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Gregg Jennings: The Pinewood Derby Debacle

From Gregg Jennings for Fredericksburg Today

I could feel my anxiety level rising as the wood glue was bubbling up over each freshly laid Popsicle stick. He had entered the “Cub Scout” category and was looking to win for best blue and yellow themed car. On each Popsicle stick, he wrote one of the twelve words that make up the scout law.

A scout is “trustworthy.” Waves of wood glue.

A scout is “loyal.” Swells of yellowish goop.

A scout is “helpful.” Oh good God! Help this kid with his freaking glue skills.

After about half of the scout law had been plastered on, I really couldn’t take it anymore. “Clean! Remember that part of the very scout law that you are literally advertising on your car is that a scout is clean, this is the opposite of clean.”

If you are a dad, or a mom, perhaps you can relate. You’d think that I’d learned my lesson at this point in the pinewood process, but the weigh in was in 45 minutes and our car was sidelined with a tandem pit-crew that included an overzealous squeezer and an increasingly angry hypocrite.

As the Popsicle sticks were laid to rest on the top of the car, I got out the gorilla glue. You see, in the Pinewood Derby, each car is allowed to weigh at least five ounces. My job in this department was to glue quarters to the bottom of the car so that the weight, along with the graphite on the wheels and axle, will guide us to sweet victory.

Then came my moment of clarity.

The gorilla glue had gotten on the dining room table. The gorilla glue had gotten on my thumb and pointer finger, sticking them together. The graphite for the axel had fallen into the glue on the dining room table, and by trying to clean it up; I eternally smeared a six-inch swath of metallic glitter across the table. I was the terrible squeeze-happy gluer, not him!

With my shoulders relaxing, I fell into the chair and simply said, “Son, I’m sorry. This is your car and I got wrapped up in wanting it to look how I think it should look that I have lost my ever-loving mind these past twenty-minutes. I’ve complained about your inability to glue and look, here I’ve glued my fingers together. I’ve been overbearing and you don’t deserve that. This should be fun and I’ve taken all the fun out of it. Will you forgive me?”

In my Christian tradition, we practice public confession every Sunday as a part of our liturgy. We take a moment of silence to think of how we fall short in loving God and our neighbor, as we should. It’s in these moments of silence that I come face to face with my own inadequacies as a father, friend, and even as pastor.

The pinewood derby debacle this week reminds me of just how much our kids need to hear us say we are sorry when we crush their spirit and when we suck all the fun out of the day. Confession has the power to restore the relationship. The alternative is hiding, and we all know breakdown that occurs when we hide from one another.

We didn’t win any awards that day, we didn’t even win any races, well, not unless you count the race where we came in second when by chance, the car in the lead jumped the track at the finish line, allowing “Mr. Cub” to sheepishly take the win. No, we didn’t win anything from the derby, but I’m staring to see that winning the trust of my son through heartfelt confession and honesty is more important than any momentary glory from the crowd.

Gregg Jennings thinks Fredericksburg is a pretty great place to live and he wants everyone else to love it too. He’s a transplant from Missouri, which explains the St. Louis Cardinals support group at Common Ground, the church he has been pastoring for the past decade. An advocate for the homeless and a champion of our local breweries, he takes his faith serious, while trying not to take himself too seriously. He is a Dad, a Dylan fan, and a beard-grower.

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