Because I travel a lot and because I have longish hair and am relatively young, I often get into conversations with other young people, many of them strangers. When I met one in a restaurant recently and asked him what he was doing, he said, “My own thing.” When I asked about his family, he told me something that really shook me. “Parents are a drag,” he said. “They just pull you down and tell you off.”
I wondered why this guy and others like him felt so different about life than I do. Maybe the difference had something to do with the way I grew up.
Drew, Mississippi, my home town, is a beautiful little place with the greatest people on earth, but it’s still a town where a kid growing up needs help in making the right choices. I remember one time when I was 12 I found the concession stand at the ball park unlocked. I stuck my, hand in and pulled out several sodas and drank them.
I never thought about that being wrong, but when I got home and got caught, my mother disciplined me in a way I’ll never forget. It wasn’t a put-down but something to make me think.
“Only the foolish steal and cheat,” she said. “And if you do it again, you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life.”
My parents had other ways of giving advice. When I was 15, I weighed about 130 pounds and stood almost six feet tall. There was no other word to describe me except emaciated. And I developed a complex about it. I never took my shirt off in neighborhood basketball games, and nobody would ever catch me down at the swimming hole.
Because I wanted to be a football player more than anything, I got real hung up about being so skinny. I knew nobody as thin as I was would ever be used as anything—especially a pro quarterback. My dad, Buddy Manning, saw my problem and knew what a finicky eater I was. He didn’t browbeat me into eating, like I’d seen some other parents do. Instead he just told me calmly, “You better step a little closer to the dinner table or you’ll fall between the floor boards.”
I also understood him when he told me, “Nobody’s going to make you bigger except yourself,” and suggested I go out and find a job that would help build me up. That summer I went to work as a bricklayer’s assistant. I pulled mortar and hauled bricks from six in the morning until six at night. It was backbreaking work and there were moments when I kicked myself for ever letting my dad talk me into it. Yet by the time I was a sophomore at Ole Miss, I was almost as big as I am now—six feet four inches and 210 pounds.
My parents also had a way with me at report card time. They never paid me off for good grades or whipped me when I slipped. When I did bring home an “A” they were proud of me and said so. If I brought home something less, they didn’t jump on me; they just asked why I didn’t get an “A” and then I would suddenly know. Too much television or too much fooling around.
My folks would put me on the spot for an explanation, and in doing so there could be very few excuses the next time.
My mom and dad started taking me to church as a small boy and taught me what it meant to be a Christian. I was soon to need those teachings.
At the end of my sophomore year in college, my dad backslid some from his faith, ran into some tough personal problems and as a result took his own life. For a while I was thrown into deep depression. As a Christian, how could my father do such a thing, I asked over and over. But then it gradually came through to me that what I had learned about Christianity from my father had actually prepared me for this blow.
I knew that Christ alone was the perfect Man, that He died for us on the cross, that He forgives us for our mistakes and that His strength can offset our weaknesses. Soon I was able to see Christ’s love and forgiveness in this terrible personal tragedy.
I discovered that sometimes you have to suffer to really know how to depend on the Lord. God helped me accept new responsibilities to my mother and my sister Pam. I came out of the depression, I believe, with my faith stronger than ever.
Even as a football player I have felt my parents’ influence. They never pushed me into the sport but said if I was going to do it, to be the best I could. As a professional player, I’ve known times of discouragement. In my three years with the Saints we haven’t won many ball games.
There was a period last year when week after week we would get clobbered by lopsided scores. After one humiliating defeat I was talking to my mom on the telephone and jokingly mentioned that maybe I should have been a farmer instead of a quarterback.
She laughed and said, “Don’t tell me you’ve never learned anything in all those games you lost?”
I had to admit I had. I’d picked up a lot about defenses, formations, staying in the pocket—and most important, that strength can come out of adversity. I knew immediately when I hung up that she thought I was serious and she had come through with some motherly advice.
There were times when I doubted my parents’ wisdom and times when I couldn’t see their way of thinking. But mostly they have been proved right. My parents always put principles behind the things they said and set goals down in front of me—something my wife Olivia and I plan to do with our own kids.
And so I’ve learned that the Bible’s commandment to honor your father and mother has much more meaning than first meets the eye. It’s not just an order that has been set down. It’s been for my own good. By following those words, I’ve come through a lot of troubles and have had something solid to fall back upon.
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