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That Guy in the Mirror

A good example has twice the value of good advice.  – Author Unknown


adviceWhen my kids were young, I bought a basketball hoop for the driveway. Unfortunately, it required some assembly, so I knew I was in for a little adventure… and a little drama.  Tools laugh at me when they see me approach.

I was just starting the project when my six-year-old son, Kevin, approached me.

“Can I help?” he asked.

“No, thanks, Kevin. Not now.” I figured this probably wasn’t going to be the best father-son bonding opportunity.

It was hot work in the mid-day sun, but after a half hour, I was pleased with my progress.  The basket was attached to the backboard and everything was facing the right way. All that remained was to drill two holes on opposite sides of the metal pole, slide a long screw through the holes, fill the base with water, and I was done.  Oops… not so fast.

basketball hoopI destroyed two steel bits trying to drill the stupid holes.  I was frustrated, but determined to finish before I dissolved into a pool of sweat. I drove to Home Depot and bought the most expensive, industrial-strength drill bits I could find.  When I arrived back home, Kevin was waiting for me.

“You need some help, Dad?”

“No, Kev, I got it covered.”

He shrugged and then busied himself in the garage, occasionally glancing out at me.

Five minutes later, I had mangled the expensive, industrial-strength drill bits. I was boiling by now, but aware that Kevin was standing fifteen feet away, I bit my tongue.  I stared at the metal pole, standing with my hands on my hips. Now what?  Was this pole made out of military grade titanium?

Kevin appeared at my side, and assumed the same hands-on-hips pose.

“It’s the drill, Dad,” he said.

 Great. I’m getting handyman advice from a six year old. He was probably right, but how did he know that?

“You want me to go to Jim’s and borrow a good drill?” Kevin asked.

 A good drill. I looked down at the bright orange drill in my hands. It looked like a toy. I wasn’t about to give Jim a chuckle at my expense.

“No, Kevin, I need a new one, anyway.”

Back to Home Depot. I had no idea what I was buying, so I just added $100 to the price I paid for the last one. This one was bigger. Heavier.  More expensive.  Of course it would work.

When I got home Kevin was nowhere to be found.  I powered through the metal in a matter of seconds. Like a hot knife through butter.


Within seconds Kevin burst out of the front door. “Is it done?”

I smiled. “All we have to do is fill the base with water, and I need your help. Please bring me the hose.”

Kevin ran off, and returned seconds later, weaving unsteadily on his little legs, with a tangle of hose draped over his shoulder.

I grabbed the nozzle and stuffed it into the round hole in the base.

“Now go turn on the water.”

He hurried over to the spigot and grabbed the handle with both hands.

I waited for the water, and wiped the sweat out of my eyes.

“Turn it on, Kevin!” I yelled.

“I did!”  He shouted back.


“Turn it more!”

“OK!” he yelled.

I could hear the water running.

I stared down at the end of the hose.

Nothing. What the heck?

Kevin approached me with a sheepish grin, holding a section of hose in his hand. The end had been sheared in half.

“Look what the maintenance guys did.”  He laughed. I didn’t.

I looked over Kevin’s shoulder and saw a puddle of water collecting in the side yard. In that split second, the heat and frustration got the best of me. I picked up the five-foot high cardboard box that the basketball hoop came in, pivoted like a discus thrower and launched the box into the street.  Unfortunately, as I let go of the box, I could feel the gold watch slip off my sweaty wrist. I watched in horror as it arced through the air and crashed thirty feet away. In the street. I ran over and held my breath as I picked it up off the asphalt. I couldn’t read the time through all the cracks in the crystal.

I threw the watch into the yard and began kicking the cardboard box as hard as I could.  I kicked it to the far side of the street and then back again, all the while screaming something (purposely) unintelligible. After several minutes, I was hyperventilating and aware that I had an audience.

Kevin stood with eyes wide and his mouth open.

I felt terrible.  “Kevin, I apologize.  I shouldn’t have acted that way. I was just frustrated. I’m sorry.”

He was still in shell-shock, and just nodded his head.

I suggested he go back inside while I went to the store to get a new hose.

When I returned home, I was the picture of restraint and maturity.  Kevin helped me fill up the base with water, and our new basketball hoop was ready.

I took out a brand new basketball and approached Kevin.  “So you want to shoot some hoops?”

“Naw. Not really.”  He retreated into the garage, and returned several minutes later.

“Come on, Kevin, you sure you don’t want to try out the new basket?”

He looked at the basket and back at me.  With a shrug he said, “No thanks,” and strapped on a pair of roller blades.

So much for the instant love affair with our new basketball hoop.

I watched Kevin race down the driveway on his roller blades and out into the street.  When he got several houses away, he angled his way towards a neighbor’s front yard, and hopped into the grass.  His way of stopping.  He came back towards me, and as he approached our house he made a wide arc, leaning heavily over one skate.  He was trying to turn.  His legs didn’t catch up to his torso, and he tottered unsteadily for a few feet, before he came down in a heap in the middle of the street.  He looked down at a bloody knee and immediately unbuckled his roller blades, throwing each one into our yard, and ran towards the house.  He was furious, but refused to cry.  He bent over and slipped on his shoes, before running over to the empty cardboard box in the front yard.  He screamed something unintelligible and began kicking the box like there was no tomorrow.  He looked ridiculous. Just like his dad.

I’ve had very few experiences that painted such a vivid lesson for me. Our kids watch us. They copy us. They follow our example –good, bad, or otherwise.

Since that day I have been very conscious of what I say and how I act.  I still have lapses (and if I’m behind the wheel of a car, I have way, way, too many).

"How can he shave in the morning?"Ross Nadelman, the CEO of HB Trim, uses an expression I love when it comes to hypocrites… and  jerks.  “How can he shave in the morning?” Ross will ask. When I look in the mirror, I want to be able to respect the guy who’s looking back at me.  Even more importantly, when my kids look at that same face, I don’t want them to make excuses or apologies for my behavior.

Some thoughts to pass along:

-          Become a better and more consistent “you.” Living your life as one personality is tough enough. If you have to constantly worry about who is around you so you can modify your behavior accordingly, you’ll wear yourself out.  And you’ll get caught. Most of us don’t want to walk around with a neon sign strapped to our foreheads that says “hypocrite.”

-          Studies suggest that communication is 7% the words you say; 38% your tone of voice and “how” you say the words; and 55% based on what others see – your body language and eye contact. You can come up with the greatest advice known to man, but if what people see in your behavior contradicts what you say – forget it. Children are far more perceptive than we’d like to think when we are in “master of the universe dispensing pearls of wisdom to the offspring” mode. Walk the walk.

-          This is not a one-way street. You remain a work in progress. Try to get better every day and look for behaviors that you should emulate. Sometimes they come from the same people who call you “Mom” and “Dad.”  It’s OK to think that sometimes you’d like to grow up and be like your kids.

Note: As a six-year-old, Kevin asked to help with assembling the basketball hoop.  I should have let him. Within a couple of years, he became the resident handyman in our house. Now if we have electrical malfunctions, something breaks or is damaged, the first question Donna or I will ask is, “Can this wait until Kevin gets home from college?”

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karl,
    This is one very powerful and honest example of “show don’t tell.” Love the story and was sweating right along with you! There are so many layers to this story- behavior speaks louder than words, children learn more through our actions than our words and never underestimate the wisdom of a child. Thanks for sharing these great reminders. We could all use a “Kevin” in our lives :-)

    April 7, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kathy, if I haven’t mentioned it before, you have an incredible ability to get at the heart of an article, summarize a collection of thoughts, and then articulate it simply and powerfully. I love to read what you write, whether it is a sentence… or a completed memoir. :) And yes, I think we can all benefit from having a “Kevin” in our lives. I regularly thank God for mine!

      April 7, 2012
  2. Michele Bradshaw #

    Great story, Carl! Kathy certainly summed it up. I really enjoy your writing. Keep it coming!

    April 9, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Thanks for checking in, Michele – and the kind words. Kathy’s great. What takes me a thousand words to express, she distills down to a dozen. Another post is on its way soon!

      April 11, 2012

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