Coach: Father Earth, 2

Connecting with our Fathers is, for many of us, a deep longing. Every family is different, of course. Still, the more common story is that Dad was – a little or a lot – more distant. If one parent was too close and the relationship felt smothering, in our society that’s more often a mother. It’s possible for a Dad to err in that direction, but more common for them to err in the opposite direction: too distant -- leaving their kids longing for connection.

We need grounding in Father Earth. We honor our Fathers or we honor our memory of them. Some of us grew up with live-in Fathers, who were part of our home life and through daily contact from the day we were born until adulthood raised us, taught us, guided us, gave us that solid grounding. Some of us didn’t have that sort of fathering. Whether we had a father at home or not, we had father figures: male mentors who may have played a brief but crucial role at one stage of our development. These father figures showed us with their lives new possibilities of living we would not have imagined without them – and in this way contributed essentially to the people we became. They were soil in which our roots could grow and spread.

In this series about Father figures and the grounding they give us, The Liberal Pulpit will share very brief sketches of two men other than my actual father who shaped my life: Father Earth figures that grounded and rooted me. My invitation to you is to do likewise: find some one to talk to – a youth or a child, perhaps, or another adult -- and take a few minutes to be uninterrupted. Tell them about a hero or a mentor you had, and what that person meant to you. Honor the memory of one such mentor by telling another human being about him.

I remember my high school debate coach, Michael Blackwood. I joined the debate team at his instigation as an 8th-grader, along with Paul, a fellow 8th-grader. The experience of being a sub-freshman is time spent as the lowliest of the low. Michael Blackwood saw something in Paul and me. He said, "You guys are going to be good."

We were 13 years old. Our voices hadn’t changed yet. We were thrown up against opponents 17- or even 18-years-old, with 4 years of experience at debating. Even when these opponents were female, they had deeper voices than we did. And we were slaughtered.

We did not own suits. I remember that I had this awful bronze-colored paisley clip-on tie that I wore to debate tournaments.

Coach Blackwood would say, “Here’s what you say.” And we would write it down. And then we'd stand up and say it when it was our turn. We’d say it out of context. We’d say it not knowing what the words meant. And we were slaughtered some more.

And yet, judges, after the round was over, and they had filled out their ballot voting against us, would look over at us before they left the room, and say, "What grade are you guys in? Eighth grade? You guys are going to be good." And that was the mite of consolation that fed us, kept us going. That, and the fact that when we got back home, to walk the halls and classrooms of Central High School, though we be lowly subfreshmen, we had a place. We were on the debate team representing the whole school.

Ninth grade came. We were still losing. Coach Blackwood would say, "Well, why’d you lose?"

And the words would pour out of us, Paul and I talking on top of each other. "We said this, and they said that, and then we said that."

And out of the jumble Coach Blackwood would discern some clues about what really happened in the debate. “Wait a minute. They argued that? And what did you say?”

And we’d tell him what we said.

And he’d say, "Next time trying saying this instead."

And we still kept losing. But not every round. Typically, our freshmen year, we’d finish a 5-round tournament with a record of 2 wins, 3 losses.

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This is part 3 of 5 of "Father Earth"
Next: Father Earth 3: Sarcasm, Ludicrity, and Angst
Previous: Father Earth 1: In Case of Rain
Beginning: A Prayer for the Fathers
Photo by Meredith Garmon

1 comment:

  1. Having judged Rev. Garmon and his partner in debates at the time, I will report that he is being far too modest. Our friend Mike Blackwood was right to encourage them. Frankly, at the time they seemed younger than 13, and part of the charm the two boys had was that their voices would crack whenever they would try to add a little emphasis. Most debaters at that age were happy just to get through a prepared speech without throwing up. But as he recollects in this blog post, the Reverend and his partner understood what debate was about--clash. "He said this, we said that, she responded this way." I was a college debater at the time, and my college coach asked whether I had heard any good potential recruits. I pointed out Meredith and Paul, and he laughed hysterically. They really did look like they were about 9; they hadn't gotten their growth spurts yet. But I was right, and he recruited them.