Know Your Role.

I have been watching the NFL playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles are, of course, no longer apart of the playoff festivities but that does not stop me from shunning my normal responsibilities for three or so hours and possible overtime to tune in. While I was watching the best teams the NFL has to offer (let me again stress the Eagles were not able to be apart of them) something occurred to me. The Indianapolis Colts are really good and Peyton Manning is really, really good. Peyton might be the best quarterback in the league but it goes beyond his obvious talent and desire to be the best. Peyton Manning is a star because he is surrounded by receivers, linemen, and a defense that knows he’s a star too and yet they are willing to play their roles alongside Manning to achieve success.

Maybe you have seen the picture of George Washington and his Continental Army rowing across the Potomac (are they allowed to teach that in school anymore, I’m not sure)? George is the picture of leadership (and strangely the picture of a Captain Morgan’s advertisement). Washington’s men recognized their leader’s role to their success as well as their roles for success as they pushed forward in the night.

Sports fans know of the great Chicago Bulls teams, led by Michael Jordan, in the early and mid-90’s hoisting championship trophy after trophy. Most of which, with his all too apparent skill, coupled with some last second heroics from those around him, were won.

U2 has remained relevant in a music industry that goes through talent faster than the cast from the Jersey Shore goes through bottles of hair gel. All with the same members of the band.

What played a part in defining their success, in their particular groups, everyone knew their roles.Surely Jordan, Bono, and Washington, and Manning all hold (or held) a definite hand in the success or failure of their situations. But Jordan had Pippen, and Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright and a host of other “barely knew them” type of players around him before he was able to win. Bono has The Edge and two other guys a majority of us don’t know and a house full of Grammy’s and world-wide recognition (except for the other two guys of course). Washington was surrounded by men none of us could name and a general by the name of Cornwallis and helped to deliver independence to a fledgling country.

We all have roles. Some defined. Some inferred. Some not the same from one year to the next depending on our environment. But it is these roles that can make or break our success.

When I think about the roles in my life (a benchwarmer for the basketball team for one, one for which I am still picking out splinters from my rearend), no role has defined me more than my role within my family. While I have never had my kids row across a river with me standing stately on the bow, my wife can barely make a layup let alone a 25 foot game winning jumper, and our singing acumen is slightly less annoying than the Chipmunks and a little less talented than the American Idol ‘Pants on the Floor’ guy, this has not diminished how important our individual roles in our family are for our success.

My family is so close to the ‘Nuclear Family’ seen in so many Good Housekeeping magazines in the 60’s and 70’s we might as well be glowing green. Two kids (I have yet to figure out just how one could have a ½ a kid), a dog, a cat (maybe that’s the ½?) and a house with a fence all running around my mortgaged house (Did I mention we have a garage too? I told you…glowing). Granted we have not found ourselves in need of the military tactical intelligence of a General Cornwallis or accepting multiple Grammy’s, but none the less, in order to keep the (relative) order in our house, it is vital we know what is expected of each of us.

Believe it or not, the kids and pets have similar roles (believe it…trust me). Listen to Alicia and me. Use the bathroom (or the yard/litter box) not the floor. Give me a hug when I walk in the door from work. Look cute. Don’t drink from the toilet (okay there are some differences). Be respectful and don’t hurt each other or other people.

My wife is our glue. She holds this family together like Gorilla Liquid nails. From making lunches, doing the laundry, to getting our children off to their government mandated learning institutions, she is what keeps this family going. I barely remember to change my own clothing let alone figuring out what needs to be hung from the wash and what can go in the dryer. Her continuous worry and concern helps all of us from getting hurt or lazy because of complacency. She is the good cop. Her arms can swallow up the kids with love. She is our public relations agent (with one look at an outfit I decide to wear, she can save me and her from embarrassment). She is our event coordinator. Birthdays, anniversaries, ‘Thank You’ cards, where we go and when. Her job centers on keeping this family moving in a forward direction from Monday to Sunday. She is our Bono.

I take a much less relevant role in our family’s day to day activities. I can cook (translation: heat up in the microwave or pour milk over) a dinner here and there and I have become proficient at folding women’s (and little girl’s) delicates. But where I become crucial to our family is in times of stress. When the stress builds or catastrophe happens (ex. Our house being broken in to, dealing with deaths in the family, or late night trips to the emergency room) I am the one looked to for balance (like Anakin Skywalker was supposed to do to the Force). I let Alicia be emotional and she lets me stay focused (like cleaning our house after our break-in). I am not expected to make a grocery list, remember to dust behind the television, or remember when our kids’ nails need to be cut. I am expected to be Daddy (baths, making breakfast for dinner, doing homework), be bad cop to Alicia’s good cop (a role I enjoy possibly a little too much), a husband who is willing to help without rolling his eyes (I can’t say that my eyes don’t occasionally roll), and once a week during the summer, be a groundskeeper.

Certainly we have run in to moments where our roles needed to change or evolve(even The Beatles let Ringo sing a song or two during their time together). Rare moments of emotional weakness on my behalf have left my wife bearing the load. The kids actually listening without me having to growl in a voice two octaves lower than my normal baritone or being sent out by Alicia to stroll up and down the aisles of Redner’s trying to find the damn White Cheddar Cheez-It’s for Hannah’s lunch. There are times when we think to ourselves, “Why in the world am I doing this?” and we are doing it because they are our roles that help our family.

And yet we always settle back in to what we all do best. By breaking from our roles we run the risk of breaking the dynamic of our family that has made us relatively stable for so long (You don’t see the other two guys from Aerosmith not named Joe Perry or Steven Tyler doing too much on their own do you? The answer is no, you don’t.). The last thing I need is Alicia to be cutting the grass or unscrewing anything connected to the electric. The last thing she needs is for me to be doing is making plans for us to do over the weekend or trying to put the girls in ponytails. The last thing either of us need is for our kids to take on any of our roles. All of which we, as an entire family, are all okay with (unless you ask my 7 year old who is convinced she is the boss…at least over the 4 year old).

When we were first married, Alicia and I had yet to define our roles. We expected from each other things neither of us should have been doing. We were both trying to be George Washington’s when our marriage was in desperate need of a little Nathan Hale. Because of that, we bickered. We both kept expecting the other to work outside of our realm. It wasn’t until we talked about what she expected of me and vice versa did we move past the petty fights (and she realized I am not a “shopper”, no matter how much I love her and she has no interest in learning about ground wires). And that was before we had kids. Children have a wonderful way of rewriting the script (I mentioned evolving?). Our roles took drastic changes when we had an infant in a bassinet at the foot of our bed ready to wake up screaming with one loud yawn.

Washington needed Cornwallis. Bono needs his drummer (even though you, me, and maybe Bono, are still not sure what his name is). Jordan needed Steve Kerr and John Paxton. Because no matter how talented, creative, or intelligent, any of them were, they knew the limits of their roles and had others behind them who knew the limits of theirs.

My family is not perfect. We have our faults. Our fights. Our fits. Yet we have worked through all of that and function as one unit(although I have a few years before either of my children hit puberty so stay tuned). A long time ago, Alicia and I figured out we all can’t be Michael Jordan (especially because of her lack of shooting range) all the time. We also figured out our roles in our family will and need to change. We discovered, it is not only the members that this family is composed that make it great, it is the composition of those members that makes it great too.

All of this I gathered just from watching New Orleans vs. Minnesota (overtime too) while Alicia made school lunches and I knew when the game was over I was going to be giving the kids a bath, and taking the dog for a walk, and she would be cleaning up from dinner, and picking out clothing for the kids for tomorrow, and I would get the trash and we would all continue to role on.


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