Every father is going to fight battles with his son. There's no way around it. That's what being a good father is all about. You just have to fight the right ones in the right way.
For the last fifteen years I've fought a war I didn't want to lose but couldn't stand to win.
The war's rules of engagement are simple. I try to outdo my sons. My sons try to outdo me.
The weapon is love, and the battlefield is our hearts.
We call them Love Wars.
We came up with that name when Cole was in high school at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, but in truth we'd been exchanging salvos since he was just a small child. Whatever we could do to show the other that we loved him more, we did.
When we scored a hit it was like an unspoken "gotcha."
Some hits were small. An "I love you" was returned with an "I love you more." A hug was answered with a kiss. Sometimes my boy would call me five times a day just to say, "Dad, I love you so much."
Some hits were bigger. When Cole was a freshman at Texas he lost in the sandpit where the players worked on their leg strength the gold number-forty-four necklace I'd given him. I drove the ten-hour round trip, rented a metal detector and we found it.
Waiting for Cole one day outside the football complex, I was talking to one of his teammates.
"You're larger than life around here," the player said.
"I ain't done anything," I said.
"Tell that to Cole."
Looking back, I guess the Love Wars started in earnest when Cole was playing Dixie Baseball. He was only nine, but because of his size he played up, on a team with eleven-year-olds.
One day I had to work late and arrived at the game after it started. It was already the first inning, but Cole was standing outside the fence of the dugout as his team batted. I walked up to the fence, leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. We had done this from a very young age, and I didn't think anything about it.
On the way home, he asked me. "Dad, how come I never see any of the other boys kiss their dads?"
I was quiet for a minute. Then I said the first thing that came to mind.
"I guess they don't love their daddies as much as you do," I said.
It was like a light went off in that boy's eyes. From that day on, Cole Pittman made it a point to kiss me. Even at twenty-one years of age, in front of eighty-three thousand fans. Cole Pittman kissed me on the mouth.
I'm six-foot-six, about 268 pounds. Cole was six-four and 295 pounds the day he died. When two men kiss each other or hold hands in public, as we often did, there is often a negative reaction. In our case it was just the opposite.
When Cole was in the eighth grade, he was starting for Glenbrook Christian Academy in Minden. Cole was probably the second biggest player on the team, one that went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the play-offs.
When I walked into the gym for a pep rally Cole kissed me on the mouth.
The biggest kid on the team, a rough-cut senior, was taken aback.
"Cole, you still kiss your daddy?"
Cole turned to him.
"Yes, I kiss my daddy. Don't you ever kiss your daddy?"
"No, I don't kiss my daddy, and if I did, I wouldn't kiss him on the mouth."
Cole surprised me again. "What's the matter, don't you love your daddy?"
The kid was defiant. "Yeah, I love my daddy."
"Then kiss him so he will know it."
"Maybe I will," the kid said.
Sometimes I worried that the affection was maybe too much. Maybe I was wrong. My daddy never kissed me. When Cole was probably eleven or twelve years old, when I was just starting out as a contractor, I was out doing an estimate on a potential job at a lady's house. She was holding a book, and to make a little conversation I asked her what she was reading.
She named a book by some child therapist, but I don't recall the title of the book or the author's name.
"Do you know what this guy says?" she said.
"What does he say?"
"He says the reason there are so many male homosexuals in this world is because little boys get up to be four or five years old and their dad starts pushing them away. They shake their hands and tell them to be a man. These kids grow' up looking for male affection."
I knew my boys were not going to grow up looking for male affection. They could get all the male affection they wanted from their dad.
That idea is the basis of Love Wars, and this is one battle I don't want to win but can't stand to lose. As a parent I tried not to focus on how much my kids loved me but on how much I could love them. If I could show them my love was unconditional-that they could always trust me implicitly and that I would admit when I was wrong-in my heart I knew I couldn't lose.
Cost didn't matter-not financial cost or cost in time or convenience or bother. If love doesn't cost much it's probably not worth much, anyway.
After the spring game during Cole's freshman year at Texas the players were lined up at tables for an autograph session. I was standing nearby when a man in his early thirties approached me.
"Mr. Pittman, Mr. Pittman. I need to talk with you," he said. "Do you have any idea how special your son is?"
I was proud but humble.
"Yes, sir, I do," I said. "He's a pretty special young man."
The man shook his head.
"I don't think you understand what I'm saying. Do you have any idea how special your son is?"
"Sure I do. He's my son. I think he's special."
"I don't think you understand. Let me tell you what Cole did."
The man proceeded to tell me how he had taken his five-year-old son to a spring scrimmage. After the workout the boy approached Cole, who was talking with several teammates and a few adults, and tugged on his jersey.
Cole stopped the conversation. He stooped down and asked the boy what he was going to do when he grew up, what his name was, what school he went to. Cole spent fifteen minutes with the boy, the man said.
Tags: Parenting and Families