The story goes that Michael Jordan, as a tenth grader, was cut from his high school varsity basketball team. As Jewish kids growing up in the late eighties, the story would inspire us to no end, as Jordan himself would say that “I think that not making the varsity team drove me to really work at my game, and also taught me that if you set goals, and work hard to achieve them — the hard work can pay off.” Our coaches would tell us that story whenever we would be cut from the team (check!), or would find ourselves riding the bench for long stretches of time (check!). We would repeat it to ourselves, and a small part inside of us believed that if we just worked hard enough, practiced hard enough, then one day, maybe, we could be like Mike.
Remember, this was the eighties, a time when Jewish kids were still on the smallish side, a time before God knows what type of steroids started being put into our food, and Jewish kids began sprouting like crazy and hitting 6 feet on a regular basis. In the pre-Jordan era, if you were lucky and your parents had the gelt to afford it, you wore Converse sneakers, because that’s what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wore. We had no flash. No moves. None of that stopped us. Basketball was our lives. It was our religion, and Judaism ran a distant second during basketball season. Every recess, every lunch was spent playing the game, three times a day. Pity the poor teacher who had us after lunch, a group of twelve sweaty, nasty-smelling teenage boys sitting in a small classroom with the windows closed because it was always too cold outside to open the windows.
When the actual games would start, the atmosphere in my school was electric. Dozens of students would crowd into the gym to cheer on the players, and friends and family would come out and watch the games. Drowned out in the roar of the crowd would always be one of the school rabbis, muttering a variation of the following to himself: “If only they knew their Talmud like they know their basketball…”
But really, its the parents who I remember best, cheering on their kids. You see, both my parents worked full-time – my mother as a secretary in a Jewish organization, and my father as teacher in a Jewish Day School. Getting all the way out to my school in time for one of my games was almost impossible, and consequently, I rarely had either of my parents able to come and watch me play. Rationally, I understood why, but a part of me always wished I could have had my parents be there, like so many of my friends had theirs. Not that I was particularly good at playing, and I almost never scored or did anything spectacular on the court, but all the same, it would have been really neat to see my mother or father smile at me from the sidelines, shouting out encouragement.
Basketball season began in earnest this week at RJDS. Our boys team and girls team, coached by Freddy Somers and Julie Kendell respectively, have been practicing hard, and playing some terrific games. As for me, I`m the luckiest guy in the world. You see, as a principal, I get to watch all my “kids” play, and it`s a great feeling. As a father, I get immense naches in watching my son, who is in grade 6, play on the team – he is leaps and bounds better and more confident as an 11 year-old than I was at even 16, both on the court and off it. I’m constantly amazed by the level of play of some of the kids, and more than a little jealous at how some of the kids already possess a court sense that took me well over ten years of playing to develop. And yes, there are many parents who manage to come out and cheer on their kids, and it’s wonderful to see. However, I can’t tell you how many times there have been already where I may have wanted to watch a game, both as principal and a father, and circumstances dictated otherwise. It’s just how it is.
I often hear from many working parents who wish they were able to be there more for the school and for their kids, be it volunteering for PAC, serving hot lunches, participating in school programs, or watching their children perform. It really bothers them, and I know how they feel. Life, work and responsibilities make it complicated to do on a regular basis. And they feel guilty and even express a sense of being a “bad” parent, somehow lesser than the parents who have more flexibility in their schedules that allow them to be more of a regular presence in the school. I guess this would be true if we took parenting advice from Woody Allen, who said that “80 percent of success is showing up”, but there’s more to this parenting business than showing up.
Pick your spots. Come when you can. Help in ways that wind up working for you and the school. Make the time you have with your kids count – work to make it quality time. Let your kids know that even though you can’t always come to their games or performances, you are always in their corner. Celebrate their successes and acknowledge their hard work and effort. And trust your children to understand that you love them no less than the other parents, and know that they will come to appreciate the value of hard, honest work through the example that you set on a daily basis.