I remember once, when I was young, going over to a friend’s house to play Nintendo (specifically, we were playing BattleToads… that doesn’t matter, though) and seeing his dad’s stereo. I didn’t really notice it until my friend mentioned that BattleToads would sound much cooler through those giant speakers — but that he wasn’t allowed to turn them on. With my attention drawn to the equipment, it occurred to me that we weren’t really using any of it. The TV was on, and the Nintendo was on, but the shiny silver receiver, with its knobs and dials, the speakers, the cassette player… all sat idle.
It seemed silly to me at the time that we couldn’t use all that cool stuff, but I wasn’t seeing those components for what they really were. I saw appliances. What they actually were was trophies.
Trophies of a time when my friend’s dad was young, and cool and rocking out to music with his buddies, or having movie nights with stereo sound(!) right in his own home. We weren’t allowed to touch those things, not because they weren’t useful, but because we couldn’t appreciate them — and, if heaven forbid, we had broken them, no one on earth could have replaced them. Not, at least, replaced what they stood for…
I think most guys have trophies. It’s not always a stereo; sometimes it’s a jersey, or a snowboard, books, or a poster, or an action figure. Sometimes its even an actual trophy. These aren’t bad things: they remind us of who we were, and how we got to who we are now. They are monuments to challenges conquered, memories cherished, or friends we had before we all grew up and assumed the mantle of responsibility. They represent accomplishments, and give us confidence of dragons once slain, mountains once climbed, and the hubris we had when we were young enough to think we could change the world.
My trophies are technology. The best kind is the technology that was better than the mainstream, but didn’t quite last. LaserDiscs and MiniDiscs, HD-DVDs. Computers, like the original Macintosh or Newton, that were only popular with a select few who were intelligent enough to understand their purpose before anyone else did. Video game systems are great cause they represent a million memories packed into their brief lifetime of existence before being supplanted by something else. And like many dad’s before me, I keep these trophies safe from the inquiring hands and mouths of my kids, who couldn’t possibly understand what these things represent. I keep them in my man cave, entrance to which is by invitation only.
The funny thing about kids, though, is that they become sort of constant monuments. As they inquire, and grab, and break and explore… they grow. And in a glance they reflect both the things you were, and the things you hope for. I see in my son’s eyes the same untamable curiosity that devoured three decades of technology and led me to the job I have now… and suddenly I’d sacrifice all of my trophies, if it would give him more and better chances to learn about the world, and find who God made him to be.
Last month I started a project to sell off three shelves worth of trophies. I got a promotion at work, and it came with a little coaching: I need to work on my executive presence. Reading between the lines, its time to grow up. I got pretty far being just a geek who loves to take things apart and put them back together. But as my career matures, so must my communication and bearing. $500 worth of old video game stuff sold on eBay goes a long way to furnishing a more “executive” wardrobe.
This weekend we started a project to clean out the man cave and turn a portion of it into a play area for the kids. Our little house is bursting at the seams, and the toys and legos and books that my kids need to grow are rapidly expanding into parts of the house that used to be mine. There are few better illustrations of “death to self” than watching the things you treasured as representing who you are, get thrown out or donated to make room for Dora the Explorer books, and big bins of Lego.
I still have a few treasures — and I hope to always have a few, so one day my grandkids can dig through them and learn just a little bit about what life was like when I was young. But my joy doesn’t come from these trinkets and toys of my youth. It comes from watching and helping Ben, Abi and Eli discover for themselves the wonders and memories and challenges that God has in store for them. And in exchange for that blessing, I’ll happily hand over even the rarest of Star Wars Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Sets… after I’ve watched them with my son, that is!