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May 17, 2023

Father Forfeit

The Three-Year Swim Club, written by Julie Checkoway, is “the untold story of Maui’s sugar ditch kids and their quest for Olympic glory.”   In 1937, a schoolteacher on the island of Maui challenged a group of poverty-stricken sugar plantation kids to swim upstream against the current of their circumstances.  The goal?  To compete at the 1940 Olympics.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you liked Unbroken or The Boys in the Boat.

The teacher, turned coach, was Soichi Sakamoto, a true pioneer in swim coaching.  He was incredibly successful and obsessive about getting the best out of his swimmers.  But his life is also a cautionary tale.

Checkoway describes him as “possessed of an audacity of spirit that spurred him on to an endeavor that in scope and ambition rivaled the exploits of other great men and women of his time.  He was a man who was made of the distinctly hopeful stuff of which the poet Walt Whitman wrote, only Soichi Sakamoto was even more hopeful than the average man: in him flowed the most expansive visions. He was a glorious amateur in the American style.”

What a description!  He was a fascinating man whose life made for a New York Times bestseller.

However, this man with an “audacity of spirit” also had shortcomings.  And this should be a warning to all men who endeavor greatly.

Checkoway continues, “But he also paid the price that genius will exact: by virtue of attending only to his dreams, he spent his lifetime disconnected from those who loved him most and who might have served as a comfort to him in times of desolation.”

To put it bluntly, he sacrificed his family for his career.

This story is played out repeatedly by athletes, coaches, CEOs, tech pioneers, entrepreneurs, and professionals of all kinds. Unfortunately, pastors are guilty of this as well.  No one with drive or ambition is immune to this trap.  You don’t have to be famous to put your career above your family.  Selfish ambition, which is so costly to a family, comes in all shapes and sizes.

So, the question is, are you guilty of this?  Are you sacrificing your family at the altar of fame, money, or success?

Men are good at justifying such pursuits because we tell ourselves, “It’s only for a season” or “I’m doing this FOR my family.”

I encourage you to slow down long enough to honestly examine your pursuits and priorities and determine if they are getting in the way of you loving and serving your family well.  Your kids are watching you.  They know where they stand regarding your work, hobbies, or other interests.

Your life might not be “best-selling book material,” but that might be for the better.



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