"Good parents are good teachers. Good parents are good coaches."
Paula Radcliffe is a marathon world record holder. She joined Nike Running Coach Cory Wharton-Malcolm on "Run with Paula," in the NRC app. During the 40-minute run, Paula shared her incredible story of how she trained to set the Women's World Marathon Record with a time of 2:15:25. One would assume that her story would include a rigorous training schedule; it did with details of the specific endurance tactics she used to build her strength and speed abilities in Colorado. Her story also included a series of personal setbacks, a string of top-five finishes in cross-country races before clinching the first-place spot. And like any champion, Paula also had to overcome injuries, including a surgery that sidelined her for almost a year.
What caught my attention was when Coach Cory asked her about her starting line. Typically, a runner describes the day of "their big run," the race that put them on the map in the sport. Radcliffe briefly paused then began to set the stage for the London Marathon, Coach Cory jumped in, assuming she was going to detail the 2003 race when Radcliffe set her last women's marathon world record. She corrected him. Her starting line was the 1983 London Marathon. She recalled watching Ingrid Kristiansen, one of the best female long-distance runners in the 80s, zoom past her as she stood in the crowd. Radcliffe related it a slow-motion fly-by, and at that moment, wanted to capture that feeling for herself.
Paula Radcliffe was blessed with the talent of running. She developed her skill for competition through her father, an amateur marathon runner. Radcliffe summarized her father's influence by saying, "good parents are good teachers. Good parents are good coaches." It was at that moment that my mind connected to Masonry. I had found my answer to the question of how Freemasonry makes good men, better!
Every summer, I pick up my ritual book to study a particular section of the work. This year I am examining the degree Charges. These are essential portions of our degrees that can sometimes be overlooked by the end of the evening. I reached out to Bro. Timothy Stockton (Evening Star Lodge #75 and Mount Zion #311) who has impressed me with his proficiency and mastery of the Charges. He summarized that the charges convey what to do with the esoteric aspects and teachings communicated through the ritual. Our conversation focused on how the Charges aid in making us a better man and parent.
An Entered Apprentice is a newly made Mason, still learning his footing in the Craft. The first degree centers around the individual's relationship with God. There are two versions of Charge in the Standard and Work of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. Both speak to the importance of obedience, not just in society, but also demand respect shown toward God. One of Bro. Stockton's favorite lines are grounded on our duty and debt as a Freemason and upright man to God. As a father of three young children, Bro. Stockton bids to impress that into the mind of his oldest son, Nate, who is eight-years-old. "It's an admonishment on how to behave. I try to convince my son how to act in a certain situation. For myself, I am reminded that I need to be an upright man, one who is patient with my children."
In the first degree, we learn the hierarchy of God, neighbors, and self. Bro. Stockton shared an interesting perspective; one lost on this father of teenagers. He related this idea to how children form their perception of leadership based on their home life. Children possess a natural curiosity to seek order in life. There was a smile in his voice when he spoke of the surprise his son displayed when he learned that Daddy has a boss, who has a boss... How the Charge mirrors the social structures that society follows.
My favorite Charge is in the second degree. In my jurisdiction, the Fellowcraft Charge has two versions. The first edition contains a moral which extends the lesson of the Point Within A Circle we are introduced to in the first degree. We are taught to be mindful of our personal contact with others. In our second version of the Charge, we are told to act peacefully among fellow Masons. As the first degree focuses on the individual, the Fellowcraft degree pertains to our relationships with others, including our Brothers. To them, we must be fair when judging their acts. I found myself pulling inspiration from this work when speaking with my son about one of his close friends he was at odds with.
While I may not completely understand the details of the situation, I can now see why my Dad would make a specific face when I shared my teenage drama. From what I could process, my thirteen-year-old son and his friend got into an argument while playing basketball that extended to a fallout when playing basketball online. I had to hold in my laughter when my son described his experience. It was easy for me to remember being a middle schooler who would "unfriend" a best friend over a stupid argument, only to be best friends again end of the week. I used this opportunity to teach my son why we accept apologies, the meaning of forgiveness, and acceptance.
When you re-read the Charges (again, there are two in my jurisdiction) in the Master Mason degree, how does the word respect, not come to mind? The teaching of this degree places the duty of being the best man, son, husband, or father on YOU. We also learn how we should view our place in life; we come last. That we, as individuals, are not what is important. Our focus should be on God first, then others. "I do that with my kids in terms of the prayers we make at the dinner table. God comes first, neighbors and loved ones come second, we are last - in that order. Those parallels connect the ritual to my everyday life," Bro. Stockton added.