One of the first mentoring sessions that I can remember having from my father included his deliberate efforts to “teach” me how to mow our lawn – certainly a basic and practical skill set that he knew would be useful to me in life. Along with most of the lessons inherently learned from both of my parents, I have subsequently used Cliff Burnett’s method of cutting grass at the various stages throughout my entire life. And with most always excellent results too, I must admit here in hindsight.
These skill set lessons were applicable to learning most anything and largely taught based upon his already having established prior successful experience accomplishing a particular task.
Often he would not say anything verbally to me. He would do the task as I watched, then I would repeat the task the same way that he had done it successfully. I later found out that this process was and still is common, and many people today still learn to do many things this way – particularly within my own Black American culture.
He and my mother divorced not long after I’d completed 9th grade so those lessons ended after that. I have often wished that my own progeny could have interacted with him too. Perhaps they would understand me better in addition to being better themselves from having the experience.
Clifford LeRoy Burnett was born on Sunday, July 5th in 1925 and was a World War II veteran (Navy Sea Bees) who later served in the US Air Force – Greatest Generation. He served just over 19 years on active duty and had reserve time between when his Navy service ended in 1945 and he reenlisted in the Air Force in the late 1950s. Dad used to proudly exclaim that he was “the seventh son of a seventh son.” Subsequently with the advent of Ancestry.com, our family tree validates that indeed he was “the seventh son of a seventh son.”
Dad was also genuinely enthusiastic about life despite growing up through the Great Depression, segregation, and military service during a world war. Although he was a man of relatively few words, he still was a positive person and encouraging most of the time that I can recall. He was a great athlete in his youth and although he was over 30 by the time I was born, Dad was still a fine athlete when I came of age to appreciate such things although he was in his 40s by then.
He only lost his temper with me once that I recall. I was a teenager. I wasn’t listening to his advice as much as I once did because I had begun to have my own ideas and experiences.
Dad was also coaching me to be a baseball pitcher during that period of our life together. I just knew that I was not a baseball pitcher. Dad was a great baseball pitcher in his youth.
I was a fast runner and better suited to be a baseball outfielder. I could throw pretty hard but never had the control to be a baseball pitcher. My younger brother Donnie was the baseball pitcher among us. I liked playing centerfield.
I was also a saxophone player and wanted to do that with my time more than anything else by then. And although Dad was proud of my musical pursuits and appreciated my dedication, he felt I should still be well rounded and developed in other areas too. He was right, of course.
I recall from one occasion that I questioned him as to why I had to stand a certain way and go through the specific motions he was teaching me in order to successfully throw the baseball into the old tire used as a target on the back of the old garage.
Dad said to trust him because he already knew doing it that way was most efficient. I debated the fact that I could already throw the ball all of the way from centerfield to home plate and hit the catcher’s mitt – high or low, wherever it was placed. Dad said that was a different skill.
He must have seen the doubt in my eyes. For the first time in my life I had debated something my father was teaching me. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a growing up thing. He just cocked his head.
Dad said, “okay do it your way and hit the strike zone target, then.” I threw from my normal stance and was not able to consistently throw strikes. I would have walked in a run, or two, or three, or four had I been pitching in a real game.
He must have seen the puzzled look on my teenaged face and yet, I still verbally protested the validity of my own way of throwing the ball out of ego and ignorance. Just like most kids would.
Dad silently shook his head in what seemed to be disgust, picked up the baseball and proceeded to throw strike after strike into the exact middle of the tire target. He threw the ball so hard that it bounced directly back to his mitt for the repeated throws. And I had never seen anyone in real life throw a baseball with the velocity with which he threw the ball. He always hit dead center.
Dad could see that I was a bit shaken by such a display of power that I had never witnessed from him before in my life. He calmed me with his big grin and said to trust what he shared with me.
I learned a big lesson that day, as I usually did during my interactions with Dad. I told him as much and how impressed I was with what he had just done. He said for me not to be impressed.
He simply said, “Son, I have thrown lots of baseballs before just now. You have only thrown a few by comparison. I should be this good at it. You will get the same type of experience and practice at something. Just like I have shoes twice as old as you are that I still wear. Old is often good.”
He said if we keep trying, we all usually keep getting better with time.
Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 at Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs based in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.