Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Trophy: An Essay About My Dad & Fatherhood

Note: My friend Mark wrote a book about his dad and asked me to write the Foreword. I was honored to do so, and with his permission, I’ve included an adaptation of it here. As a new dad myself, I’m learning why it’s important — and hard — to be a dad.

Photo credit: Julie Rybarczyk

Somewhere, buried deep beneath stacks of comic books and other remnants of my childhood, is a trophy.

It’s old and wooden but in good shape. On the top stands a small figure made of brass. He’s playing soccer.

There are dark brown stripes along the sides of the trophy and decorations on the front. The whole thing is maybe 18 inches tall.

Near the base is a small placard. Somehow, over the years, it has never fallen off. There is an engraving, which reads:

Most Improved Player

I played soccer for only a few years. For most of my childhood I was a nonathletic kid whose only claim to fame was a spelling bee medal. I was chubby and sensitive and shy around girls. I didn’t get many awards.

The trophy

For two seasons when I was in elementary school, my dad coached our boys’ soccer team. I couldn’t run from one end of the field to the other without getting winded, so I played defense.

Dad, who had grown up playing baseball and football, never mentioned it, never called me fat.

Instead, he taught me to use my body weight to my advantage. If you don’t use your hands, I learned, you can get away with a lot in soccer. My dad taught me to aggressively “nudge” my opponents out of the way to get the ball.

At the end of the year, he gave me the trophy.

Later, I learned the county soccer association didn’t hand out trophies that year. I discovered there was a store near the mall that let you swap figures on old trophies — like a bowler for a soccer player, for example.

But I didn’t learn this for many years — not until around the same time I was old enough to understand that our cocker spaniel Jessi hadn’t “run away.”

A sweet silence

When my dad handed me the award, we exchanged no words. None were necessary. The trophy said it all: Well done. For years, it would sit on my shelf, resting near a window, easily seen by passersby.

My dad had a special way of telling me he was proud of me. How he did it was as significant as that he did it — always in a way that was honest.

If my placard had said, “Team’s Best Player,” I wouldn’t have believed it. I was smart; that would’ve been insulting. But I could handle “most improved.”

And he could’ve put a number of variations on it. Instead, he stamped the trophy with three important letters: J K G. They were my initials: Jeffery Keith Goins. But they were also his initials. No sign of “junior”” appeared anywhere.

As far as the trophy was concerned, there was no distinction between my father and me. No wonder I never got rid of it.

From boy to man

As the years went by and I grew from a boy to a man, my relationship with my father ebbed and flowed with the patterns and conflicts of life. As all sons do, I eventually came to see my father as a man, a flawed human being — the last thing we want our dads to be.

For a season, I let this lead to disillusion. But now, whenever tempted to be disappointed, I recall that trophy. And I remind myself that most dads do the best they know how.

The relationship a man has with his father is unlike any other — which really is just a euphemism for “weird.”

The role of these men is to raise us. They teach us how to build a shelf and fix a toilet. They model strength and resolve for us. They train us up in honor and integrity and how to ask a girl to the prom. And sometimes they don’t.

Either way, we grow to admire and even fear them, to hold them to an ideal that likely would mortify them if they knew it.

There is a mystery to our fathers, a piece of these men that we never know. Through their silence, they teach us. And this is part of the legacy our fathers leave us, if we will recognize it.

The fatherlessness in us all

There are some sons and daughters who grow up with fathers, and some who do not. Most of us, I’ve found, are in both groups. We had a dad, but not completely. Or, we grew up in a broken home, but others stepped in to fill the father gap.

Either way, we are forced to maneuver the chaos of puberty, college, and careers seemingly on our own, but not entirely.

The struggle may cause us to grow bitter, even cast blame on our dads for not being there when we needed them most. Or, the opposite may be true: We become frustrated because they never empowered us, never let us fail. Whatever the case, we are dissatisfied.

This is how all journeys begin — in search of something lost or something never found. As with most journeys, this one leads us back to where we started: back to awkward dinner conversations and pregnant pauses on the telephone. Back home.

Most men I know (and maybe most women) are asking a question their fathers didn’t answer:

Am I good enough? Do you love me? Why did you do this?

Some spend their entire lives agonizing over the answers. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized there were questions my dad simply could not answer, even if he wanted to — and others he already had, in his own way.

About this book

Some say that the best kind of book is the one that reads you. I disagree. The best kind is the one where you and the author finish the story together. This book is like that.

Maybe it will recall painful memories of a broken home or an abusive situation. Maybe it will help you regain a redemptive experience you forgot.

Maybe it will stir up an unanswered question in you, like it did me, one that you realize has been staring you in the face for years — in a box underneath a few comic books with a plaque that even time couldn’t wash away.

Somehow, I talked Mark into making this book FREE on Amazon this week. You can download it now through Saturday (offer ends at midnight) for Kindle. It’s one of the best books on fatherhood I’ve ever read. I hope you have a chance to read it and be changed. Get it here.

What’s a “trophy” moment like this that you’ve had with your dad or a father figure? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • If your story is an indication of what to expect in this book, I’m sold! Love this Jeff. I wrote a whole series on my blog about the importance of fathers to children. 

    I just downloaded Mark’s book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • It’s better. Thanks, Tony. Hope you like it!

  • What a great story about your dad and the trophy, Jeff. Shows all of us how one loving gesture towards our child can have such a deep and lasting impact. 

  • Beautiful, Jeff.  My dad and I didn’t have the “typical” affectionate daughter/dad relationship.  He  was from the generation where a dad showed his love by being strict and providing for his family.   But somehow, I just always knew he deeply loved me.  And when my life fell apart in my 20s he was there to help me and to catch me.   And about 3 months ago, he had stroke and is still paralyzed and bed ridden.  He’s always been there for me (even if it wasn’t in the perect fairy tale way)  and I will be there for him.  

    • Thanks, Eileen. Appreciate you sharing your story.

    • Mark Almand

      Hi Eileen, I appreciate what you’re saying about how complex our relationships with our dads can be. For many of us, these three things somehow coexist in our dads: Strictness, provision, and love. It is good that you were able to “hear” the third one!

  • Don

    I am currently reading Mark’s book now and I agree with you that “it is one of the best books about fatherhood..” I also loved your forward and your story. Thank you for your writings and for your advertising of Mark’s book.

    • Thanks, Don. Glad you’re liking it!

  • My dad passed away when I was 10 so I don’t have many stories like this to share but I enjoy reading others. I raised my two sons (grown now) as a single mother and my brother stepped in taking on many of the father son moments. I love to read these stories and share them with my sons now just to encourage them when they have children of their own.

    • So sorry to hear, Keiki. Sounds like you did the best you could, and I hope sure your boys appreciate it.

    • Mark Almand

      Keiki! Single parents are the unsung heroes of today’s society. God bless you for your sacrifices.

      I don’t know where you get those 30-hour days.

      •  30 hour days! I remember them. And, though I wouldn’t have chose that situation, those years provided adventures for me and the kids I would not never have known.  Hard times, beautiful memories.

      • I also remember the years of sitting on the bleachers when my dad coached them in Little League. There are reasons the movie Field of Dreamsmoves many to inconsolable sobs. https://ExcitementStarts.blogspot.com

  • Jeffery Keith Goins — You certainly crank out some poetic prose.  A beautifully-written adaptation of the Foreword.

    I will certainly grab a copy of Mark’s book.  As a father, I need all the help I can get.


    • Thanks, Michael. 🙂

    • Marka

      All three of my kids are out of the house, and I STILL need all the help I can get, Keith! I think the hardest thing for me re kids has always been letting go. But it’s necessary for them and for us.

      I hope you enjoy the book.

      • Mark Almand

        Ack. Sorry, *Michael*.

        •  No worries about the Keith vs. Michael thing.  : – )

  • I was lucky enough to have a lot of those moments, especially at the end of my dad’s life. Here’s a snip from my own work-in-progress describing one of those moments. The full post is here: https://wp.me/p2ajcN-63

    He had slept in his recliner in the living room almost the whole day I was interviewing (the people who were to be his daytime caregivers), fading in and out, at one point waking and asking me what he was doing in the library. I told him he wasn’t in the library; he was in his home, his living room. He looked around, wide-eyed, and asked “This is MY house?” I said yes, it’s yours, you and Mom bought it fifteen years ago. “Oooh”, he said. I said, “Dad, do you know who I am?” He looked me straight in the eye and said “Oh, you’re Claudia”, as if I were insane to ask him such a question. When it was time for me to leave, he argued that he wanted to walk me to the bus. I told him I took the train now, and the station was a mile away, and I could walk it myself—it was a beautiful day. I knew that if he came along to walk with me, he would never find his way back home.
    He said okay then, just call me when you get home. I held his face in my hands and said “I love you”. He said “I love you too” (which was not his usual answer—he usually responded with a spritely “Me too!”).
    And then I walked away, looking back at him over my shoulder, as he stood next to his open front door waving to me and watching me go. That was the last time I saw him.

    • Beautiful. I’m glad you had this moment, Claudia. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mark Almand

      Nice restraint in your prose, Caludia.

      • Mark Almand

        Make that “Claudia”! 🙂

  • Grabbed a copy as well!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • awesome, James! I think you’ll enjoy it!

  • Beautifully written, and poignant….I would say my ‘Trophy moment’ with my stepdad was the day he told me he knew I would make it in nursing if I was willing to get up at 5am and cycle 8 miles through wind and rain to the hospital for work…hahaha! That was him being proud of me. Though he said he didn’t care what I did so long as I threw myself into it with enthusiasm…

    • awesome. I love how quirky our dads can be sometimes.

  • Jeff, this story is stunning in its beauty and truth. A few years back my husband started handing out trophies each year to our four daughters. They don’t sit on a shelf but on paper. Each year he writes them a letter reminding them of God’s work in our family and noting His gifts in their lives. He’s making a lasting imprint. It’s honestly my favorite gift given or received any given year.

    • thanks, Shannon!

      • Jeff, you inspired me to write about the letter writing so tomorrow I’m going to and link back to this post. 🙂

    • Mark Almand

      What a great idea from your husband, Shannon!

      • He got the idea from the book “Letters From Dad”. He really likes it and would recommend it if you want to read it. 🙂

        • Mark Almand

          I will do that. Thanks, Shannon!

  • This isn’t my father-son moment but I’m proud to call one of these men, “Daddy.”


  • Dezur Kenna

    This is just beautiful, Jeff. Thanks for sharing and for alerting us to the free download opportunity for Mark’s book. I will take advantage.
    My Dad, also named Mark, isn’t around any longer. But he’s certainly still a major influence on my life. I didn’t enjoy a single ‘trophy moment’ as much as a full on ‘life path awards program.’  By delightful coincidence, I happened to blog about it just this week in my post entitled MR SMITH GOES TO HIGH SCHOOL. Everyone’s invited! http://www.ripeproject.com 

  • I love this Jeff! My dad did something similar for me when I was five or six… It was about the time that kids were starting to get ribbons and trophies for park & rec sports leagues and track meets. I too lacked my dad’s athleticism, so he found something I was good at instead. He took my younger brother and I on a fishing trip and then gave us small medals after we got home. Mine was for catching the biggest fish. My younger brother’s was for catching the most. I must have worn that medal around for a week. It’s amazing how powerfully a father can communicate a sense of self-worth to his children. As always, thanks for sharing your story! 

    • Mark Almand

      Your dad sounds brilliant, Jer!

  • Sue

    This all bought tears to my eyes. I’m 44 and all my life my father has compared me to my sister. If things have gone badly for her it’s bad luck but in my case I’ve done something wrong. If I’ve achieved anything, in his eyes she’s done it better. Treasure your dads those if you that have ‘good’ ones as they give you help without you knowing it x

    • Mark Almand

      Dads, if you doubt your power to shape your kids, read this post.

      Sue, I pray for God to heal. Amen

  • Mark Almand

    Hi Jeff,

    Many, many thanks for talking me into making Claude’s Canvas free this week. Your logic was sound: Many people seem moved by the book, and we both would like to see it in as many hands as possible. Thanks too for being such a steady proponent from the earliest drafts. You’re a good friend.

    I hope your blog readers enjoy CC!


  • That’s a beautiful story, Jeff. As someone who is very close to their father this post really hits home. I’ve downloaded your friend’s book, can’t wait to read it!

  • Jen

    I saw from a young age how flawed and human my parents both were. I wish I had been given longer to feel safe and secure and loved. But that wasn’t possible for our family. Looking though at the questions you write – Am I good enough? Do you love me? – I realize that my parents’ weakness allowed me to grasp onto God at a young age. To look to Him to be my rock and safe place. To find my identity in my relationship with Him instead of the family I lived with day to day. And for that I am ever thankful.

    • Glad to hear you’re able to process your experience redemptively, Jen.

  • Lis

    Wow.  This definitely made me tear up.  What an amazing little snippet (about the trophy).

  • That’s a terrific story and a touching “dad moment”.  It’s very touching and a very savvy parenting move that left a lasting impression.  I’m sure he did it for your own feeling of self-worth and didn’t realize that years later it would help you value him even more.

    My dad went through a phase where he expressed himself through quotes from Rocky movies.  I’d always thought it was him being goofy but I’ve come to realize that it’s just the easiest way for him to express himself.  Here’s some of his mottoes which are deeper than they may sound!https://wp.me/p2ioO1-12Here's something I wrote about how I’m relating with my own kids.  I’m trying to create good memories of me as a person.  https://wp.me/p2ioO1-9u

  • Mary

    Well I had a feeling before I started and I was right–this made me cry. I lost my dad to cancer 3 years ago. He was 66. Since that time I’ve realized just what you said, he did the best he knew how. Funny, but that realization has brought me a lot of peace. Thanks for this, Jeff. I also bought the book & will purchase a new box of tissues before I start. God Bless

    • Mark Almand

      Mary, we have some things in common. I hope Claude’s Canvas ministers to you. If you want to follow up afterward, email me at mark@claudescanvas.com — or post something here.

  • Loretta Soto

    I enjoyed reading your time with your father.

    I was a child that both of my parents had left each other; My mother she was
    the one who had taken the part of both parents.
    But!  At that time I was the oldest of my three sisters.
    As weeks went by I ended up being a mother to my sisters.
    I never gave up; I would care for them and cook for them and
    do all the things that a mother would do.
    I was at the age of eleven.

    I do remember getting in touch with my father and he enjoyed
    fishing and camping.
    One day he took me out on his big boat and we would go way
    out into the ocean.

    We would pack a lunch and have cold drinks in our coolers.
    We had the fisher men rods; and I reeled out mine.
    Then fifteen minutes later; there was something big on my line.
    My father said don’t let go I will help you reel it in.

    He took his hand and placed it on top of mine and helped
    me bring it in.
    Wow! What a catch He said! It was a baby blue shark.
    It was the most beautiful fish I had ever seen; all but his teeth.
    My father and I said well we better let him go.
    So that is what we did.

    But that was the best time I had with my father; and with him
    telling me that was a great catch you got.
    Meant alot to me.

  • Very touching introduction.  I was (am) so lucky.  My father worked very hard while I was growing up and wasn’t home often.  But I only know that because my mother tells me this now.  I only remember him showing up when it was important.  Particularly at my track meets when I’d scan the crowd for him.  And there he was.  Always.  Disheveled from running across the parking lot.  I realized later in life that not all kids have that dad, and I thank God every night for the parents I have.  
    Thanks for the free book offer; I can’t wait to read it!

  • I’m smack dab in the middle of watching my husband and teenage son attempting to navigate things that sometimes seem impossible. Engineer father,  musician son. Enough said, am I right? And yet God in his infinite wisdom put these two men together in the same family, giving them the opportunity to live out the reality of the gospel.

    Just another one of those things that seems impossible.

    I watched my brothers and my dad wrestle through some angry awkward phases. I also remember the years of sitting on the bleachers when my dad coached them in Little League. There are reasons the movie Field of Dreams moves many to inconsolable sobs.

    • Indeed. Thanks for sharing, Nancy. My dad and I went to Field of Dreams years ago. It was our only father-son vacation.

  • LemRosales

    I used to be a papa’s kid, and my father used to be my most favorite person in the world. But for some reason, as I grow up, those feelings have gradually changed. I even get to be repulsive of him sometimes. Maybe because I’m now well aware of his shortcomings and flaws, or perhaps it’s just the way it goes. But even still, I always like to remember the old days when my dad was the best man in the world…

    • Thanks for sharing, Lem. I think this is typical and natural; however, it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. There’s something cool that can happen when we as adults choose to accept our fathers (not as dads only, but as men), faults and all. In a word, it’s beautiful.

  • Sarah

    I can’t think of just one moment. My dad’s always been there for me, loving me and offering advice but encouraging me to make my own decisions. Several years ago he and my mom adopted my niece and nephew. They aren’t even technically his blood grandchildren, but he has always loved and cared for them as his own.

  • bradblackman

    Merlin Mann did a great job writing about his dad’s death, and his own daughter here: https://www.43folders.com/2011/04/22/cranking His little girl is about a year older than mine, so it hits home for me.

  • Fortunately my father was always around for us kids. For that I am eternally grateful. Awesome post and I hope you find  what you’re looking for. Keep up the great work on this blog!

  • You couldn’t have said this more perfectly:  “There is a mystery to our fathers, a piece of these men that we never know. Through their silence, they teach us.”
    That’s so true. Describes my dad perfectly. He’s taught me so much with little words. 

    I’m half-way through this book, but it’s been hard to read since my dad is terminal with pancreatic cancer. But, reading it has made me face some feelings that I’ve been avoiding. Writers should know how much value their stories have, whether it makes a difference in the lives of 5 readers or 10,000.

    • Mark

      Hi Denise, if I could offer one piece of advice during this difficult time: When faced with a decision to do or not do something related to your dad, ask yourself which choice you’re likely to regret in ten years. Then, do the other.

      That served me well, and I pray it will you too.

      Best wishes.


  • Jeff, out of the 150 plus emails I’ve deleted without opening this week, this is one I saved and just read. 

    Last Sunday, August 26, my daddy left his earth suit behind to be with his mama, brother and Jesus in Heaven.

    Got a copy of the book. Will be reading it soon. Thanks.

  • He’s not really gone

    Over and over I repeat the words

    They’re not true

    Nurse, do something, Doctor, do something

    Somebody do something

    He’s not really gone

    Lord, just one more day, one more hour

    One more minute to say “I love you” one more time

    At home, the first thing I see is your shirt on the arm of the couch

    I clutch your walking stick and weep

    He’s not really gone

    You’ll be home later in the morning

    It’ll be time for Mama to fix your eggs and make sure you take your vitamins

    Tonight we’ll have a Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Big Valley marathon

    Then I’ll fix your computer and explain Facebook again

    This weekend you’ll play your guitar and sing for the nursing home residents

    You’ll sing the song you wrote, “Tell Mama her boy is coming home.”

    He’s not really gone

    I see him that final time before they take his earthly body away

    I touch him, touch my heart and I know

    He’s right here with me forever

    Thank You, Lord Jesus, He’s not really gone

  • Guest

      He’s not really gone

    Over and over I repeat the words

    They’re not true

    Nurse, do something, Doctor, do something

    Somebody do something

    He’s not really gone

    Lord, just one more day, one more hour

    One more minute to say “I love you” one more time

    At home, the first thing I see is your shirt on the arm of the couch

    I clutch your walking stick and weep

    He’s not really gone

    You’ll be home later in the morning

    It’ll be time for Mama to fix your eggs and make sure you take your vitamins

    Tonight we’ll have a Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Big Valley marathon

    Then I’ll fix your computer and explain Facebook again

    This weekend you’ll play your guitar and sing for the nursing home residents

    You’ll sing the song you wrote, “Tell Mama her boy is coming home.”

    He’s not really gone

    I see him that final time before they take his earthly body away

    I touch him, touch my heart and I know

    He’s right here with me forever

    Thank You, Lord Jesus, He’s not really gone