When I was six years old and my brother was 12, my dad met baseball legend Mickey Mantle and had him sign a baseball for each of us. It sat in a plastic case in my room where everyone could read what he wrote: “To Nathan, Mickey Mantle.” Unfortunately, I was so excited to have it that I would take it out of its case to show off to friends or sit and admire it in my six-year-old way.
My parents saw the writing was starting to fade from me handling it so much, so they warned me not take it out of the case or one day I wouldn’t be able to read the signature. My brother listened to them, but I couldn’t resist and kept playing with mine.
Not long ago I was at my parents’ home and found those two baseballs. The signature on my brother’s ball was as clear as the day Mickey Mantle signed it. Unfortunately, my ball was so faded that if you didn’t know to look for it, you wouldn’t know there was writing on it.
As I try to raise my kids and mentor youth in our community, I am reminded of the lessons of those two baseballs. Young people need to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. This is an important part of how we all learn. But young people also need constant guidance to steer them in the right direction. And just as importantly, they need boundaries and people to tell them “No.” Saying “No” and standing by it is an act of love and courage. It can involve a difficult confrontation, and it usually takes years to see the positive results from it. But think of the signatures on those baseballs as a young person’s integrity – 30 years later one is clear for all the world to see, and the other one is hardly visible at all.
It’s not easy, but actively shaping the character of our youth is the most important work we can do. Frank Outlaw sums it up well:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.