Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Boys' Life Coach

My husband was always very involved in anything that interested our boys; one thing was football (something he'd played himself in his younger days), and another was lacrosse (which he hadn't).

He arranged his work schedule so that he could help to coach their Pee Wee and junior high football teams, and he even did a stint as a freshman football coach when one was needed during their high school years.  As an airline pilot, he was usually able to bunch his trips together so that he could be off and available for game day, and for as many weekday practices as possible.

When our boys discovered lacrosse, this man of mine ("my hero," as I like to call him) became such a knowledgeable student and true die hard fan of the "fastest game on two feet" that he ended up becoming an assistant lax coach as well, dealing mostly with the defense, throughout our sons' youth lacrosse years.  The head coach, a good friend of ours, saw early on how well he understood the game just from watching the action on the sidelines and asked him to join the coaching staff.  My husband reminded him that he'd never played lacrosse himself, and our friend replied, "That's perfect.  I can mold you."  From there, my husband eventually went on to become the head defense coach at our boys' Catholic high school, and for the many years he was in that role (and later he and our second oldest son--as the greatest defensive coaching duo NH high school lacrosse has ever known, in my learned opinion), he led the squads under his tutelage so well that our boys' teams were always ranked at the top of the pack defensively.

By the end of his youth lacrosse days, our oldest son had made a bit of a name for himself.  The summer after 8th grade, the head coach at the high school he was going to attend got wind of this, and he invited our boy--a mere incoming freshman--to go to a lacrosse camp at Johns Hopkins University with a group of older players who would be his teammates the following spring.  It was kind of a big deal for him to be asked to join them, and he was terribly excited.  There was just one problem: the camp was going to run for five days, from Thursday to Monday.  How was our son going to get himself to Sunday Mass, if the camp was on a secular university's campus and he couldn't find a church in Baltimore that was convenient to get to?  And if his coach was working as an instructor at the camp and couldn't manage to carve time out of his schedule to get him there, who would take him?  My husband voiced these concerns to the coach, who said, "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Pearl.  I'll see that the boys get to church."  Now in his defense, we did believe the coach had good intentions.  But we also knew that many, if not all, of the other players--despite the fact that they were for the most part Catholics--would use the traveler's dispensation, since it would probably be a big hassle getting to Mass.  (Not to mention that doing so would mean they'd have to miss a drill or a scrimmage.)  If our son was the only one who cared about going, chances are it wasn't going to happen.
Coach Pearl, with his two oldest sons.
The more he thought about it, the more this situation ate away at my husband.

[A quick aside: why do five-day sports camps always include Sundays?  I realize that lots of the coaches have other day jobs and maybe weekends need to be involved.  But couldn't some drills be postponed until later in the day on Sunday, so that those who want to can make it to church?  Okay, back to the story now.] 

Well, my husband decided to fly down to Baltimore on Saturday, rent a car, and book a room for the night at a hotel--all so that he could be there on Sunday morning to get his firstborn son to Mass.  It was just the two of them, and it was totally worth it.  Then he dropped our boy back off at camp and flew back home.

And I know what you're thinking--the fact that he can fly stand-by for free, one of the great perks of his job, made this sacrifice a whole lot easier than if he'd had to buy an expensive airline ticket.  That's very true.  But it was a sacrifice nonetheless; because if you were married to an airline pilot (or at least to my airline pilot), you would understand that the last place he ever wants to be on his days off is at an airport or on an airplane.  That feels too much like work.  Pilots are away from home too much as it is, and they guard their days at home, and their glorious nights sleeping in their own beds, quite jealously.  Where my pilot wanted to be was not on a plane heading down to MD, but relaxing at home with our four younger sons and me.  However, when it comes to the devout practice of the Catholic Faith and the role of Christian fatherhood--which means that the father is responsible for passing the Faith on to his children, so that they truly know just how important it needs to be in their lives--there is no sacrifice so great that my husband wouldn't make it for the good of his family.

Fast-forward to the following summer: our second oldest son, following directly in the cleat steps of his older brother, had made a bit of a name for himself in the youth lacrosse world, and the high school head coach decided to invite yet another incoming freshman Pearl to join a group of future teammates (one of them being his brother) down to Johns Hopkins for a five-day lacrosse camp.  The funny thing was that right away, the coach said to my husband, "And don't worry, Mr. Pearl.  I've got it all set up and I'll see that the boys get to church."

Do you think my husband heaved a sigh of relief and stayed home, or do you think he flew down to Baltimore again to make absolutely sure his sons were able to attend Sunday Mass?

If you guessed the latter, you are right.  He just couldn't leave it to chance.  But this time, at least, the coach really had made arrangements ahead of time to have someone take the group to church.  Since he was there anyway, however, that someone ended up being my husband.  And if I remember correctly, there were a couple of other lads on the team who joined the Pearls for Mass that day.

Some people might think this is the story of a dad who went above and beyond what's expected or necessary.  But I don't think there's any way our boys can look at those two trips their father took, when he would have much rather been enjoying his days off at home, and not realize just how important the Mass is supposed to be to faithful Catholics.  During those teen years, so many of our boys' peers were questioning the Faith--and their parents stepped back and let them figure out their own paths on their own "faith journeys," even if that meant watching them miss Mass every weekend.  My husband never had to lecture or harangue our kids about attending Mass.  They just did it because they saw through his example that this is what Catholics do; and Pearls are Catholics, so it's what we do.  Some kids might have been embarrassed to have their dads show up at lacrosse camp to take them to Mass; but to our boys, that was just Dad being Dad.  And accepting--without resentment or embarrassment--that he was there to get them to church on time was just them being them.  He showed those sons of his with his very loud actions that there are some things that take precedence over even your most beloved team sport.  God before lacrosse, that's just how it is. 
It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that when several of our sons weren't meeting the kind of young women who were "wife material," they went on CatholicMatch.com and found soul mates who shared their Faith, morals, and values.  All three of our married sons met their spouses that way.  It should also come as no surprise that all five of them still go to Mass every Sunday.  Or that our three little granddaughters (who go by non-saintly aliases on this blog) were given the strong and beautiful names of some of the most eminent saints in the Catholic Church.  The Faith is simply part of who our boys (and now their spouses) are.

Our boys are were football and lacrosse players.  They are (or will be) sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.  But above all, they are Catholics.

I give all of the credit for the way our boys embrace and live their Faith to their father.  He was once their football and lacrosse coach...but he has always been their life coach.


  1. This could have been a much longer post--because our boys (these two and others) later attended lacrosse camps at Syracuse, Hobart, and Notre Dame, and the only one where getting to Mass wasn't a challenge was that last one--of course. But at least those times, we were staying close-by while the boys were at camp and coming to get them to take them to church was not such a big deal. And because of this dedication to making sure his sons got to Mass, my husband had a nice one-on-one conversation with Syracuse's storied lax coach, John Desko, who helped him locate the nearest Catholic church!

  2. Love this post, what a great dad he is!

  3. So inspiring!!! This is amazing because it's not so common these days that a husband and father goes above and beyond in inconvenient circumstances to practice and demonstrate what the faith means to him and his family. I loved reading this.