Parenting Lessons From Johnny Cash

by Mike Bederka
Originally Published: 

One of my favorite songs describes a boy who leads a rough-and-tumble existence thanks to “the meanest thing” his dad did before abandoning him and his mom. He named him Sue.

In the appropriately titled, “A Boy Named Sue,” written by Shel Silverstein and made a hit by the late and great Johnny Cash, Sue learns the hardships and grapples with the misfortunate of his unique moniker.

Some gal would giggle and I’d get red

And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,

I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue.”

Sue grows up tough and mean, moving around frequently to hide his embarrassment. Bloodlust keeps him motivated, and one day, Sue finally spies the “dirty, mangy dog” (aka his dad) at an old saloon. The reunion goes as well as you might expect.

My name is Sue! How do you do?

Now you’re gonna die!

They come together in a bloody battle, punching and kicking and throwing chairs. Someone loses a chunk of ear. The fight only pauses when they draw guns on each other and Dad smiles, offering the big reveal on why he named him Sue.

Son, this world is rough

And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough

And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along.

So I give ya that name and I said goodbye

I knew you’d have to get tough or die

And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.

Now with a better understanding of where he came from, Sue forgives his old man. And later, whenever Sue overcomes a tough obstacle in life, he thinks of his dad.

I’ve always been a huge Johnny Cash fan, but this song particularly resonates with me now. There are parenting lessons to be learned. My 6-year-old son (named Sam, not Sue) has just entered kindergarten—an event that brings me to a sorta, kinda similar situation to the dear old dad above. (Note: I’m not ditching my family, so please hold off on the hate email.)

You see, I’m a diehard New York Giants fan. I grew up in North Jersey in the ‘80s and ’90s, about 30 minutes away from where the football team plays. I have suffered through the dismal seasons and celebrated the four Super Bowls. However, for the past 15-ish years, I’ve lived in Philadelphia—Eagles country.

Philly probably gets an unfair reputation as a boorish city, especially with sports. (For instance, people are still bringing up a nearly 50-year-old incident of Eagles fans booing Santa Claus and pelting him snowballs.) That being said, I do hear my fair share of—let’s call them colorful—comments as I walk around the city wearing my Giants gear on game day.

But being a 37-year-old guy dressed in a division rival’s shirt, I’m ready for the (often funny) remarks and I can take it.

This is where I begin to worry about my son.

Sam is just at the age where he—and many of his young buddies—are starting to understand football, and when we watch it together on Sunday afternoons, he peppers me with questions. What does that yellow line mean on the screen? Who’s that team wearing red? How many points is a touchdown?

I love these moments, and they make the games even more enjoyable.

My dilemma is do I encourage him to be a Giants fan, so that way we can cheer together for Big Blue? But by doing this, am I leading him to a life of being “Sue”? Am I sending him down a path where his classmates and friends, most likely stout Eagles fans, give him a hard time six months out of the year? As a father, it would break my heart if something as silly as a rooting for a football team would alienate him from his peers.

But on the other side, as Sue’s father thought, aren’t I just toughening him up for a life that isn’t easy, where obstacles will be there whether one likes it or not?

All these issues will come to a head later this month as the two teams play each other on Monday Night Football, and I’m guessing there will be a good amount of chatter on the playground about the game.

Of course, all this worrying on my part will probably be for nothing. In typical free-spirited 6-year-old-kid fashion, he’ll likely make up his own mind of whom to clap and shout for–indifferent to my influence or jersey color. And that’s probably for the best.

He just better not like the Dallas Cowboys. Then, we’ll have a problem.

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