This past weekend my oldest son competed in his second collegiate debate tournament, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals before getting eliminated.
I am so stinkin’ proud!
You might be thinking to yourself:
“Quarterfinals?! It’s not like he actually won or anything … he just made it to the top eight. I don’t understand why are you so excited.”
Well, let me tell you…
That boy of mine has been giving speeches since he was quite young. But he had never debated at all until last spring. Now, six months later, he is competing with the college debate team at Louisiana College. I can’t help but think that’s pretty impressive.
However, I have to admit that just having the ability to debate impresses me.
To begin with, debating is a skill. One must learn how to logically present a case, while being able to strategically point out the flaws and fallacies of their opponent’s position. This takes lots of practice to hone and develop. I suppose I could learn debating techniques and tactics, but the truth is that I don’t want to learn. You see, debating stresses me out.
Debate feels a lot like arguing, which is not something I enjoy at all. Maybe if I had more experience, I would begin to feel comfortable engaging in friendly debates. But for the most part, I try to keep my life free of debates, whether it’s with strangers on social media, my friends in real life, or with my family and loved ones.
Let’s just say, I avoid debates at all cost.
Although there was that one time I purposefully debated Nate the Great.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This is my younger son Nathan.
We sometimes call him Nate.
Nate rhymes with debate. I should have thought about this when I was naming him. I regret to say that I didn’t even consider it. Not even once. Never even crossed my mind.
You see, he may look like an easy-going California Beach Boy with his blonde hair and blue eyes , but this kid loves to engage others in what can only be described as informal debates. He is so skilled at debating, that unsuspecting people (like me) don’t even realize a debate has started until you are already talking in a voice that’s a bit too loud and a tad too high.
In fact, the greatest debate I ever participated in was against Nate the Great. Yes, the same cute kid pictured above. Hard to believe, but it is 100% true. I’ll gladly tell you the tale, but allow me to begin by sharing the moral of my story:
Don’t ever let a cute boy with dimples woo you into a debate!
Chances are, it won’t end well.
Back when I was a single mom, I often entertained my children on long car rides with music. We loved to sing along to lots of oldies, and some of our favorite songs were from the 60’s.
On one such trip, Joel (who was about 9 years old), and Julia (who was approximately 6 years old) were singing loudly with me to one of our favorites songs: When I’m 64 by The Beatles.
Nathan (age 8) was not singing.
As the song ended, Nathan said in a very cranky voice, “That song made no sense.”
“Sure it does,” I said. “But even if it didn’t make sense, it is still a fun sing along song.”
“Momma … Have you ever really listened to the words?”
Let me step out of my story for just a moment. If you aren’t familiar with this particular Beatles song, you might want to take a listen by clicking on the photo below. It isn’t necessary to enjoy the rest of the story, but it might be helpful. Besides, it’s a fun song to know. You can listen if you like … takes about 2 1/2 minutes. My story will be ready to continue below once you return.
I started singing (off-key): “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”
Nathan glared. “You see? That’s ridiculous! Of course, she will still need him. But he might as well face it. She will NOT be feeding him anymore by then.”
“I guess I don’t understand, Nate. Why can’t she feed him anymore?”
Nathan gave me a look of disbelief. “Well, mom,” he sighed. “She will be very old by then and most old people have shaky hands. I bet she would drop food everywhere if she tried feed him! Besides, he just said he was 64. Most people who are 64 can definitely feed themselves. He should at least be able to make a sandwich or something!”
I chuckled. “Nathan, it’s not talking about spoon-feeding, like you would a baby. It’s just talking about cooking meals and eating together at the table. I’m positive a wife will continue to do those things for her husband, even when he is 64.”
“His wife?!” Nathan sounded incredulous. “He’s not singing about his wife! This song is definitely about his mother.”
Now it was my turn to feel stunned. I stared at Nathan briefly, before turning my eyes back to the road and my driving. Trying to focus on the task at hand and keep up my end of the debate was harder than I expected. “Um … no. You are wrong, Nathan. It’s about a girlfriend or a wife. The man is wondering if they will still be together many years from now, when they are both old and gray. He wants to know if they will get married and live their lives together, which is why he is singing, ‘Will you still need me, when I’m 64?’.”
I thought the argument would end there, but Nathan was not about to give up.
He shook his head vigorously and said, “Nah… Girls think about getting married, but guys try NOT to think about weddings! That’s how come I know for sure he is singing to his mother. He is asking his mom if she will still love him and want him to be home even when he is all grown up. That’s the kind of thing boys think about!”
I felt like I was in a quandary. To continue talking to this child would be nothing more than participating in a silly argument. Perhaps I should just drop it. But that would almost as if I were admitting to my son that he was right. And I definitely didn’t want to do that!
My mind whirred. What if I engaged him further in this debate by logically proving to him that he was wrong? Yes, that was the ticket! If I could get Nathan to see the fallacy of his own thinking, then he would have to admit that I was right.
“Nate,” I ventured cautiously. “How about instead of us arguing, we listen to the song again … only this time we will both pay close attention to the words. I can pause the CD every few lines so that we can talk about the words together. I bet in the end we will both be able to agree on exactly who this man is singing to. Are you willing to listen one more time?”
Nathan paused for a moment, considering my proposition. “Okay, I will listen with you,” he finally said. Then he took a deep breath and finished his thoughts. “But I already know he is singing to his mother.”
For a moment, I considered just letting the kid win the debate … but then I changed my mind and said, “Just try to listen with an open mind … okay, Nathan?”
I restarted the song and the bouncy tune began:
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
I paused the cd. “See, Nathan … right there, the singer says he wants to know if she will still be sending him a valentine. That definitely something that a girlfriend or wife would do, and not a mother. Valentines are exchanged by people who are in love, not between mothers and sons.”
“Well … YOU gave Me a valentine this year.” Nathan pointed at me first, and then at himself for added emphasis.
“Yes, well that’s different. You aren’t old enough to have a girlfriend or a wife. Lots of mothers and fathers give their children small gifts on Valentine’s Day, but once their kids are all grown they don’t usually do that anymore. For example, this past year I only got a gift from Mr. Jon. He’s my boyfriend. We are dating. My parents didn’t give me a Valentine’s gift. That’s because I am all grown up now. Understand?
“Yes, I do. And that’s exactly how come I know this singer is asking his mom about Valentine’s gifts. He doesn’t want to ever get married, but he still wants to get Valentine candy. So he is just making sure he understands what to expect. If his mother stops sending him Valentine gifts, then he will have to buy that stuff for himself.” There was a small pause, and then Nathan continued, “By the way, I’m not getting married either, so I hope you will keep on getting me Valentine gifts too.”
I sighed and restarted the cd.
Will you still need me, Will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
You’ll be older too.
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I stopped the cd again.
“Did you hear that, Nathan? He is telling his girlfriend that he will stay with her if she would like for him to stay. It’s another way of telling her he would like to get married.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Nate said, with a grunt.
I sighed. “Okay, Nathan. Tell me what you heard.”
“He said that when he is 64, his mother will be even older. Everyone knows really old people need someone to stay with them. So he is offering to stay with his mother when she is old. All she has to do is ask. I think that’s a great thing for a son to do for his mother!”
I had to laugh. “I agree with you on that one point, Nathan. It would be a great thing for a son to do for his mom. However, I’m still thinking he is singing to his girlfriend.”
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You could knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
I reached out and paused the cd again.
“Sounds like two people who are married to me! Mending things around the house, gardening, hanging out together, going for long drives … “
“Sounds like boring stuff to me! That’s definitely not the kind of thing married people do together!”
Stifling a laugh, I said, “So Nathan, what exactly do you think married people do together?”
“Not that sort of thing! No man is going to want to go for a long car ride with their wife. If I were married and wanted to take a car ride, I’d go by myself so that I wouldn’t have to talk. I could listen to my own music and drive really fast without anyone telling me to slow down.”
I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought I saw him give his big blue eyes a slight roll.
“I’m not sure you have a good concept of marriage yet, Nathan. You are still a bit young to really understand it. You see, it’s not about doing exciting things together all the time. It’s really just about sharing life and being with each other … even when you are just doing boring things. Besides, a son really isn’t going to want to do things like sit next to his mother while she knits a sweater.”
Nathan harrumphed. “I probably know more than you think. For one thing, his mother is old now. She can’t get up on ladders to change light bulbs. Her son is 64 and that’s pretty old, but he can still climb a ladder. He wants to be there to help his mother. That’s why he told her he would do things for her, like plant her a garden.” He stopped for a minute, as if collecting his thought. Then he continued, “Of course, it could be that he likes vegetables and he knows if he plants them his mother will cook them for him to eat. I think he’s just a really nice son who wants to take care of his mother.” Nathan sat for a second in thoughtful silence. Then he said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t understand why he is so worried about whether or not she will feed him …”
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave
“There! There! You see, Nathan … grandchildren! The singer is saying he wants to get married to his girlfriend, and then someday they will have grandchildren together!” I felt sure that this point would win the debate!
However, one glance over at Nate told me he wasn’t accepting this as the final answer either. Sure enough, Nathan spoke up, “He’s talking about his children … which are also his mother’s grandchildren.”
“But I thought you said he wasn’t getting married.”
“I didn’t say that. I said he didn’t want to get married. Sometimes guys don’t want to get married, but then it happens anyway because some girl tricks him into falling in love. He just knows that if he ends up getting married, then he will probably have children, too.”
I sighed loudly and started the cd once again.
Send me a postcard
Drop me a line
Nathan suddenly reached out and stopped the cd. “Postcards!” he said triumphantly. “Only moms send postcards. Girlfriends write love letters.”
“My mother has never sent me a postcard.”
Without skipping a beat, Nathan retorted, “My mother hasn’t either.”
Give me your answer, fill in the form
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
With that, I reached out and fast-forwarded to the next song on the cd.
“Why did you do that?” Nathan asked. “That song wasn’t even over yet … and I thought you really liked it.”
“Suddenly, Nathan, I don’t like it nearly as much.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
No doubt about it. I lost my debate with Nate.
But it wasn’t all bad. I learned an important lesson about intentionally starting a debate with a naturally argumentative person over a very minor issue: Basically, don’t do it!
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. ~Titus 3:9
Yet the Bible doesn’t say never enter into a debate. In fact, it says the exact opposite. We should always be prepared for a debate regarding our faith!
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. ~1 Peter 3: 15-16
It just matters how we go about the debate. When we focus on listening to the other person, on responding to their thoughts instead of trying to “win” the argument, and when we remain humble and speak from a place of love … well, that’s what debate is all about.
I’m not like Nathan. I don’t think debate is fun, and I probably never will. But I can follow my son Joel’s lead and learn how to debate. Because while debating isn’t pleasurable, it’s not evil either. And who knows where it might lead …
You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. ~Matthew 10:18
In my case, the Great Nate Debate didn’t take me to any wonderful places. But it did give me one of my favorite parenting stories to tell. And truthfully, I can’t wait until the day Nathan’s children come to visit me and I can tell them all about the time their Daddy debated me over the meaning of a silly Beatles song.