A Young Father Makes Some Changes
One Sunday as a young father of four children, I found myself doing what I had done for many years—watching sports for pleasure and relaxation. My wife Linda, who was busy in the kitchen making dinner, said something that startled me and shifted my free-time paradigm.
“Do we have to always have our Sundays built around sports and the droning of the announcers interrupting our meal and peace?” A few weeks before, an inspired ecclesiastical leader had suggested the importance of teaching good habits to my children with a timely reminder that they were only going to be small and teachable for a few years. Once that window passed, it would be gone forever.
At the time, I also happened to be listening to some family experts’ soundtracks about setting traditions in my home. These combined reflections came into sharp focus with Linda’s question that day. I thought to myself, watching those games would never change the outcome of those contests—but spending time with my children and making memories with them might change both their lives and mine forever!
That is not to say I never watched or took them to another sporting event. But it was a moment where I knew that building memories and traditions with them had the power to affect their long-term outcome and mine. That was a moment of beauty and of learning to better understand priority. It was the moment I learned this truth: quantum change requires a new paradigm.
A Grandad Knows He Can Still Make a Change
Just prior to getting married I met Linda’s grandfather. Everyone affectionately called him Grandad. It was easy for me to see why he was so beloved in the family. He had the natural gifts of unconditional love and service and would do anything for anyone. The first day I met him he had his friend “Bud” helping him with a project. Bud had his own set of challenges. But it was clear that Grandad saw strangers as friends he hadn’t met yet, and friends as family. This made everyone in Grandad’s life “family” and I was glad to be brought under that umbrella.
Despite my near instant affection for Grandad, I could tell there was some reluctance by Linda’s mother to introduce me so early in our relatively fast courtship. (We met on a Thursday, I proposed to her the following Thursday and we were married two months later!) Grandad, it turned out, had a challenge with alcohol addiction. Transparency of familial challenges to others is a delicate thing, right? But Grandad was one of those people who gave love unconditionally. I recall thinking at the time what a great grandad he would be for me too!
Grandad had lost his wife after not even 20 years of marriage, leaving him to raise four children alone. Life had not been easy for him. As I met the family, now grown, I admired what a beautiful life he had built for everyone from such difficult circumstances.
Then one day something unexpected happened. Grandad told us of a choice he made to go into a substance abuse facility. I remember him showing us around the place and telling us of his desire to never touch alcohol again. I recall thinking at the time what a courageous choice he made and how he humbly brought us all into his circle of hope and healing. I was fervently rooting and praying for his success. A few weeks later he exited the facility, never to touch alcohol again. I marveled that if a 70+ year old man could do that, nothing is impossible. I will ever be grateful for his example of change, love and determination. The lesson learned: I too can improve and change at any age and anytime.
Young Scholars Learn How to Change Hearts… Including Their Own
Last week, I spent a morning visiting a few classes at John Adams Academy with some visitors. I have never been disappointed by the learning, wonder and beauty that is always happening there. The last class we visited was our performing choir Virtus, which means valor, courage, and excellence of character.
Virtus are led by Greg Blankenbehler, who is one of the most inspirational teachers and conductors I have ever met. “Mr. B,” as the youth affectionately refer to him, is loved and admired immensely—and his students show it with their passion for excellence. He is an expert mentor and guide at helping them use music to confront the human side of life and see themselves in a purposeful light.
Recently, Virtus had a concert that centered on Civil War themes such as slavery, war, love, honor, virtue, integrity, and faith. Vocal music allows the vocalist to inject themselves into the lives and lyrics of the struggles of another. It is healing, especially when experienced with other youth and peers who too are growing up and are also figuring out the path of happiness. That morning was one of those Providential moments that occasionally comes together during great learning—and the visitors and I were lucky enough to have chanced upon a beautiful moment in the making.
We observed the choir as they explored the motifs of the music: finding hope, peace, and endurance. They started with the song “Down to the River to Pray.”
Virtus then sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with such expression as I have rarely witnessed in a choir. I was listening to a heavenly choir of youthful angels. After three of the pieces were sung with great expression, emotion, and passion one of the visitors asked the scholars, “Is this your favorite class?”—to which almost all in unison said, “YES!”
The visitor then asked why and the scholars eagerly started telling their own stories of how that class, their friends, and teacher had changed them forever. For many, participation in the choir had unexpectedly and beautifully brought them through the difficulties of being teens and had led to the discovery of their personal excellence. Many were visibly moved and weeping, as was I.
Before the visitors and I departed, the scholars asked if they could sing one more song for us. We were like, “Are you kidding?! Of course, you can!”
We were thrilled with the encore. The song is highlighted with an emotional solo from the musical Civil War about a son asking someone to “Tell My Father” about his death on the battlefield.
Tell my father that his son
Didn’t run or surrender
That I bore his name with pride
As I tried to remember
You are judged by what you do
While passing through
As I rest ‘neath fields of green
Let him lean on your shoulder
Tell him how I spent my youth
So the truth could grow older
Tell my father, when you can
I was a man
Tell him we will meet again
Where the angels learn to fly
Tell him we will meet as men
For with honour did I die
Tell him I wore the blue
Proud and true, through the fire
Tell my father so he’ll know
I love him so
Tell him how I wore the blue
Just the way that he taught me
Tell my father not to cry
Then say goodbye
As the boys in the choir sang, the girls sat on the bleachers in small groups holding each other and silently weeping together. I would have loved to capture those moments on video, but it will have to suffice that this indelible memory will feed my soul and theirs for the rest of our lives. It was a lesson in beauty never to be forgotten.
Thanks, Virtus and Mr. B, you are changing a generation. We can change for the better at any age.