I hope my advice doesn’t land me in hot water.
What I told him actually goes against one of my personal beliefs.
And it’s a truism I’ve held for as long as I can remember.
Tears are typically a prelude to trouble.
I found this out early in life while growing up in Flint with my three brothers.
Although it only happened two or three times when I was a boy, situations like these are impossible to forget.
They involved those very rare occasions when my dad would come home from work… only to be greeted by his teary-eyed mate (AKA my mom) offering a brief, but stinging indictment of the poor and disrespectful behavior by “the boys.”
It was at times like these I saw what “visible tears” can do.
They have special powers.
And I couldn’t help associating them with pending doom.
As you can imagine, I relied heavily on my truism to guide my way as a husband and father of three daughters.
Tears are typically a prelude to trouble may look like a simple seven word mantra.
But it’s been a live-saver for me.
It’s been a great predictor of how “tearful experiences” usually unfold.
Granted, today in my own home, tears take on a much different dynamic than when I was growing up.
As a husband and father, now when I stumble in on sad faces and tears, I silently shift into my male self-preservation mode and begin wondering “what did I cause?” or “what happened that I missed?”
My dad had it easier.
He took swift action in less than five seconds.
Whenever Cindy or one of our girls have been visibly upset about something, it’s taken me about 20 minutes to assess whether I should initiate a “pro-active” or “re-active” approach.
Which was all pointless, of course – because whatever choice I made was the wrong one anyway.
So it was with this deeply grounded mindset, I entered into a conversation last week with our high school Commencement speaker.
It was a pre-scheduled appointment to go over his speech outline.
This wasn’t so he could obtain my approval or feedback, but rather, to get some notes together for our “real time” Spanish translator who assists us during our Commencement ceremony.
In previous years, our Commencement speakers have come from the ranks of our premier teachers, Olympic athletes, or successful business and community leaders.
As a longtime Holland resident, this year’s speaker (named Tony) is well-known for his track record as a high achieving business leader and a generous advocate for public education and other youth related causes.
Tony’s earned numerous national civic and corporate awards, including one recently from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
As he outlined his tremendous journey of success, he asked me if he had left anything out.
I told him I was curious his background as the youngest of 11 children who grew up in New Mexico before coming to Michigan.
“I’ll guess you had a ton of struggles throughout your life,” I said. “You had to have moments where quitting seemed like your only option… but somehow you kept on going, right?”
“Yeah, you are,” he said. “I’ve come close to giving up so many times. I’ve got stories I’ve never told anyone.”
And then he paused… and started to dab his eyes.
“But I don’t know if I should get into them,” Tony said. “I’d probably shed a few tears at the podium. Is that really what you want from your Commencement speaker?”
“No, I don’t.” I said (in keeping with my cherished truism). “But it’s not about what I want. It’s about what our grads need to hear. Only you know what people and events were critical to your success journey. You might want to consider sharing several of them. They could be inspiring.”
“Even if I can’t refrain from a few tears?” he asked.
“You’ll do great,” I replied. “Even if you can’t refrain from a few tears.”
And now, I’ve been worried about my advice to Tony ever since we had our conversation.
What was I thinking?!?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –