My Father’s Voice
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“My Father’s Voice,” New Era, Sept. 1984, 46

Participatory Journalism:
My Father’s Voice

I wasn’t what you would call physically intimidating. In fact, I couldn’t even qualify as a 98-pound weakling. As a sophomore in high school I weighed in at a lanky 95 pounds. In an attempt to develop some kind of self-confidence, I had turned to wrestling.

Things were going well for me too. I’d finally broken into the varsity lineup and won a few matches when my coach decided that it would be “good experience” for me to travel with the junior varsity team for a match with a much smaller high school’s varsity team.

We were all pretty cocky by the time the bus pulled up beside the gym. I mean, after all, what kind of wrestlers could such a small school have? We piled out of the bus and headed straight for the wrestling room to check our weight. The wrestling room was typical—hot and stuffy with an odd assortment of mats and weights scattered across the floor. On the wall by the scales was a chart giving their team and individual statistics. My eyes scanned down the list to find my opponent’s record.

My heart fell to my stomach. He had nine wins against two losses and had placed second in a major tournament. My own record was a not-so-spectacular four and four. In addition, he led their team in almost every category—including pins.

When their team entered the room, I quickly spotted my opponent. He found me just as fast. He looked me over from head to toe. I looked him over from shoulder to shoulder. He was built like a tree stump. I was thin and lanky. In my mind I could imagine the years of bucking hay and other farm chores that had put muscles on his muscles. I looked down at my skinny arms and protruding ribs.

Right then I knew I would be victim number ten.

As the team wasted away the hours before the match, I rationalized the loss in my mind. He was obviously much stronger than I and, according to the stat sheets, also more skilled. Besides this was only a junior varsity match in a faraway town. No one would see me lose.

When we headed back to the locker rooms to dress, my heart sank again. There stood my father. He was in the area on business and had driven over to watch me wrestle. I cried inside as he introduced me to several of his friends from the area. Didn’t he know I was about to be destroyed? He told me to “go get ’em.” I replied with a very hollow, “Yeah, sure.”

As we dressed, my mind raced. What could I do? How could he show up for this match? I resolved to not get pinned. That was respectable. It was obvious that I was outmatched. Winning was out of the question.

I halfheartedly went through the warm-up routine with the rest of the team. I could see my father up in the balcony of the small gym seated with his friends.

Mine was the first match. As I shook hands with my opponent in the center of the mat, my dad yelled out, encouraging me. How could he? Now everyone would know he was my dad. I felt embarrassed for him, knowing that my opponent was about to wipe up the mat with my skinny body.

The referee blew the whistle starting the match. The crowd erupted with cheers. In all my previous matches, once the whistle blew my mind blocked out all sounds—my coach, the cheerleaders, even the roar of the crowd. This time I could still hear my father calling, yelling, even begging me to keep going—to do my best.

I struggled, I fought. One second I was on top; the next I was flat on the mat squirming to get free. The six minutes raced by faster than ever before. My father never stopped calling to me. The final buzzer sounded. The gym fell quiet—too quiet.

I had won.

One point separated us. By listening to my father’s voice, by picking it out of the crowd, I had won—something I had considered impossible just six minutes earlier. My coach called it my greatest victory. It was—not because I had won but because I knew my father’s voice and I knew that he believed in me.

Today the struggle is different and the stakes are higher, but the voices from the crowd still call out.

Each day we’re all engaged in a different type of struggle in an eternal arena. The voices from the crowd are still there, each telling us a different path to follow. But the key to success remains the same—learning to listen to the Father’s voice.

Inset photos by Grant Heaton