I love playing chess. It is fun solving a puzzle that reacts to each move you make. You have to consider at each move what it could mean three or four moves later. Just because you can take a piece doesn’t mean you should and just because you like a certain piece doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice it.
To truly play the game well you must learn the delicate balance of give and take. You must recognize that if you want to win the war you can’t fight every battle. You wait for the right ones and win those.
That is the life skill lesson in the game of chess that I hope they learn as we play this game together. Pick the right battles, the battles you must win, and give them your time and energy liberally.
I’ll be honest, away from the chess board, I am not always that good about this. I pick a lot of pointless battles to fight, because I can. Often times even though I win the battle, I have set myself up for significant losses in the aftermath.
As a father I am realizing that my kids are all too aware of this. While in hindsight I am able to see the flaws in my choice of battle, my boys don’t necessarily see me make that realization. Often their take-a-way is that their father fights all the battles he can.
When I am playing chess with them we talk about the moves, we discuss the games afterwards, what we did well, what we did not-so-well and we learn from the experience. When they see me concerned about always proving that I am right we never get to have the conversation about why I spoke up in one situation and not in another. We don’t get to have the conversation about what makes an issue important to me and how to identify them.
One of these days, sooner than I am ready for it, they are going to start beating me in our little chess contests. As much as I hate to lose, that will be a very proud day for me. My boys will move from students of the game to equal contestants. Playing the game will be filled with new challenge and meaning for us.
More importantly though one day they will need to start picking the battles they need to fight in their own lives. Hopefully when that day comes I will have provided the example they need so that they can pick more of the right ones to invest their time into and let the trivial ones go.
(This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project )