What My Parents Did Right

When I was five years old, my birth mother abandoned my sister and me. She left us with some neighbors, drove to the airport and flew hundreds of miles away. She returned some nine months later -- this time, to kidnap us.

My birth mother did nothing right as a parent.

But that’s only the beginning of the story, the first chapter of a lifelong parenting book that my dad -- and subsequently my stepmother, who I’ve called Mom for almost 40 years -- have been writing beautifully for four decades now.

The greatest “right” thing my dad did was to stay. Staying is taken for granted until you become intimately tied to being left. Subtly, without ever talking about his decision to stay in my life and the life of my sister, he modeled a trait for me that now is my most cherished quality as a father.

In the weeks and months following our abduction, Dad could have caved. It was 1971. Dads didn’t get custody over moms, even ones prone to leave and then steal from their children   what little sense of security they’d found since being abandoned. For Dad to stay in this particular arena, to not settle for anything less than total and complete custody of his children, cost him in every way.  He was bled dry financially and was even bleeding on the inside from an ulcer that had take root in his gut.

He fought for three days to get me back. He fought for 18 months to get my sister back.

A few years later, he met a women who eventually became the mother I never had. She, too, stayed.

What else did they do right?

They modeled a love for each other that I learned from and now have with my wife. They told me they loved me every day, particularly my dad, but my stepmom, too. I never wondered if their love for me was based on my performance. Eventually, that led me to believe that God’s love for me was not performance-based, either. Not too many of us get to that place, where we really believe that, as author Brennan Manning said so often, God loves us just as we are, not as we should be.

They taught me manners, how to look an adult in the eye and shake his or her hand. They took me to church every Sunday, something that I didn’t do for my children. Looking back on both decisions, I can’t definitively opine as to which method was better. But I’m glad I went to church growing up. It established a foundation of truth. Sure, it took years to learn that man-additions and restriction on the gospel were not really the gospel. That sin-management was no way to live, that really and truly, the world will know we are Christians by our love, not by whether we sin less than others.  But I did learn those things.

My dad was an all-state athlete in baseball and football. I was never brave enough to take up football and wasn’t good enough to make the high school team in baseball or basketball.

I never once sensed the least bit of disappointment from him that I had failed to be a chip off the old block. I’m not sure how he pulled that off, either. It’s one thing for him not to verbally belittle me because I wasn’t the athlete he was. It’s a whole other thing to have a kid, then a teenager, never once wonder if his dad was let down because of it.

The laundry list of things my parents did right, though, all come back to this. They stayed. In every since of the word, they stayed. Never underestimate the power of staying.

William Sanders’ memoir, Staying, is available on Amazon.com or through his website, William-Sanders.com.

Posted on June 19, 2015 .

The Masters and Me

I played golf at Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters, two or three times in the 1990s. If I recall, my pals and I played the par-3 course first the course The Masters' participants play the day before the tournament for kicks for kicks ourselves. Then we ate lunch in the clubhouse, then played the same 18 holes that Jordan Spieth just conquered. I didn't pay a cent for anything, including I think lunch. (I might be mistaken on that.) In fact, I got paid my normal (read: low) daily salary for spending a day playing golf.

I didn't save my scorecards. That was a huge mistake, not because the scores were any good, but because, duh, they were scorecards of my rounds at the Augusta National.

I'm not much of a golfer as you've probably figured out by now. The first telltale sign is that I honestly cannot remember if I played the course twice or three times. The second? Yeah, the scorecard thing. The third is that I don't lead every conversation with a new friend with this little nugget of my life's history.

My golfing friends, and my dad, will never forgive the fact that I a non-enthusiast who has probably played 25 rounds of golf his whole life and has never once honestly broke 100 played Augusta National and they didn't.

The reason I got to play is so boring that I'd leave it out entirely if not for the gaping hole it'd leave in this story. I worked for six years at The Augusta Chronicle, and I along with almost every other reporter covered the tournament every year I worked there. Then, the week before the Augusta National closed its course for the summer, the news media got to play. And the course, while it was the same, didn't exactly play the same. The greens were grown out a little, making them much less like a sheet of ice and much easier to navigate. Or so I'm told. And we played from the men's tee box as opposed to the champions’ tee box, if I recall that correctly.

I remember precious little about my performance. I know that I hit decent shots off the No. 1 tee both times (or was it all three times?). By decent, I mean it went a couple hundred yards, and I could find it. Much, much better players than me got much, much more nervous than me and shanked the first shot badly in front of a fairly large contingent of their peers.

I remember on No. 9, I'd score something like a 13. For those who know the course, I kept hitting the ball to the front of the green, and it kept rolling back to where I was standing. I always cleared the water on 12, in the middle of Amen Corner, and always played some of the worst golf known to man on the (relatively) easy No. 13, a par-5. Come to think of it, I was pretty horrible, even by my standards, on the back nine as a whole, except for 18, which I seem to remember playing OK-ish, I guess.

I was 27, 28, maybe 29 when I played there. I'm about to turn 50. While I don't play at all anymore, I'm fairly certain I'd appreciate the moment more today than I did then. I'd probably hear the playful voice of God talking about his creation and my ridiculous swing, more now than I did then. And I be so much happier for colleagues who were out there, soaking it in, than I probably was.

I see the glory of God at the Masters every time a winner hits his last stroke into the hole on 18 and is overcome with emotion. Some Bubba Watson and Bernhard Langer come to mind knew they were shining because of the gift God had given them. I'm sure plenty of other winners knew that, too. But even for the ones who didn't recognize it, I did.

I'm trying to recognize and appreciate God moments more today than I used to. Not just the big obvious ones, but the little ones that were orchestrated just for me.

As a quick aside, right now, I'm appreciating God for the basketball season the Atlanta Hawks just had. Sounds insane, I know. This season wasn't planned for me. It has no spiritual relevance that I can figure out. And God doesn't care more about the Hawks than the rest of the NBA. But I've enjoyed the season immensely while not worrying about the potential playoff failures that Atlanta sports fans know of too well. I've soaked it in, in the moment, and appreciated it for what it was 82 nights of a break from my real life and 82 chances to text Stan or John and enjoy a little fellowship while rooting on the home team.

I'd have never recognized that 20 or 25 years ago, when I about to step foot inside the Augusta National. I guess, though, if I had, I might have really shanked those drives off the No. 1 tee. 

Posted on April 19, 2015 .