In college, I found a quote that resonated with me: “In the race to be better or best, do not miss the joy of being.” The quote, painted on the wall of Elon University assistant basketball coach Ann-Marie Lashley, found its way into my life and served as a mantra.

In everything I do, I seek to be better or best. I played soccer as if that moment mattered more than the next. I would pour my efforts into every test or lab or paper, leaving the rest of the world behind until I finished. No two moments entwined more than needed.

Yet despite the focus and the desire to be the best, I did not miss the joy of being. Though at the time it seemed only the result mattered, as I look back, I realized I took in more than results. I took in moments. I could not tell you whether I had the highest grades in my courses; however, I do remember the awesome feeling of graduating from college. I do not remember every defensive play I made; however, I do remember bus rides with my teammates and hotel pool parties.

To this day, I do not think I have ever lost the urge to be better or best, but I have gained a better understanding of that joy of being. That is until I entered the toughest race I have participated in so far: parenting. 

I am a single father. Not by force, not by divorce, but by choice to three special young people who made me a dad. Each came into my life in different ways, at different times in their development, with different personalities and challenges. In my quest to become the best father I could be, somewhere along the way, I forgot about the joy of being. Instead, I apparently entered a race to be the best parent. 

It began with little things, such as entering the best playgroups and having the right amount of birthday party invites. Then, my quest gained momentum when I became actively involved in all aspects of my youngest’s life, including becoming a room parent, chaperoning school trips, and joining the PTA. The steam continued to build until it morphed into helping make the best school project and ranting about silly mistakes on elementary school assessments.  

Along the way, comparisons took hold of me, too. I wondered: Am I doing it right? Wow, I hope I can get my kid to be like so-and-so’s kids. Does my kid fit in with other kids and teachers? The downward spiral continued from there until the race I was running became the focus that mattered to me. I had to be the best parent and titles and awards and recognition of my child were clearly the way to prove that.    

Finally, approaching the completion of elementary school, I stopped yards from the finish line. I needed to breathe; I needed a breather. It started when I felt upset because my child was not selected to be a “leader” for Field Day. It bunched me up inside and cracked my own perception of not only the parent I am—but the parent I thought I was. Field Day is not really even that exciting, but I had trouble dealing with the fact that my child wasn’t chosen for this status.  

I totally lost the joy of being and the purpose of why I wanted to be a dad in the first place. I know it did not bother my daughter one bit. In fact, she did not even mention it to me. I could not believe, even though I am certainly a competitive person, how crazy I had become. I missed the joy of being the parent of an elementary school girl who has a heart the size of Texas. I recalled a message from her band teacher who shared how she wanted to help another student. I remembered kind words from other parents about her heart. Those were my favorite moments that gave me the most joy—not any awards or popularity contests.

And then, I let out a sigh. Not of resignation, but of relief. 

In her race to be better or best, Coach Lashley missed no joy in simply being. Though she died in 2005 at the age of 40, not one mourner varied from this statement: “Coach loved her team and met with them weekly to make sure each teammate was happy.” It was not about titles and championships to Coach Lashley, but rather, it was about living a life of joy.  

So, I will finish this parenting race very unlike the way I started. I will walk slowly and savor these last few days of childhood. I will remember the joy of watching her participate in Field Day and 5th-grade graduation, thinking of all she has accomplished during this first part of her life. I will enjoy the very joy of being her dad, hoping that I will remember this race strategy as the next school years begin. 

“In the race to be anything, do not miss your joy of being anything.”

Sean McCumber

Sean is a single father and family law attorney who sometimes manages to find time between work and soccer and parenting to write down a few thoughts. He writes "scholarly" articles about dog custody and co-parenting for work, has an excellent on-time-to-soccer-practice rating on Uber, and somehow holds everything together with rubber bands and superglue.