Advice on raising children is easy to find. And mothers with new babies are met with all kinds. Sometimes helpful and often unsolicited, these mommies must grin with sleep-deprived lips and nod appreciatively at the barrage of must do’s and shouldn’t ever’s that pepper them like buckshot on Opening Day. However, for mommies of little boys no sentences are heard more often than “boys are SO easy” and, “boys just LOVE their mamas!”
Google “Raising Boys” and there are no fewer than a dozen books and twice as many articles pointing you down the right path to raising boys. From the whimsical nod to the obvious differences of body parts, to the more in-depth attention to his emotional needs, chances are you can find whatever pearls of wisdom you seek to help navigate these athletic sock filled waters. Kids are a lot of things, but none are ever easy. It isn’t written in scripture that all boys will love and respect their mothers more than anyone else. All children – be it boy or girl – will push you to the brink of insanity as they fight to find their own path in life. And a child will bond differently with each parent, without regard to gender.
But easy or not, mother loving or not, everyone can agree that boys and girls are, in fact, different. Gender roles are a hard line of non-negotiable laws that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. On instinct, parents will immediately start to set those roles in place. Beginning with a blue or green nursery, clad with sports themed accessories, gender neutral is hardly a thought. Newborn gowns will retire to the keepsake box more quickly and first toys are typically a car or ball. Chances are most of your days will be spent digging for worms instead of hosting a tea party and more than likely he will choose pirates over princesses and sports in lieu of sonnets.
Even if your boy isn’t the outdoor type, his quiet time will display what our society deems to be masculine qualities. But is this the “stuff” that matters? When your little boy is all grown up and has moved on to begin his own life, what exactly is he prepared for? And how do you prepare him for it?
If you are serious about seeking advice on raising boys, why not ask a mother who has won the proverbial lottery of golden boys. The epitome of all we aspire for in our young men, NFL standout (and hometown wunderkind), Justin Snow is handsome, has a beautiful family, a charitable heart, a sense of community, a master’s degree, AND a Super Bowl Ring. Search the Internet for Justin and you won’t find any scandalous stories or salacious photos. You will only find his statistics from past seasons and his charitable work in his own community and hometown. Who is the woman who raised this man? How did she achieve such greatness? And why hasn’t she written a playbook for the rest of us to follow?
The office of the President of First Abilene Federal Credit Union isn’t located where you’d expect. Perched up front, just east of the main entrance, is an office encased in glass where Faye Smith tackles her daily business. That’s right, she runs one of Abilene’s oldest and most prestigious credit unions from the first fishbowl on the right. And she’s good at it. With the gentle hum and pace of a productive office staff, the feeling of essential purpose is palpable in the air. No idle chatting is overheard and no water cooler gossip can be seen. When asked how she keeps everyone on task and focused on the work, she says bluntly: “we’re busy.” Faye is a fascinating woman and dedicated community leader. After moving to Abilene in 1977, she began her banking career at First State Bank in 1981 in the Financial Management Department. She then moved to Olney Savings in 1984. In 1989 she took the position as the President/CEO of First Abilene Federal Credit Union, where she has been ever since. Faye serves on the Board of Directors for Day Nursery of Abilene as vice-chairman, the Noah Project as treasurer and the West Texas Rehabilitation Center Foundation Board. But most importantly, she’s an extraordinary mom to not just one, but three outstanding men.
Faye began with, “some people are born caregivers and others are born needing to be taken care of.” Within minutes of visiting with her it is clear to see to which category she belongs. Her nurturing demeanor is evident and with kind eyes and a soulful smile, her warmth and compassion are infectious. She exuberates a calming peace that will immediately put the most anxious at ease. But do not be fooled. She isn’t some syrupy sweet grandma you’re about to steal butterscotch candies from. She’s a hard-working woman who means business. Don’t be surprised if halfway through your conversation you catch yourself saying a few more “yes, ma’ams,” working a little harder and trying to be just a bit better than you did before you met her.
Born in Stephenville to Oral Ray and Maxlee Ravenscraft, Faye’s childhood wasn’t easy but her grandparents, Ralph and Ruby Helms, nurtured her. It is to their support and encouragement, especially her grandmother’s, that Faye gives all of her credit for where she is today. While still in Stephenville, Faye married William Floyd Snow in March of 1967. In 1968 they welcomed their first son, Troy, then Brian (1973) and finally Justin (1976) to follow. By 1978 Faye was divorced and living in Abilene with her three young sons. Faye’s life still wasn’t easy, but she had a firm grasp on what was most important: her three boys. Troy, the obedient, happy first-born child and Justin, the proclaimed “Dennis the Menace” baby who wreaked havoc on everything he was a part of. And that left Brian in the middle, and Brian had cerebral palsy. Born just two months before the monitor now standard in every labor and delivery used to detect fetal distress was made available, there was no way of knowing that the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck. What today would have been a cesarean section to deliver a healthy baby, back then changed everyone’s life forever. By September of 1981 Faye married Dale Smith, her partner and the love of her life, to whom she is happily married today. Their union brought with it a balance in the gender dynamic (and a wink to the Brady Bunch) by way of Dale’s two daughters, Jenny and Haley. Troy is married and is co-owner of Lonestar Star Land Services in Weatherford, Texas, and has four kids of his own. In addition to playing professional football, Justin owns his own company, Snapperz, and lives in Carmel, Indiana, with his wife and three children. Jenny Hamar works for Ideal Homes and lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with her husband and one son. Haley Copher lives in Abilene with her young son and daughter and works for Dr. Whitney Mascorro. Brian passed away in February of 1998.
When asked specifically, “How do you raise boys successfully?” Faye initially didn’t have a direct response. What she had a lot of, though, was memories. There were happy memories of sports, family vacations and dinners spent together around the table. Tearful memories of Brian shared with the pain that only a mother who has lost a child can understand and serious memories of adolescent boys and their willful disobedience and combativeness. But they were all there. Cherished times recounted and laid out as if she knew how important they would become from the moment they happened. Like the time Justin’s babysitter quit mid-shift, after finding Justin in the bathtub cracking eggs over her own daughter’s head. And don’t forget those Little League days with Troy at the plate and Justin shagging home run balls to the concession stand for a free snow cone. Stories of peaceful days spent fishing with Brian on point watching the cork, ready to alert everyone when there was a fish on the line segued into stories of more trying times of Troy’s readiness to do things his own way, as teenagers often do and into the heartache of losing Brian. When asked separately, the universal favorite for each of them was a camping trip to New Mexico. Camping with three boys and Dale’s two daughters in a small pop up hardly seems like valued time off. Add to that one of the boys was in a wheel chair and a constant rainstorm had them trapped in the trailer, playing monopoly and eating meals from a small crock-pot, and you’d have Mother Theresa herself running to the nearest Holiday Inn. When it was pointed out that it in fact sounded miserable, Faye laughed and said, “Oh I am sure I was a wreck! But looking back, it’s one of my favorites!” In the middle of raising children, this vacation seems like the story you tell as a warning to any other family wanting to follow in your path. But now told with such joy and fondness, it’s hard not to see the lesson in the metaphor. As a family, you are stuck together. It is this togetherness as a family that nurtures your spirit and makes you great. And even though it is raining outside and your only time apart is a potty break, these are the cherished days that carry you a lifetime.
The Stuff That Matters
When Troy and Justin started playing football, Faye wasn’t concerned if they would win a Super Bowl ring. What she did care about was that they work hard. If you have signed up for something, you are committed one hundred percent. And committed one hundred percent meant that you practiced until you got it right and you worked harder than the next guy. By her own admission, Faye was strict. Standards were set high and school given top priority. She said, “I expected my boys to make A’s and B’s. If they got a C, they had to sit out of sports. If you don’t believe me, ask Justin!” Chores were a must for Faye. In addition to scholastic excellence, they were required to be helpful and contributing at home. She said, “It was my job to make certain that they would be ready to live independently without anyone’s help.” That meant an education to find work to financially support themselves and the ability to take care of a home. Whether washing clothes or dishes, mowing the yard or tidying their room, the boys were taught to take good care of their home and possessions. Whether on the field, in the classroom or at home, she insisted that her sons did their absolute best every day. But she didn’t just put it all on them. Faye put her money where her mouth was and set the same standard for herself. In order to get Brian up and dressed, then Troy and Justin ready and off to school and finally get herself ready for work, her day started at 5:00 a.m. Her seventeen plus hour days were spent as full time CEO, wife and mother. And according to Troy and Justin, every day she gave them all one hundred percent. In all the years of sports and activities, Faye has never missed one event her sons were a part of. Justin corrected that statement by saying that the only time she missed one of Troy’s games and one of his own, they both were injured. Whether part superstition or all commitment, Faye was there. She tells one story about a game when Troy was at Eastern New Mexico and she had a scheduling conflict. So in order to make Troy’s game and be back in Abilene for a prior commitment, she had to charter a plane and fly there and back in the same day. Her comment was confirmed with a smile and a nod, “Sure. Because it was important to you.” Her reply hit like a freight train: “No. Because it was important to him.” And there it was. The advice that had been sought out from the beginning: you do what’s important TO them and FOR them. What’s important to them or for them isn’t always favorable or indulgent. It’s what’s necessary to help them become prosperous, independent adults. Faye taught her boys through instruction and by example the stuff that really matters: Get up early. Work hard for yourself and for your family. Competition is a good thing. Support yourself and those you love. And let others help you when you need it.
Justin said, “My mom made me the man I am today, but Brian defines all that I stand for.” Faye states “Brian shaped our family into what it is today.” And when choosing a date to be married, Troy chose Brian’s birthday. There was no doubt that Brian Snow was a cherished son and brother, revered by his family. To be closer to the West Texas Rehabilitation Center, he was the reason they moved to Abilene. That Master’s Degree previously mentioned? Justin chose Speech Pathology because of the life-changing work he had seen at the Rehab with Brian and the difference he wanted to make in someone else’s life. Justin also returns home each year for his “Special Teamers” football camp. With the help of the West Texas Rehab and countless volunteers, he spends the day playing football with handicapped and disabled young people, free of charge. There’s something about watching families with a handicapped loved one who just seem to “get it.” Maybe it’s what the rest of us take for granted: the precious gift of life, unfiltered joy, or maybe just real patience. Faye, Troy and Justin didn’t treat Brian differently because he was handicapped. They treat each other differently because Brian showed them what mattered. And there is your proverbial jackpot of golden boys: sons who see the good in human kind, respect one another and pass that on to their children.
A Word to the Wise
The last time Faye was with her family, all 24 of them, it was Christmas last year at their lake house in Eastland. She said it was one of the best times of her life. Everyone sat around the table, playing games and once again shared memories. She added, “As I see Troy and Justin as parents to their children, I see their commitments to be involved in their daily activities. They attend every school function. They attend church every Sunday and make sure their children say their prayers at night. They know their children’s friends and parents and make sure that they have the same values. And when their children sign up for a sport, they make certain they are committed one hundred percent.” The apple doesn’t seem to fall too far from the tree. Faye added, “I want mothers to never give up when they face the challenges of being a mother and a wife. Nothing in life makes you more proud than when you receive a compliment about your children. Mothers have an impact on their children and what you teach them will help them as adults and as a parent. I have a wonderful family and a supportive husband. Abilene has been good to me and I want to give back to my community.” No really. Why hasn’t she written a playbook for the rest of us?