My dad taught math, science, and physics for over 30 years. He coached every youth sport as I was growing up, but eventually served as the head varsity baseball coach for the majority of his final twelve years of teaching. He taught himself to be a mechanic, electrician, and carpenter. His students still revere him as their former teacher. The number of times I’ve been with him and a former student has excitedly approached him just to say “Hi, Mr. Cupps” numbers in the hundreds.
There is no doubt he impacted the lives of his students, as a lot of teachers do - in one way or another.
But, there are two people whose lives he impacted far more - mine and my brother’s.
Why Should We Care? We make numerous choices every day. Some of them significant, most of them not.
Dad made a significant choice as a high school senior. He joined the Air Force.
I remember asking him why he decided to join and his answer was crystal clear for him. In his mind, he had no other options. He said, “I had to get away from what I was in. If I stayed, I knew I would end up in the same cycle as we had always been.”
He was referring to his family. Dad grew up poor, though he wouldn’t phrase it quite that way. He would just say ‘we didn’t have much’. He attended over fifteen different schools because they would live in a house until they were evicted for not paying rent, which they never did because his father couldn’t keep a job. His dad was an abusive alcoholic, constantly in and out of jail and needing picked up from local bars. His mom was a saint, always turning her husband’s drunken rage on herself in order to spare her three sons.
So, this was the choice for my dad: stay where he’s at and try to help his mom and brothers as much as he could or get out of the situation and try to break the cycle. Not an easy choice, but a significant one.
You see, this single choice by my dad completely changed the lives of the family he didn’t even have yet. The lives of my brother and I, our families, experience none of what my dad went through. And, it’s not because of anything we’ve done. It’s because of the choice he made.
No one in his family had ever gone to college, he was the first - my brother and I are both teachers. His family was wrecked by alcohol abuse - I can’t remember a time I saw my dad drinking as much as a beer. His mom constantly had to physically fend off her husband - dad never raised a hand to my mom.
We grew up in a completely different life than my dad, one generation removed. Because of a single choice.
REAL TALK - Action Steps I know there are a lot of stories out there like this. I actually think everyone probably has at least one. But, I’m not sure how good we are at recognizing them.
Regardless of where you are in life, take the time to look back and see how you got there. Why are you where you are? Who helped you get there? I mean, it does matter, right? The difference in understanding and self-awareness should be significant enough.
What decisions are you making right now and how are they impacting your life? Forget about big things. Consider the water you passed on for a Coke or the time you spent scrolling on your phone instead of reading. Our lives end up being the culmination of each individual choice. Some are bigger than others, but all are important.
How do you want to impact your kids? Your kids’ kids? In order to make the choices necessary to get you there, you must know where you want to get. If we leave it up to chance, we will never realize the true potential of our choices.
I’m sure, at the time, dad didn’t realize the impact of this one decision … then again, maybe he did. Either way, there is nothing I’m more thankful for. He changed his life, but he also changed the lives of our entire side of the family.
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