Just Be Yourself

My oldest son began playing basketball this past week, and I had the chance to drive him to practice a couple of times. On the drive, he asked me questions about the rules of basketball and I answered him as best I could. Unlike baseball and football he was fascinated how in basketball, players alternative between offense and defense in the span of a few seconds.

I remember the butterflies I felt in my stomach when I showed up for my first football practice. I was so nervous the night before that I hardly slept.  I sensed that with my son, and as we entered the gym  I patted him on the head and said, “Just be yourself, and you’ll be fine.”

Just be yourself.

In many ways I’m a hypocrite because I often don’t live by those words. In order to fit into my family or church or even social circle, I’ll act in a way that I feel others expect me to act. I learned quickly on my mission that being myself was going result in a lot of trouble, so it didn’t take long to learn exactly what to say to keep others off my back. Each month when I met with my mission president I told him what he wanted to hear, and he left me alone.

It wasn’t until I had served my two years and was meeting with him for the last time that I told him how I really felt. My honestly stunned him, and I can still picture the look on his face as it happened. And it felt good. Man, did it ever feel good.

I think back to that experience in Germany often because it had a great impact on how I would deal with others in similar circumstances. And over the years what I realize is that I’ve avoided getting close to those I don’t feel I can be myself around, and that includes some members of my family.

When I met Kim for the first time I was on a business trip in Las Vegas. Before I flew back to Seattle, we spent the afternoon walking through one of the large fancy malls near town. Having moved away from family and recently gone through a divorce, I was looking for a friend I could be myself around.

That was 15 years ago.

Two nights ago, our neighbor offered to take our children for a few hours so Kim and I could go to dinner. I was too tired to take off my biking shorts and Kim had changed into sweats so we called in take-out from our favorite Thai restaurant. Kim told me how spicy food is sometimes known to start labor which she would welcome anytime as our fifth child could arrive any day now.

When we finished our Chicken Pad Thai we sat in our car in our driveway reminiscing about the last 15 years. Many of the activities and possessions we thought were important back then mean little to us now. We laughed about the time we went to Bellevue Square and bought four pairs of shoes we didn’t need. We couldn’t believe how much we’ve relaxed with each child, learning not to stress out over things that don’t matter. For example, Luca was brought up on classical music exclusively while Kai was raised on Van Halen.

But what I realized is how lucky I am to have met Kim.

I hope one day each of my children meet someone  they can say the same about.