Many men wake up each day and dutifully perform the tasks that are required of them; however, I have met only a handful of men who rise in the morning with a clear purpose and the relentless drive to become the men that God is asking them to be. I thank the Lord that He sent some of those wonderful purpose-driven mentors into my life to provide me with the guidance and wisdom I needed to grow into a man.
Growing up, I had few men in my life that I could look up to. My father was always trying new business ventures – ventures that never seemed to pan out. Some were poor investments to begin with, but mostly my dad just didn’t have the drive to follow through with anything long enough for it to succeed. And he had a giant chip on his shoulder because he felt he was not accomplishing anything in his life. When he should have been providing me with a good role model to follow into manhood, he was “doing his own thing,” forgetting that he even had a family.
As a boy, I remember wishing that I could give just one answer consistently when I was asked what my father did for a living; however, I couldn’t, as he was always changing jobs or unemployed. I tried to convince myself that everything he did was for us, but years later, after I had grown into a young man, I realized he was just a very self-centered man. I don’t think he ever realized how destructive this selfishness was to his family. One thing I did learn, though: I didn’t want be like him.
I remember feeling that I needed to make up for my dad in many ways, and all of them made me grow up entirely too fast, especially in high school. At fourteen, I started working as a busboy in a restaurant, giving many of my paychecks to my mother to help buy our school clothes and supplies. I would get so frustrated because other kids my age seemed to have no responsibilities, while I was constantly working to fill the needs in my family, things my father should have been providing.
At 15, I rededicated my life to Christ and decided to attend a Christian high school. It was there that I got close to the basketball coach, Sam Mehaffie; Sam is one of the greatest men I have ever known. He’s the kind of guy that everyone wants to be around. At church, he and his wife, Darlene, were always laughing, surrounded by teens. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody; there is never any second guessing when it comes to the kind of man he is. Sam led by example, a man of integrity, good character and compassion.
Sam saw leadership qualities in me when no one else did, and he determined to help me see and develop them. When I was just learning basketball as a freshman, Sam would put me in games even though I made mistakes. And I did make mistakes! However, Sam patiently cheered me on, patting me on the shoulder, telling me what I had done right and then teaching me how to correct my mistakes and to play better. Then, he would send me back out to play. I knew he had confidence in me, and that made me want to play better. Gradually, I began to improve, having fewer bad passes and turnovers, more great passes and sinking baskets.
In basketball, you are groomed to work the offense, hustle on defense and when you screw up, keep your head high and learn from your mistakes. There’s something about sports and young men that allows a boy to open his ears and to learn. Maybe it’s the rhythmic thumping of the ball on the floor or the sound of the ball as it swishes through the bottom of the net that creates a learning atmosphere; whatever it is, it opened this young man’s heart to his coach. Basketball taught me the importance of teamwork, the meaning of leadership and the necessity of earning your teammate’s respect.
Sam was especially there for me when I was 16 and my parents were going through a difficult divorce. I had so many questions, along with concerns about myself and my younger brother and sister. Sometimes I felt as if I were going to explode. Then Sam would get together with me and mostly listen. That was so important for me–for someone to actually care enough about my life and my feelings to take the time to listen to me. It changed my perspective on life.
Sam was easy to talk to and even easier to listen to. He never berated me or scolded me (unless he was joking), but he did make it crystal clear where he stood in everything. Sam has had such a lasting impact on my life that I don’t know where I would be if God had not put him in my path. Year after year I grew as a Christian young man, mentored by Sam both on the basketball court and off. When I was on the court, I felt that I represented him by my actions and attitudes, and that made me be a better player and a better person. He taught me that there are many lessons that are as true to life as they are in basketball. He also taught me that being a dependable friend is priceless.
For four years, Sam taught me that being a leader isn’t necessarily shouting out orders, although he did; but rather allowing others to see the confidence you have in them and encouraging them to develop their skills. He helped me learn how to handle the difficult situations I faced in my home, to believe in myself and to put my trust in the Lord. Because Sam believed in me and taught me that God believed in me, I was able to achieve a lot: I received my Eagle Scout award, was a 4.0 student in high school and an all-state basketball, soccer and track athlete. I was awarded a full scholarship to college and graduated architecture school with honors and awards. Today, I am an architect, plus I have a successful drafting company.
Since high school, there have been many situations where I’ve asked myself, “What would Coach do?” “How would he handle this?” It was easy to formulate how Sam would handle a certain situation because he never wavered in his morals and beliefs. I then find it easy to stand firm in my beliefs and to press forward to achieve what God has planned for me. All of my accolades and achievements are because of God, and they are a direct result of the Godly mentoring I received from Sam–my coach, my friend, and my brother in Christ. I now understand the sacrifices he made to mentor me. I stand as a living example of the return on that investment. I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like without Sam; the fact is that I can’t.”