A Father’s Reflection on Spinning Footballs and Wilson Rawls

A Letter To My Son on the Magic of His Presence, Writing, and Where the Red Fern Grows

Dear Son,

It is Sunday morning. You are at your mom’s this weekend, so I miss having you around the house. Just your presence makes this place seem brighter. Even if I’m cleaning the kitchen or getting some work done, you bring a warmth to this home. It’s still a peaceful place when you’re gone — my timeout from the world — but when you’re here, it’s a home.

Reflective contemplation reminds me of the magical moments that create that home. Listening to you hum or sing softly in the background, happy and content. Walking in and seeing you curled up on the couch lost in a book, oblivious to the world around you. Hearing the soft claps as you toss the football and snatch it out of the air.

That constant spinning of the football up and down, as you walk around, is intriguing to watch. From fear of taking this from you, I don’t want to make you self-conscious. I’ll share this with you in the distant future, but often I watch your eyes as that spinning ball hangs in the air and I wonder what you’re thinking. It’s clearly your time of reflection.

Whether you’re imagining playing or thinking about football at all, I don’t know. But it’s clear the only anchor for your brain in this house at that time is your focus on the spinning football. Your eyes tell me your mind is far away from here. Something is being solved; curiosity is at work — exploring some concept or making sense of something you’ve noticed within this world. I will never know.

But it sure gives me a glimpse of magic as I watch this ever-growing mind at work. I am fascinated watching that brain find its own process. As I said, you’re doing far more than throwing the football to yourself. And I know this to be true when I see you mouth words to yourself. There’s a brainstorm of some topic going on as that football spirals up into the air, over and over.

Here’s a lesson I have come to find extremely valuable: don’t lose that brainstorm.

Whatever trip you take with your mind when you’re daydreaming — a term you know I resent because it suggests doing something less valuable with your time — make sure to record it. Write it down and capture it. It’s not worthless time spent if it’s not put to paper, but the value-added is extraordinary when it is written down. It’s beyond value; it’s priceless.

You never know what a wandering mind will bring back upon return. As I tell you, capturing your thoughts on paper distills an enormous mass of creativity into something tangible and organized. Clarity is enhanced.

What may come of it is beyond measure; incalculable. You never know what chain of events will unfold as a result of one magical idea or thought process. This practice — writing your thoughts, capturing them immediately — will give you a life experience far different from the ordinary, seemingly bland existence of the uninitiated and uninspired.

Another lesson I cannot forget to transfer from the hard drive between my ears to your own (and I hope you download and install it!):

This morning, as we had our morning phone call, I read Chapter Eleven. What a great book! I fell in love with Where the Red Fern Grows when I was a kid; now I get to experience the magic all over again as I watch you take it in for the first time. That book is pure captivation.

And we discussed why — or at least, my perspective on it. Each paragraph is a short story. The author, Wilson Rawls, tells a small micro-story within each paragraph. Sometimes, he will use two or three paragraphs, but most micro-stories are told within three to five sentences. As we discussed further, those micro-stories fall into a timeline of events that, when added together, form a larger story and a new chapter is born.

You write to take the picture in your brain and recreate that picture in the brain of another person. The words you choose have to be ingested easily. And you cannot recreate your mental picture if you lose your reader’s attention.

You want your words to be absorbed without difficulty. You don’t want the reader to have to decipher your words — because most simply won’t. They’ll tune out. Without their attention, they will catch only broken pieces, impossible to properly assemble.

Where the Red Fern Grows captures you with every sentence. With every micro-story, there is a greater understanding within the reader. This understanding leads to a feeling of accomplishment with each micro-story. Both continued understanding and the thrill of accomplishment leads to the absorption of the chapter.

With every chapter, there’s a massive, growing investment of emotion in the reader. The picture is created. The words are no longer simply read but absorbed with fascination. The book becomes a nonstop journey full of emotion, connection and interspersed with accomplishments. That, in my opinion, is what makes Wilson Rawls a master.

Your imagination is amazing, my son. Writing is the tool that will simply recreate that imagination outside of your own brain. In fact, the greatest speakers I know — whether they are casual speakers or public performers — almost always find their clarity first through writing.

Write it all down first — before you lose it, then go back and make it tasty. Work your words into sentences that are ingested easily. Work your paragraphs into micro-stories that are digested with a sense of accomplishment. And build those paragraphs into chapters that make the reader escape into your imagination.

Whether you write a book, an essay, a speech or a joke, some version of this will be true. Until you find your own way, this is a good approach to take. And how did we learn it? By reading other’s writing, noticing how well we absorbed it, and writing down what we learned.

Once again, I have learned here as I have taught. This is yet another fascination of parenthood.

I love you son. I’m off for a run and I cannot wait to see you tomorrow.


Proud father. Voracious reader. Trial lawyer. True believer & defender of the Constitution. Lifelong runner. Hopeless romantic.

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