That's how much time my wife and I have before we're empty nesters. Our youngest child, Lana, will graduate from high school in June. Sometime in August we expect to send her off to college. My wife often says, "Once they leave for college, they're just visitors in our home." It was certainly true for us. After high school, I came home and worked the summer after my freshman year at BYU and that was the last time I ever lived at home. We married following my mission and after my wife's freshman year, so she never returned home after high school.
It's hard to know if we've taught Lana everything she needs to know before she leaves. In the grand scheme of things, 18 years isn't that much time to teach and inoculate your child with everything she'll need to know once she's on her own. As parents, we're far from perfect but we've done our best.
Three stories this week illustrate how impactful good parenting is to a child's physical and emotional well being. It's hard to imagine the dysfunction Steve Powell created because of the alleged child pornography and voyeurism charges for which he sits in a Washington state jail awaiting trial. Divorced, his children estranged from him and each other, with a son, Josh, who murdered his own children in a horrific way and possibly killed his own wife, Steve Powell was an utter failure as a father. Father and son were reputed to be controlling, manipulative and harbored extremely sexist views of women.
Contrast that with Rick Morrissey's story in the Chicago Sun Times last week about high school basketball phenom Jabari Parker. Parker is the product of an African-American non-LDS father, Sonny, who played in the NBA, and a Tongan, LDS mother named Lola. The youngest of seven children, Jabari attends early-morning seminary and according to the piece, is so humble that he fetches water and towels for the underclassmen during freshman games.
Morrissey quotes Lola, "As parents, we've always instilled certain things," she said. "But there's a time for them to practice it. That's totally up to them. When Jabari leaves to go out of town and I or Sonny can't travel, I look at him and say, 'This is the time to practice all that you have been taught. Don't bring shame to your father's name.' He really understands that."
How refreshing is that? Then on Tuesday, I stumbled upon Wendell Maxey's story in the Deseret News about Westminster alum Michael Stockton, son of former Jazz great John, who is playing basketball in Germany. "Usually after every game, I find a way to get a hold of them (family) and talk. It's good to see them and hear their voice thanks to Skype and Facebook," explains Stockton, who also stays up for 2 a.m. starts to watch brother David play for Gonzaga and even some Utah Jazz games.
"I guess you could say I've been homesick because I miss my family," he says. "I miss my brothers and sisters, but I also feel I adjust very well."
Sounds like a close-knit family with well-adjusted kids. I've never met John Stockton, but I had an encounter with him years ago that left a memorable impression of the Jazz great. It was October of 1998. Conference weekend. The Philadelphia Eagles were playing in Denver on Sunday and since I had to go cover the game, I decided I'd fly into Salt Lake on Friday, attend conference all day Saturday, then fly out Sunday morning to Denver for the game.
When leaving Salt Lake for Denver I boarded a small commuter Delta plane — the kind with just two seats on each side of the aisle. I was surprised to see Stockton sitting with two little boys a few rows ahead of me (probably Michael and David) and thought, "Wow, what a treat for us to sit with John Stockton because these little planes don't have a first-class cabin."
I'm around professional athletes all the time and I certainly didn't want to interrupt him just to introduce myself, so I left him alone and just observed. I couldn't hear their conversation but I was impressed that their interaction was playful and they talked for the entire hour-or-so-long trip. He was clearly a doting, loving, hands-on father.
When we arrived, I got my rental car and drove directly to Mile High Stadium never expecting to see Stockton again except on TV. However, at the conclusion of the game, I was surprised to see Stockton and his sons in the parking lot. Amazingly, he was parked just a few cars from me in the media lot. It never occurred to me that they were traveling to the game, but clearly he was well-connected because he had a media parking pass. What really surprised and impressed me was the car he had rented. It wasn't an SUV or even a full-size sedan. The great John Stockton — fabulously wealthy, owner of a Stockton-to-Malone car dealership in Murray, soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer — was driving a tiny compact Chevy GEO.
He seemed to be in a hurry, probably to make their return flight home to Salt Lake, and I was returning to Philadelphia, but I was deeply impressed by what I had observed. Whether Stockton intended to or not, his financial restraint in renting only the bare minimal car for a day when he could drive whatever he wanted, indicated to me that he likely used restraint in other aspects of his life and certainly as a parent. I may be reading more into it than I should, but given what I read about his son Michael in Germany, my suspicions seem accurate.
Finally, I share with you a YouTube video clip of a speech Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter gave to his own family's congregation at the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church last summer following a flash mob incident in downtown Philadelphia where 20-30 teenagers looted stores, robbed and assaulted innocent bystanders. If you're a parent, grandparent, youth leader or scoutmaster, I strongly suggest you watch the clip. We watched it for family home evening earlier this week. It is raw, emotional and very powerful.
Mayor Nutter was straightforward, blunt and by his own admission, "not PC." To fathers who only provide a monthly check but give no direction to their kids, don't know where they are or who they hang out with, "you're not fathers ... you're just human ATMs." And to those who provide neither financial assistance or guidance, "you're just sperm donors."
His most pointed remarks were reserved for the youth of Philadelphia. "Take those doggone hoodies down, especially in the summer. Buy a belt! Nobody wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt! Buy a belt! Learn some manners. Keep your butt in school, go to college, make something of yourself and be a good citizen. Extend your English vocabulary beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us understand anything that you're saying.
"And if you go to look for a job ... don't go blaming it on the white folks or anybody else if you walk into somebody's office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, with your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arm, on your face, on your neck and you wonder why somebody won't hire you? They don't hire you 'cause you look like you're crazy! That's why they're not hiring you."
After a moment of calm, he closed with this: "If you act like you got some sense ... you'd be surprised at what opportunities will open up to you."
Father to father, I'm with you Mr. Mayor.