Tonight I finished reading Never Quit by Glenn Cunningham to the family. The story is inspirational and has all the makings of a good movie. Glenn was badly burned at 8 years of age and told he may never walk again. He went on to become a star runner and competed in the 1932 and 1936 Olympic games. The Olympic gold alluded him but through his career he set many records. He faced great obstacles and overcame them.
I was reminded of this book and it’s message a couple weeks back when disciplining my son. He is 8 years old now and has a difficult time staying focused on school. I came home from work to find him struggling with math. My wife had already sent me a message earlier in the day about this. She wasn’t sure how to keep the boy motivated.
I brought him and his math to the kitchen table to see if I could help. He was crying. After attempting to explain how to work the series of problems, I realized something else needed to be done. The math problems weren’t the problem. He knew how to do them but wasn’t trying.
He kept saying between sobs, “It’s too hard.”
Finally I said, “Lincoln, go get on my bed.”
That’s not what children in my home desire to hear. I let him sit alone for a while while I finished some other things. My thoughts were mixed.
“Should I discipline? What form of discipline? He knows what to do and is refusing to do it. He’s an 8 year old boy whose heart is in the tree outside while his body is being forced to sit at the kitchen table and do math. Was I any different at this age? His thinker is done thinking for today. What to do? What to do?”
Still unsure what to say or do, I went to him. Prayers were whispered from me to God as I asked for wisdom.
In the end, I decided to give him a stern talk; a man to man talk if you will. I told him that tears were unacceptable unless something was bleeding. Crying over math wasn’t going to be allowed. It might be difficult at times but crying over didn’t help and wouldn’t be tolerated. I told him I thought he was able to do the work and wasn’t applying himself.
“Son, if I you learnt to give up and quit over a simple thing like math, you learning a bad habit. There will be many more difficult things in life you will need to face. If you can’t handle a few math problems without crying, you will have a hard time in life. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care if you cried about math and gave up. But I love you enough to help you become a man who doesn’t quit so easily.”
I encouraged him as best I could to go back to the kitchen table and finish the problems, then we prayed together. The problems didn’t take him long to complete once he set his mind to the task.
This talk didn’t cure him of being distracted from school work and won’t teach him to never give up. At least not this talk alone. It is one of many such talks we will have and the lesson of persistence will come in many forms.
This occasion reminded me of the book Never Quit. My father bought if for me when I was about the same age as my son is now. I don’t recall the particular reason for the purchase. Maybe I was having a hard time in school. I do remember enjoying the book, and I have kept it all these years.
More than the book itself, I remember my dad teaching me to never quit. He probably told me many times and in many ways; I remember one particular time. That one time made an impression on me. The Never Quit book and various other tales of persistence certainly added to the formation of my character, but what I recall most is learning the lesson of never quitting from my dad.
Years from now, I hope my son remembers the story of Glenn Cunningham. And I hope he recalls that I loved him enough to teach him this lesson – when the math gets tough the tough get to doing math.