Closer Than They Appear

reflections from life as a dad

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Episode Seven: Clear Eyes, Full Diapers, Can’t Lose

In Season Two of the television show Friday Night Lights, Tammy Taylor tells her husband, Coach Eric Taylor, that he is a molder of men. That’s how she put it–molder of men. You see, Coach Taylor is a high school football coach in the fictional town of Dillon Texas, in a television show that might be one of the greatest shows of all time. It’s based upon the Buzz Bissinger book about the real town of Odessa, Texas. These towns–the real one of Odessa, the fake one of Dillon, and probably a whole bunch of other towns just like them–are absolutely rabid about high school football, and pretty much every teenage boy in the town aspires to play football and make it to State. To these boys, the varsity football coach is god. To this town, he is their messiah. He delivers them into victories and glory beyond their wildest dreams.

But Coach Taylor isn’t just about winning, even though his team wins a lot. And, I should mention, his team always wins in the last 5 seconds of the game, which is one of the few dramatic flaws of the show. But Coach Taylor wants more than just to win football games.

In Season Five, a different character named Billy Riggins, once again calls Coach Taylor a molder of men. Riggins is a new dad, and he wants a job coaching alongside Taylor, to learn from him, this molder of men, so that he can best prepare himself for fatherhood. Billy seems to think that Taylor’s admirable qualities are contagious.

And so even though this is just a tv show and it’s not real or anything like that, I decided that when our son was born, I was going to re-watch Friday Night Lights. All of it. My wife and I had already seen it before, but since I was up rocking Jonas from 2-5am, getting him used to the new, daunting world, I figured I may as well cozy up alongside Coach Taylor, to see what I could learn from him.

Coach Eric Taylor. Husband to an ambitious wife, Tammy Taylor, and father to a beautiful and generally-well-intended teenage girl, Julie Taylor. Later in the show Coach and Mrs. Coach have a baby, the little Gracie Belle, who I’ll go ahead and say it, looks kind of weird. A molder of men, surrounded by women.

And also, a man who is not my typical role model as a man. I’m sort of the exact opposite of a Texas high school football coach, as a San Francisco surfer who spends most of his time barefoot and hasn’t combed his hair in over a decade. Me and this fictional man have different visions for how we want our lives to look, but I can still see that many of the steps he takes to get where he wants in life leave footprints that are worth following.

In the first month of my son’s life, I watched all 76 episodes of Friday Night Lights. And so here, in brief, is what I learned about manhood and being a father from Coach Eric Taylor.

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