I met a friend for lunch recently, and after catching up on other things, our discussion turned to his oldest son.

He and his wife have three boys, the oldest a senior in high school. When I asked where the senior planned to attend college, my friend gave me a perplexed look.

The son, as it turned out, hadn’t wanted to talk about college for years, and then he suddenly blurted out a month ago that he intended to attend the University of Texas in Austin.

Great, dad said, except for one thing: The son is so far from the top 10 percent of his class that he can’t see those kids even with binoculars. Which means, for those of you without children and unfamiliar with the state’s top 10 percent rule for college admissions, that there’s not a snowball’s chance of his son enrolling in UT next fall.

My friend questioned his efforts over the years to motivate his son to do better in school; he had pushed and prodded, he said, but his son kept pushing back. Maybe, my friend says now, he should have pushed harder, disregarding the whining from a son who had the skills to do better – and now wishes he had.

After all, we decided, our lives are testaments to a push someone gave us – whether we wanted or appreciated it.

For my friend, the route to becoming a CPA was paved by a teacher who forced him to see an alternative when his dreams of the NBA disappeared with a torn ACL. For me, it was a college roommate who literally dragged me to Dallas for an interview with the Morning News, even though I had never given Texas a thought at the time.

There are plenty of others who impact our lives every day: parents, friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors. For better or worse, we wouldn’t be where we are without their pushes.

Most of the time, these people typically never know the impact they have; they push, we push back, and we move on without a word of thanks.

I don’t know if my friend should have pushed his son harder or if it would have made a difference; that’s a tough question he still can’t answer. But as I sit down for a feast or two this holiday season, I don’t intend to stop after giving thanks for family and food and health.

I’m also going to give thanks for the people who pushed me forward even as I pushed back. What they did made a difference, even though they never knew. And maybe someday, someone else will say the same of me.


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