Fatherhood is full of surprises. Many fathers are learning how to be parents as they go, and they sure don’t feel like superheroes when they’re just trying to do their best. Because fathers can’t see the future, they don’t always comprehend the impact a bit of advice, a fun activity, or a way of talking and thinking will eventually have on their kids. However, history, along with our own lives, shows us that being a father means much more than we may realize when it’s happening.
Jack grew up in Crestline, Ohio, a small Midwest town of 5000 people. He was athletic and grew up playing basketball, baseball, and football because everyone in a town that size played all three sports. Jack was one of the best. He was the quarterback in football, the shortstop in baseball, a forward in basketball, and a starter in all of them. He seemed destined for great things in sports.
In college Jack played football and was a three-time letterman. When he was a junior his team finished their season with nine wins and zero losses, and they were named national champions in the small college division. Jack went on to play one season of professional football, and he married his college sweetheart that same year. As his playing days dwindled, Jack took a job as an assistant high school football coach. During these first years spent learning to be a coach, he also began learning to be a father, after his wife gave birth to two sons just fifteen months apart, as well as a daughter.
The boys grew up competing with their father turning simple activities like playing catch and fetching snacks into excitement-packed events with stopwatches and cheering sections. At one point the boys even put tape down the middle of their shared bedroom to make clear which half belonged to which brother. Jack’s approach to these games and to his sons’ competitiveness focused on excitement and fun. Every day, when he dropped his boys off at school, he reminded them to face whatever challenges the day might bring with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!”
Working as a coach meant moving frequently, and Jack’s family moved seventeen times during his 43-year career. It wasn’t always easy on the boys or their younger sister, but Jack tried to keep their outlook positive any way he could. He would get so energized when driving the kids around that he’d shout, “Who has it better than us??” No one in the family complained about the constant moving or the small, cramped homes, and they always lived close enough for the boys to ride their bikes to see their dad at work.
When it was possible, Jack would have his boys at practices. They’d help clean up, stack tackling dummies, and even spend time in the locker room. His wife believed it was essential for the boys to have a window into their father’s life outside the home. In particular, she wanted them to see how he interacted with his players. He was tough but fair, and wanted them to be good students and better people, as well as great athletes. It was no less than he wanted for his own children.
I wanted to talk about parenting this week because of Jack’s huge influence on helping his sons live their dreams. If you’re a professional football fan, you know that Jack’s sons, John and Jim Harbaugh, were the first brothers to ever coach opposing teams in this year’s Superbowl. But Jack Harbaugh raised more than two great coaches. He raised great people. The players on both John’s Baltimore Ravens and Jim’s San Francisco 49ers talk continually about the loyalty they feel to their coach, and how respect and compassion are as important as discipline and drive.
Prior to the game, Jack was interviewed and asked who he was rooting for to win the Superbowl. “It really doesn’t matter” he answered. “When the game ends, I’ll celebrate with one son, console the other, and declare the entire family the ultimate winners.” This year’s Superbowl was a victory for all parents who are raising their kids to pursue their passions and make the world a better place for all of us… a true win-win scenario!
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams