powerful lesson we all can learn from my 8 year old. Is there a question you need to keep asking?
(That is, unless you’re a teenage boy talking to one of my daughters. Then no means no punk, beat it!)