Thumbprints and Smudges

Thumbprints and Smudges

Thumbprints and Smudges

A Conversation Between a father and his son


Jeff Twibell

I love my children very, very much. They are my everything and I would do anything for them. I was very lucky to have good parents. Not everyone was as fortunate as I and it was not until I was much older (and had children of my own) when I fully realized how good I had it growing up…and more importantly…the impressions they made upon me as a future parent. While they were not perfect by any stretch, (no parent is) they fulfilled the most sacred role of a parent…to create, nurture, and inspire three productive, empathetic, and contributing adults to society.

 With my oldest now in her first year of college, and my youngest in his first year of high school, I find my conversations with them have changed dramatically. Long gone are the days of talking about Harry Potter and Marvel Superheroes (something I miss dearly) and instead have turned to how I can help them to piece together what it means to be an adult, how to face a world flooded with intrusive social media and negativity, and now to navigate relationships in a world where people say a lot without saying much of anything.

 The other day on the way to my son’s baseball game he asked, “Dad…why do you do so much stuff all the time?” to which I replied, “Well, it takes a lot of time and work hard to enjoy the lifestyle we have.” He looked at me funny and said, “Not that Dad…I am talking about all the other stuff you do. Like the Fraternity stuff, announcing high school football games, working on the baseball field, coaching, fundraiser auctions, and more. I don’t see most of the other parents do all that.” An interesting question for sure and I had to take a moment to think about my response.

 As I thought about it for a moment, I realized the answer to his question is quite complex for me. The easy answer is my parents were overly involved people that were always the first to raise their hands to help at the schools we attended, coached whatever sports we played, and were the ones to help design and create sets and costumes for the theater productions we performed in. It was just something they did and without fail when something needed to get done…Steve and Kathy Twibell were there ready to help make it happen. Modeling after my parents was a completely reasonable answer, but if I were completely authentic with myself, that is not my “why”.

I then said to Matthew, “Well…I guess it’s because I want to leave a thumbprint wherever I go, and in whatever I do.” Matthew gave me another funny look and asked what I meant by that.

The next thirty minutes during an otherwise innocuous 45-minute drive to his game became one of our more thoughtful and meaningful conversations as a father and son.

I went on to say that everyone is motivated by different things. Some are motivated by being appreciated, others are motivated by money, and many (especially in today’s world) are motivated by gaining influence or visibility. I am motivated to make a difference in the world, one thumbprint at a time. That difference can be sweeping and vast or taking just a few moments to make a small difference in the life of someone I will never meet…but I yearn to leave something behind that will stand the test of time whether those that benefit will ever know my name or not.

Why do I call it a thumbprint? Because thumbprints are not always obvious. They are subtle yet potentially substantial marks. Thumbprints can be left on overt projects like leading the charge to renovate a baseball field for the local Little League knowing my son was never going to play on that field after going to high school. Thumbprints are coaching young players the right way…focused on their development as a player and more importantly their development as people by teaching them how to better communicate, how to be empathetic and supportive, how to think “team first”, and to help them believe in themselves. Thumbprints are mentoring generations of young adults in my Fraternity when mentors for young men and few and far between. Thumbprints can take so many forms…and while all may not change the world…they may change the world to someone. As one of my mentors once taught me, “Even tossing small rocks in a large pond creates ripples that reach the water’s edge”.

Matthew took a few moments to internalize and then asked, “That is all great, but what do you get out of it?” “Well, when I drive by that Little League field, I see young players enjoying a safe place to grow as players and future adults. I see my thumbprint and it makes me happy” I replied. “When I see players I coached for years play high school baseball and see them mentoring and picking up the spirits a young freshman not playing their best…I see my thumbprint and that makes me happy. When I reconnect with a former undergraduate brother who struggled in college but is now successful in his career and has a beautiful young family…I see my thumbprint and that makes me happy. Others may not notice…but I know my thumbprints are present and leaving those behind gives me purpose.”

I then warned Matthew of those that leave “smudges”. Smudges have equal weight and impact of thumbprints…but serve to achieve the opposite effect. We have all seen the impact of smudges. Smudges bring people down, grind much needed efforts and projects to a halt, and create chaos and meaningless dissention. The sad part about smudges is that those that leave them behind may never know they are doing so fueled by insecurities and negative emotions manifest into influence and action. They come in so many forms and are unfortunately so very real and damaging. We see them every day at work, at home, and on the street. They are the haters and trolls on social media. They are the silent killer of authentic friendships, personal dreams, and community aspirations.

Matthew said, “I see what you mean about smudges…there are a lot of kids at school that leave smudges everywhere they go.”

“So what can you do about that?” I replied.

“I guess I need to leave more thumbprints.” Matthew said.

“That’s right buddy.” I said with a smile, “That’s right.”

When it’s all said and done…my most important thumbprints I could ever leave behind are my two children and nothing would give me more joy and contentment than that. To me, thumbprints are just one way to live Simpatico. To find friends, hone happiness, and live life to the fullest for the betterment of others.

How do you change the world for the better? One thumbprint at a time. 

Mucho Love…

Back to blog

1 comment

Just absolutely beautiful Jeff. What a legacy of authenticity speaking life’s truths. Well done.

Eric Hansen

Leave a comment