The young need approval – even athletes who make millions of dollars a year.

August 08, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

It's way too early for me or anyone else to say anything that approaches the grandiose about the baseball managerial skills of William Nathaniel "Buck" Showalter as they pertain to the last-place Baltimore Orioles. But his arrival here, as well as the team's binge of winning last week, reminds me — and, I hope, you — of something that we too often overlook in the day-to-day conduct of life: The young need inspiration and approval, even athletes who make millions of dollars a year.

I admired the Orioles' two previous managers, Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel, and I had mixed feelings about the decision to replace Mr. Samuel. But Mr. Showalter has a record of accomplishment with the New York Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers. He has built and managed winning teams and teams that made playoffs. So he's been where the Orioles have not been in more than a decade and where young players such as Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have never been.

For that reason, Mr. Showalter could be the X factor in an Orioles renaissance, and that's not just wishful thinking. It comes from my observations and experiences and an understanding of what inspires all people — not just professional athletes — to do great things.

Whether we can admit it or not, all of us want to be inspired, and we want approval. It's not enough just to do what we do with our lives and take the paycheck. There has to be something more. Even the extravagantly self-motivated men and women — all the multitasking, overachieving Type A's among us — need a dose of inspiration and the approval of people they respect.

It's no indictment of your level of confidence or self-esteem to say you want and need that approval. What I'm talking about is something precious, something of profound meaning.

One of the great and sad facts of life is that, as time goes on, beloved relatives and friends die, among them our mentors, the men and women who showed us the way.

I sat in my car outside a funeral home on a rainy night 10 years ago and realized the man I was mourning, my first newspaper editor, had been one of a handful of grownups who took an interest in me, gave sage advice, and whose approval I coveted. These people, mentors all, had leaned on the outfield fences of my life to tell me how to play just about any ball that came my way. In that group were a half-dozen teachers, a football coach and, later, newspaper editors and fellow reporters.

I speak mostly of elders, people who had been around the block a few times, who had achieved personal and professional greatness. They were wise and thoughtful, generous and gracious. Their approval meant everything to me. So many are gone now, but their lessons remain.

Last month, Frederick Petrich died at 84. He had lived in Kingsville, north of Baltimore, and years ago I stood on his oriental carpet as he sat at a piano and tried to teach me to sing. He had an almost mystical way of helping people of all talent levels visualize their vocalizations, a way of conveying the physical concepts of singing so that the entire body, and not just the throat, was involved in making music.

Mr. Petrich did not make me a great singer, but I learned the fundamentals from him. He had more than 200 students over the years, many of whom have had careers in opera and the concert hall, and it's fair to say his approval of their performances probably meant more than the standing ovations some of them received.

Several of Mr. Petrich's students will gather for a memorial service next month in Baltimore to sing, as he had requested, the "Faure Requiem" and the "Inflammatus" from Rossini's Stabat Mater. I'm sure he'll be listening. We hope he'll approve.

In the 1990s, the American poet Robert Bly wrote and lectured extensively on concepts of manhood and male initiation rites. Some of what he said and did was ridiculed — usually by men who thought Mr. Bly's ideas were all too touchy-feely. But the poet was right about a lot of things, particularly the need for men to take an interest in boys, to inspire them to virtuous lives and to provide the approval they need as part of the passage to manhood.

While Mr. Bly was addressing men — and particularly men who had been violent or those who had grown up without an emotionally engaged father or any father at all — his admonitions hold for women, too. This idea of inspiration and approval crosses all genders, all classes, and all walks of life. Our daughters need this as much as our sons.

The last I heard from Mr. Bly, he was convinced that America suffered from a shortage of genuine grown-ups, and that the baby boom generation had generally shirked its responsibility to care and nurture its young in this way. He saw the boomers as way too self-absorbed, in a state of protracted adolescence, and not paying enough attention to our primary responsibility — our kids, and our neighbors' kids.

They want to be inspired. They want to learn from us. They want our approval. Just like those young Orioles.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundasy in the print editions and online, as well as Tuesdays online. He hosts Midday with Dan Rodricks on 88.1, WYPR-FM.

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