by Steve Farrar
When I was a sophomore in high school, we moved to a new town and a new high school. It was the typical scenario of being the new kid who doesn’t know anyone. One of the fastest ways to make friends in a situation like that is to go out for a sport. In about two days you know more guys from playing ball than you could meet in three months of going to school.
Normally, I would have gone out for basketball. But I had done something very foolish. I had brought home a D on my last report card. The only reason I had gotten a D was that I had horsed around in the class and basically exhibited some very irresponsible behavior in turning in papers. My dad had a rule for the three boys in our family: If any of us got anything lower than a C in a class, we couldn’t play ball. He didn’t demand that we get straight A’s or make the honor roll. But my dad knew that the only reason any of us would get a D was that we were fooling around instead of being responsible.
As a result, I didn’t go out for basketball. Now, my dad was all for me playing ball. He had been all state in both basketball and football in high school, went to college on a basketball scholarship, and after World War II was offered a contract to play football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He wanted me to play. But he was more interested in developing my character than he was in developing my jump shot.
One day in my physical education class we were playing basketball. I didn’t know it, but the varsity coach was in the bleachers watching the pickup game. After we went into the locker room, he came up to me and asked me who I was and why I wasn’t out for varsity basketball. I told him that we had just recently moved into town and that I’d come out for basketball next year. He said that he wanted me to come out this year.
I told him that my dad had a rule about getting any grade lower than a C. The coach said, “But according to the school rules, you’re still eligible to play if you have just one D.”
“Yes, sir, I realize that,” I replied. “But you have to understand that my dad has his own eligibility rules.”
“What’s your phone number?” the coach asked. “I’m going to call your dad.”
“I’ll be happy to give you the phone number, but it will be a waste of your time,” I said.
This coach was a big, aggressive guy. He was about six feet two inches and 220 pounds, which put him one inch shorter and twenty pounds lighter than my dad. Coach was used to getting his way. But he hadn’t met my dad. I knew before the coach ever called what my dad’s answer would be.
Was my dad capable of change? Sure he was. Was he going to change because he got a call from the varsity coach? Of course not. That night after dinner, Dad told me the coach had called. He told me he had told the coach no. He then reminded me of the importance of being responsible in class and that he really wanted me to play basketball. But the ball was in my court (no pun intended). If I wanted to play it was up to me. At that point, I was very motivated to work hard in class so that I could play basketball the next season.
The next morning the coach came up to me in the locker room. “I talked to your dad yesterday afternoon and he wouldn’t budge. I explained the school eligibility rules, but he wouldn’t change his mind. I don’t have very much respect for your father.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. This coach didn’t respect my father. Even I had enough sense to know that my dad was doing the right thing. Sure, I wanted to play ball, but I knew that my dad was a man of his word and he was right in not letting me play. I couldn’t believe this coach would say such a thing.
“Coach,” I said. “I can tell you that I highly respect my dad. And I also want you to know that I will never play basketball for you.”
I never did. I got my grades up, but I never went out for varsity basketball. I refused to play for a man who didn’t respect my dad for doing what was right. That was the end of my high school basketball career because that man coached basketball for my remaining years in high school.
Come to think of it, the real reason I wouldn’t join his team was that I didn’t respect him. He was a compromiser, and I suspected that he would do anything to win. My dad was a man of conviction and a man of character. And any coach who couldn’t see that was not the kind of man I wanted to associate with. My dad was strict and unwilling to change his conviction even though it hurt him for me not to play ball. My dad was capable of change, but he was unwilling to change because he had a long-term objective for my life that the coach didn’t have.
The coach wanted to win games. My dad wanted to build a son.
I would like to have met Steve Farrar’s father, who clearly understood the importance of respect and discipline in raising a family. That message also got through to his son, even if it was lost on a certain high school basketball coach.
Raising children under such a system produces characteristics such as self-discipline, self-control, and responsible behavior. Some argue that these vital concepts cannot be taught—that the best parents can do is send their children down the path of least resistance, sweeping aside hurdles during their formative years. I completely reject this notion and offer an alternative I call loving discipline. When properly applied to our children, this alternative stimulates tender affection, builds up love and trust, encourages respect for others, and introduces the true nature of God.
Loving discipline isn’t easy, and your kids won’t always appreciate your efforts the way Steve Farrar did in the story above. But your children will thrive in an atmosphere that balances genuine love with reasonable, consistent discipline. And so will you.
- James C. Dobson
“Standing Tall” by Steve Farrar. From Standing Tall by Steve Farrar (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1994). Used by permission.