Today, November 10, 2011 my 9 year old son Patrick left the house for school like he always does, with his book bag over his shoulder and his lunch box in his hand. The weather is changing and he required a jacket. The weather will be in the mid 70s today but this morning was in the 50s. He grabbed the same hooded gray jacket that he has been wearing for the past 2 years, the jacket that reads Penn State across the front. You see, Penn State is an iconic, idolized brand in our house. My husband Frank grew up watching and cheering for Penn State and revering Joe Paterno. Those affections have been passed to my three boys.
We love Penn State Football and Joe Paterno. A football Saturday with Penn state on television means we watch it live and tape it so we can watch it again. My boys know the starting line ups, most of the history of the program and can recite some of the best linebackers in the history of Penn State football. All of my boys are capable of recanting these Penn State names and memories, including my 9 year old Patrick. But instead of letting him wear that jacket, today I said no. I couldn’t bear to watch my 9 year old son wear that jacket today; 2 nights removed from reading the grand jury report on Jerry Sandusky and what allegedly took place over the past 15 years with small boys; and the day that Joe Paterno has been fired. I couldn’t bear to watch him put that jacket on and wear it to school. When I read the grand jury report and read over and over about victim 8 who suffered the same horrific experience as victim 1, I was sickened and upset. I’m heartbroken and saddened beyond what these words can express for the victims that didn’t do anything wrong to deserve such treatment and for a crushed group of men in my house. I never claimed to be a great writer but I claim to want to make a difference especially in the lives of my children. I want to stand for something, chose my stance wisely and pray that my boys will always make good choices in their conduct and decision making. With unwavering self-doubt, I am someone who will not allow ANYONE to hurt another that is vulnerable, weak or incapable of helping themselves. What Jerry Sandusky did is irreversible and deplorable. I wondered half way thru the grand jury report if I should continue to read because it was so sickening, it was difficult. But I read on for the safety of my family and my children. If you haven’t read it, it’s disgusting and you must be sure you can stomach the results of the 23 page document.
Joe Paterno is continuing to teach maybe his greatest lesson in his saddest moment for himself and his university. Joe Paterno is a great man, who used football to create future leaders. He was first a teacher who espoused the ideals of integrity, character and service. He gave to Penn State of free will and sound mind and was as generous as any coach in American Sport. Penn State Football was supposed to be one of the good guys, a program beyond reproach, beyond question since there weren’t NCAA rules violations and the discipline that Joe installed in his program was of the highest regard for empowering his young men to learn to do things the right way, not take short cuts. If you got a parking ticket on Penn State’s campus, you paid the fine and the consequences. You went to class. You knew what was expected of you as a young man in that program. Those traits and characteristics are still a part of the fabric of who Joe Paterno is and what he represents. He made Penn State unique. Joe Paterno created a perceived stance that Penn State is one of the last, truly good representatives of college athletics for honesty, integrity and role models for us to look to for inspiration.
My challenge is to teach my boys to do many of the same things. Joe is a great man who made a moral mistake and a big one because it affected the lives of many innocent and vulnerable and empowered Jerry Sandusky to continue to hunt young boys and get away with unspeakable acts. I want my boys to make the right choices and stand for a cause that might be bigger than themselves but understand what is a role model and who the important people in their lives are that can make a difference for them and with them.
Today is Patrick’s teacher’s birthday. Amy Ryan is a terrific fourth grade teacher and true role model for my children. Patrick wanted to do something special for his teacher today so he asked if we could get up early and go to Starbucks to get Mrs. Ryan a cup of coffee because he knew she would appreciate his special thought. When we arrived in the classroom to deliver her cup of coffee, many of the children in the classroom had lined up to hand Mrs. Ryan a small birthday gift and/or share a birthday hug. She received each gesture and gift as if it was the most important thing she had ever received in her life. I watched the smile on Patrick’s face form from ear to ear. He was beaming. He gave his teacher a special gift and she gave one right back to him.
We should think about the people in our lives on a daily basis. The teachers in our children’s lives are real heroes. If you have a kid in school, you should know what I mean. We entrust our children to their care, support, safety and intellectual and emotional development. The minute they leave our arms in the morning, they are exposed to people we trust and have empowered to do the right things with our children and for our children. Good teachers and educational leaders are the real heroes and leaders in our lives and the lives of our children. We should tell our teachers and educators, the good ones, more often.
The lessons and conversations this situation exposed to our family has forced me to have tough, important and meaningful conversation with my boys. The conversation is about choices and doing the right thing. I believe there are people categorized in this world as those that will take a stand and those that will turn their head and look the other way. I hope my boys will take a stand and do the right things. That’s my prayer every night for my family.