I don’t have a son — at least, not that I know of (I apologize for the obligatory clichéd joke of every fun-loving man in the world). And, barring some Abraham-esque miracle (or a mental lapse in Vegas), I never will.
But this week, I experienced something similar to what a father must feel when he sees his son do something special.
Many of you regular readers will remember a young man from Vicksburg whose story I’ve shared. Michael Parson grew up in the projects, but he wasn’t destined to stay there. No, he was determined to make something of himself, and he did. Michael was the equipment manager for the Warren Central football team while Murph and I were teaming up to put out the sports section for The Vicksburg Post.
Michael was one of our “stringers” — people who get paid by the story, usually for covering games. That role quickly evolved into him coming to the office on weekends — particularly on hectic football Friday nights — and helping us take calls and write roundups for 20 or so teams. We all had to write our game stories and get in as many of those outlying teams as possible in about two hours. It was wild.
Michael always saw what needed to be done, then jumped right in and did it. But the Friday night I’ll never forget was right after his graduation. After getting his diploma and tossing his cap, he didn’t go party with his classmates. He came to help us get the paper out.
It’s just the way he was built. He had a sense of responsibility that many 50-year-olds don’t have, much less teenagers. Because of that, Warren Central coach Robert Morgan recommended Michael for a scholarship to Mississippi State as an equipment manager. Jackie Sherrill gave scholarships to all three of Morgan’s sons as players, so he took his word on Michael, too.
And he didn’t disappoint. Besides his duties as equipment manager, Michael became like a personal assistant to Sherrill. He flew on the private jet with him. He even took his Escalade to Texas a few times to take care of things at Sherrill’s home.
In the mid-’90s, when Michael was at Warren Central, that team had Dandy Dozens such as Brian Darden and Thad Bridges, and super-talented stars Kevin Prentiss, James Williams and many others. But only one of the Vikings from that era wound up with a career in the NFL – Michael Parson.
Michael is now the head equipment manager for the Houston Texans. It’s a position he earned after getting opportunities to do internships with pro teams during the summers he was at MSU. Wherever he went, people wanted to hire him.
Last week, when Texans owner Bob McNair died, Michael posted this: “(F)rom the day I interviewed in 2008, Mr. McNair has always treated me with respect. I am grateful that he gave me an opportunity to become Director of Equipment for his organization. I’m only the second African-American to currently hold this position. He gave me a chance over people with a lot more experience. My prayers to his wife and family. RIP RCM.”
It’s no surprise Michael wound up with the job. He’s always been an exemplary employee, whether he was helping us on a Friday night or fixing a helmet chinstrap on the fly so a player didn’t miss more than one snap. Everywhere he went, he caught the attention of people in leadership positions.
While he was still at MSU, President George H.W. Bush came to visit his friend Rep. Sonny Montgomery for a game in 2000. The Secret Service, of course, had to check the areas the president was going to be. Michael escorted them wherever they needed to go, clearing out players and other people if he needed to so the Secret Service could do their `job. By the end of the day, the head of the president’s protective detail handed Michael a card and said, “Come see me if you want a job.”
And that brings me to the thing that gave me such a sense of pride this week. After President Bush died, Michael posted a photo of himself and both Bush presidents on the sidelines of a Texans game with the simple message “RIP 41.” It gave me chills. I was instantly taken back to Vicksburg, thinking of all those nights he stayed and helped, and how we knew it would pay off for him one day.
Then to see little Michael with two of the most powerful men in the country … Well, it was a reminder that hard work can pay off and good things can happen for good people who do things right. It was the same feeling I had seeing him yucking it up with Texans’ superstar J.J Watt on a Papa John’s commercial earlier this year, or seeing him getting a handshake/man-hug from Jay-Z as he left the stage.
The father-like pride I feel isn’t because I had anything to do with Michael’s success. I didn’t. Murph and I both took him home and picked him up all of the time, but he came to us with that unusual sense of responsibility and work ethic. That was instilled in him by his mother Ernestine. He paid tribute to her in a recent birthday post: “She taught us to work hard for everything because nothing is given. She didn’t accept self-pity. All of my good characteristics come from her. Happy Birthday Mom!”
You can also learn a little bit about Michael with the post he made after Alabama starter-turned-backup QB Jalen Hurts scored the game-winning touchdown for his team in the SEC Championship: “Don’t pout and wait for your opportunity and when you get it...capitalize! Great lesson for this generation.”
Another famous Texas governor once famously said that George W. Bush was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Maybe he was destined for greatness. But Michael is proof that it doesn’t matter what you’re born with. You can still be successful. No excuses.
Mark Thornton is chief of the Leader-Call. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.