I grew up a huge baseball fan. I collected baseball cards. I played little league. I would even ride my bike up to the park to watch my friends play when I wasn’t playing. (If you were the first to chase down an errant foul ball and get it back to the umpire, they would give you a ticket for a free snow cone!) So many of my early childhood memories involved baseball. I spent hours throwing the baseball around in the cul-de-sac with my dad. In fact, baseball is the central thread through most of my childhood memories with my father. I remember us watching “The Natural” together when I was 8. I can still picture the final scene as Robert Redford throws the baseball with his teenage son in a wheat field.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and it was spread thin with 8 kids. So, I would read tons of books at school with Pizza Hut's “Book It” program to earn free baseball tickets for the summer. Baseball motivated me to become an avid reader. My dad and I would visit Fulton County Field a few times a year to watch the Braves lose in a nearly empty stadium. It didn’t matter. We were together.
By the time I was 13, I moved on from playing baseball to other interests like music and girls. But, when Field of Dreams came out that summer, I watched it with my dad. We wept together and immediately went outside to throw the baseball in the cul-de-sac. Through my awkward teenage years, my dad and I would still play catch together as a way of saying, “I love you” even when it was hard to say it out loud. That’s the power of baseball.
Then, the magic began. The Atlanta Braves actually became a good baseball team, and tomahawk fever swept Atlanta. My dad and I went to The Home Depot, bought supplies, and built a huge tomahawk to display in our front yard. It was the one time we built something together. Once again, baseball was bringing us together. We didn’t have a television growing up because my parents wanted us to read. However, when the Braves started winning, we went out and bought one just to watch the games. All through high school, we’d watch games on tv together. Baseball was the catalyst for nearly all of our father/son time.
My passion for music turned into a meaningful career with Third Day that allowed us to tour all over the country, and even the world. One of our favorite hobbies while touring was to go to as many baseball stadiums as we could, and we had the privilege of playing several post-game concerts. A few years ago, I had an awesome opportunity. Third Day was going to play for Faith Night after a Washington Nationals’ baseball game. As you can imagine from the introduction, the idea of being at a baseball game immediately triggers father/son bonding for me. So, I decided to take my oldest son Cole on the road trip. Even though I felt like I was cheating on the Atlanta Braves, The Nationals were amazing, gracious hosts.
It was an awesome day. Baseball players and musicians actually have a lot in common. You have to get used to a lot of “down time” in between the action. Baseball is moments of excitement sprinkled between hours of tedium and waiting. Professional music is an island of a few hours of music in a sea of travel and waiting. Having my son with me that day made the travel not so tedious. We were cracking up and making lifetime memories, eating together, throwing the baseball around, and hanging out just as much as men and friends as father and son. Our lead singer, Mac Powell, is my son’s godfather. They spent some of the time just hanging out together, talking as friends, talking about football, talking about life.
Through the years, some folks have challenged my parenting style because I don’t coddle my kids. I don’t do baby talk. I treat them like adults. I ask for their advice. I don’t send them to the basement when other adults come to the house. I include them in adult conversations and family challenges. The result: other adults love being around them because they are respectful, communicative and confident. (most of the time!)
At the Nats' ballpark, I discovered I wasn’t the only man who had brought his son to work. Adam LaRoche had his son Drake with him. I could tell immediately that we had a similar approach to parenting. Adam didn’t treat his son like a child. He treated him like a man. Where me taking my son on the road was a rare treat, this was evidently the norm for Adam and Drake. It was awesome. It was inspiring. Drake had his own locker. He had his own uniform. He wasn’t requiring babysitting from anyone. He was being treated like a young man, and clearly rose to the challenge.
I’ve been in probably a dozen professional locker rooms through the years. The Nationals’ clubhouse just seemed to have a different feel to it. Baseball players, like musicians, can have a tendency to live out a perpetual adolescence. They’re big kids and are paid to be kids. However, the Nationals’ clubhouse actually seemed to have a higher degree of professionalism and maturity than others I’d seen, despite the fact that LaRoche is a notorious prankster. Perhaps, realizing that there were young eyes watching their behavior was helping LaRoche’s teammates be the kind of men that a child would want to emulate, the kind of men they really wanted to be.
Last week, Adam LaRoche filed his retirement papers with baseball because the Chicago White Sox were no longer going to allow him to include his son in the locker room. You can read his full statement here. This story is already kicking off an important discussion regarding the presence of kids in the workplace. It’s an important discussion with a lot of complexities. I recognize that our society has moved away from an apprentice-based culture where young people learn workplace skills from a young age. Let’s face it, many of our work environments are so boring that it would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment to subject our children to it. But, I have a slightly different perspective to offer.
From what I saw, Drake made the locker room better. In just that one day, Adam inspired me to be a better dad. While the national average for divorce is 50%, that stat hits 60-80% amongst professional athletes, leaving a wake of fractured families. It's a real problem that affects athletes' performance, longevity, and finances. The kind of integrity and fatherhood Adam models to his teammates is an example of how to battle that trend. I think the White Sox are blowing it. I think MLB is blowing it by not chiming in quickly in defense of Adam, or at least seizing this PR opportunity. He represents the kind of leadership that baseball needs. I'm looking at this from a marketing perspective, but to me, baseball is all about fathers and sons. If MLB loses that connection, no amount of marketing campaigns can restore it. Adam including his son in the locker room is really good for baseball, and it's really good for his teammates too.
Adam LaRoche is demonstrating the kind of man and leader he is. He’s making his family a priority at a great cost. He’s a hero. But, he's not a martyr. You don’t need to feel sorry for him. He’s a really smart business man too. He’s a wise investor, entrepreneur, athlete, and a champion for social justice. He will be just fine. Just watch how he works to change the world for the better in the next few years. Our world needs more men like Adam LaRoche. Baseball needs more men like Adam LaRoche. Our children need more dads like Adam LaRoche.
Here’s my point for our workplaces: Maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate to have our children at our places of work. But, if the presence of children causes your co-workers to be uncomfortable, perhaps it points to a lack of integrity or consistency in your corporate culture.
If our workplace vernacular includes profanity, perhaps having some kids around would cause us to speak more professionally. If our workplace culture includes brazen sexism, perhaps having our daughters around would cause us to think about the way we're treating women in the workplace.
The appropriateness to having our kids around will vary by the industry and companies with whom we work.
However, I'm taking it as a personal challenge to be the kind of man in the workplace that my children would be proud of whether or not they're there to see it. Maybe, you should too.