by Clark Cothern
My father gave me a great example of character when I was a boy watching a church-league softball game. Dad was forty-three at the time and very active. Though he wasn’t known for hitting grand slams, he was good at placing the ball and beating the throw. Singles and doubles were his specialty, and he did the best he could with what he had.
This particular dusty, hot Phoenix evening, Dad poked a good one right over the second baseman’s head, and the center fielder flubbed the snag and let the ball loop between his legs.
My dad saw this as he rounded first base, so he poured on the steam. He was five feet ten inches, 160 pounds, and very fast. He figured that if he sprinted for third and slid, he could beat the throw.
Everyone was cheering as he sent two of his teammates over home plate. The center fielder finally got his feet under him and his fingers around the ball as Dad headed toward third. The throw came as hard and fast as the outfielder could fire it, and Dad started a long slide on that sun baked infield. Dust flew everywhere.
The ball slammed into the third baseman’s glove but on the other side of Dad—the outfield side—away from a clear view by the ump, who was still at home plate. Our team’s dugout was on the third base side of the diamond, and every one of the players had a clear view of the play.
Dad’s foot slammed into third base a solid second before the ball arrived and before the third baseman tagged his leg. But much to the amazement—and then dismay—and then anger—of the team, the umpire, who hesitated slightly before making his call, yelled, “Yerr out!”
Instantly, every member of Dad’s team poured onto the field and started shouting at once—Dad’s teammates were intent on only one purpose: They wanted to win, and by golly, they knew they were right!
The two runners who had crossed home plate before Dad was called out had brought the score to within one. If Dad was out—and we all knew he wasn’t—his team was potentially robbed of a run.
With only one inning left, this one bad call could cost them the game.
But just as the fracas threatened to boil over into a miniriot, Dad silenced the crowd. As the dust settled around him, he held up a hand. “Guys, stop!” he yelled. And then more gently, “There’s more at stake here than being right. There’s something more important here than winning a game. If the ump says I’m out, I’m out.”
And with that, he dusted himself off, limped to the bench to get his glove (his leg was bruised from the slide), and walked back into left field all by himself, ready to begin the last inning. One by one, the guys on his team gave up the argument, picked up their own gloves, and walked out to their positions on the field.
I’ve got to tell you, I was both bewildered and proud that night. My dad may have been dusty, but I saw a sparkling diamond out there standing under the lights, a diamond more valuable than all the runs his team might have scored.
For a few minutes that evening I was a rich kid, basking in my father’s decision to be a man, to hold his tongue instead of wagging it, to settle the dust instead of settling a score. I knew what he showed me at that selfless moment was worth more than all the gold-toned plastic trophies you could buy.
Dad held court that night, and everyone on the field and in the crowd was a member of the jury. When the verdict came in, their decision was unanimous: This was a man of character.
Webster’s dictionary defines a person of character as possessing “moral excellence and firmness.” Words such as integrity, honor, and honesty also come to mind. There is something intangible about these qualities in a man or woman, yet we know character when we see it. A little boy saw it in his father in the story above. Your children see it when you apologize after an angry remark, or turn off a lewd television show, or resign from a company involved in questionable practices.
We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture that the way we conduct ourselves is important to the Lord: “The man of integrity walks securely” (Proverbs 10:9); “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12); “Live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11). It is vital that we pass this biblical truth on to our children.
Does character count in your family? Let’s talk more about it in the days ahead.
- James C Dobson
“Yerr Out!” by Clark Cothern. From At the Heart of Every Great Father by Clark Cothern (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1998). Used by permission.