William D. Parham, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor in the counseling program at LMU School of Education. His expertise in sport psychology, multicultural counseling, trauma counseling, and health psychology have made him widely known through his scholarship and conversations with domestic and international audiences. He is also director of mental health and wellness for the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). In a series of columns for LMU This Week, Parham shares his thoughts on a range of wellness topics.
For a father and his young 7-year-old daughter, spring was a favorite time of year. The truth be told, every season of the year provided abundant opportunities for the father and daughter to turn cherished moments into treasured memories. The windy days of spring in April, however, spawned extra smiles. Of all the activities they enjoyed together, flying kites was high on the list.
The father couldn’t wait to show his daughter the two new kites he bought for this year’s special occasion. His only wish was that his daughter would love the vivid colors and eye-catching tails. Reflections of last year when the daughter and her dad not only flew kites but won the kite flying competition, fueled the daughter’s unbridled anticipation of experiencing new magical moments.
Their neighborhood, where everyone came to fly kites, was situated on a hill with spectacular views of the city that seemed especially crystal clear and magnificent after a rainy day. The wind added a wonderfully fresh, crisp, and clean feeling of aliveness, which made the activities shared by family, friends, and a menagerie of participants much more awe-inspiring.
The father and daughter arrived for the windy day festivities not really phased by the extra chill in the air. The exhilaration of the moment, sprinkled with a bit of anticipatory anxiety about what was about to unfold, shifted their collective focus away from the cooler temperature. The kite flying contest was scheduled to take place in two hours, so the father and daughter found a spot on the bluff to spend time flying their new kites. The daughter absolutely loved her new kites and couldn’t wait to see them fly.
Once put together, the daughter selected the kite that had a lot of her favorite color, green, to fly first. The daughter, along with the assistance of her father succeeded in launching the kite up into the sky. The farther the kite went, the bigger the daughter’s smile. As the father watched joy and bliss radiating from his daughter, he could not help to recall a recent conversation with his daughter when her demeanor was in stark contrast to how she was feeling now.
Several weeks ago, the daughter came home from school crying and upset reporting that she experienced an encounter with two male classmates who said some very hurtful things. She had never been called the “N” word. The daughter let her dad know that she was afraid but mostly confused by the mean and unprovoked attack.
Further probing also surfaced that the daughter’s confusion was fueled partly by the reaction of the teacher in charge, who did nothing except dismiss the event by declaring that “boys will be boys!” The father remembers consoling his daughter, helping her to make sense of what had happened, and taking extra measures to assure that she knew that she did not cause those boys to say hurtful things or the teacher to do nothing. The father’s heart remained heavy even after his daughter seemed to calm down.
Returning to witnessing his daughter lost in complete satisfaction and gratitude, the father came closer to his daughter and asked her, “Sweetheart, if daddy placed you on top of that kite, so now you were flying high in the sky, how tall would daddy look?” The daughter thought for a moment, then asserted, “Daddy, you would look really small.” The father smiled and then asked his daughter a second question, saying, “Sweetheart, what if daddy kept putting out more string making you go higher and higher, how tall would daddy look?” Again, following a moment of reflection, the daughter responded with, “Daddy, you would look really, really tiny!”
The dad asked one final question. “Sweetheart, what would make dad look bigger?” Just before the father could acknowledge his daughter’s responses, the daughter blurted out, “Oh!” She quickly added, “Daddy, I now get what you want me to see.” With eyebrows raised and a hint of quiet anticipation about what his daughter was about to share, the father, in turn said, “Oh?” His 7-year-old-daughter, looking lovingly at her dad with her big brown eyes, then proudly affirmed, “Daddy, you want see that you can’t pull something down that is not already up!”
With tears welling up, hidden behind his sunglasses, the father gave his daughter a hug and tenderly added to her observation. Wanting his daughter to know that her observation was correct, the father, full of pride, said “You are right, sweetheart! You can’t pull something down that isn’t already up?’ The father added, “You are also very smart!”
The father went on to explain that when people see others flying high, sometimes they get jealous. When they get jealous, they want to tug on their ‘kite strings’ in hopes that they will pull them down. The father then asked his daughter to recall the situation at her school that happened several weeks ago when the two boys said hurtful things. “Sweetheart, you are smart, pretty, and everyone likes you so, you were flying high. The boys who made you sad, don’t have a lot of friends, and are always causing trouble at school so, did not like other people flying high when they were feeling like they were not. So, they pulled on your kite strings, used hurtful words, in hopes that you would come down to their level.” Contemplating what her father was saying, the daughter, with guarded reservation said, “I think I see what you want me to know.”
The father went on to invite his daughter to consider doing two things. He encouraged his daughter to always seek to find the heights at which she must be soaring for people to want to tug on your kite strings to pull you down. Always be your best with family, at school, friends, and later in life, with people you work with. “When you do all that,” said the father, “you will be flying high.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “always be aware that your success might trigger jealously in others. People who are not or don’t feel as successful do not like to be reminded of their real or perceived flaws and inadequacies. As a result, they protect themselves and the egos by making other people question who they are.”
The father also asked his daughter to consider praying for those people who want to hurt her, pull on her kite string, and bring her down. The daughter, caught off guard by this invitation, interrupted her father, respectfully asking, “What do you mean by pray for people who want to hurt me?” She added, “Why should I pray for people who do hurtful things?”
Understanding his daughter’s dilemma and attempting to comfort her, the father explained that “people who feel bad about themselves really want to feel good about themselves. When people feel bad and don’t like themselves, however, they often also feel like they do not know how to do or be better. As a result, because they can’t find their way up to people, they feel like they must bring people down to their level.” The dad offered what he hoped would be a clarifying message. He asked his daughter to “pray that people who feel badly about themselves find strength, courage, and resolve to discover ways to feel better that do not involve hurting other people.” The daughter replied, “I can do that daddy … that is easy to do.”
While the daughter was still flying the green kite, the father launched the second kite, with variations of blue throughout the design, and navigated it so that within a few minutes it was dancing in the wind alongside his daughter’s kite. As the father continued to be loose himself in the experience with his daughter, all while remaining amazed at seeing the two kites sway from left to right, and swirl up and down, all in perfect symmetry, he had one final recollection of a long-ago conversation he had with his mother regarding facing life challenges.
“She reminded me that life will provide many tests, some in ways I would not expect,” the father said. “She added that perseverance through the challenges will always allow you to turn your tests into your testimonies! Evidence of those prophetic words were seen as my gaze turned back to the ‘dancing kites’ wherein two observations became quite clear; kites fly their highest when they are going against the wind, and it is easier to adjust a kite than fight against the wind.” Until next time …