The Georgia Bulldogs are playing for the 2018 National Championship! Our house is coming unglued!
I’m not going to lie. I’m a Dawgs fan. I haven’t been able to help being a Dawgs fan my whole life. I love everything red and black. Sometimes I’m not so subtle about it!
I had two older teenage brothers who played football in high school when I was just a wee wad. Their school colors were also red and black. My mom made me a size 3T cheerleading outfit to wear to the games. We had several family members who graduated from Georgia. Meanwhile, Lindsay Scott (the guy who caught the TD pass from UGA QB Buck Belue to win the 1980 Championship) was from my parents’ hometown. Yeah, you could say that our house was a Dawgs house.
Of course for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved music. I vividly remember sneaking down to my oldest brother’s room in the basement while he was at school and playing his records — including this one. I would sing and dance to the “Bulldawg Boogie,” memorizing every word.
As a young teenager, I would tune in to listen to Larry Munson on AM 750 on Saturdays just so I could intelligently talk Bulldogs football with Allan Vickery at church on Sunday morning. One of the schools I attended was also the Bulldogs, and we wore red and black. We even had an English Bulldog at our house — yes, named Uga — as a pet.
Lift the needle and stop a few years later (1998, to be exact) to when my husband decided to pursue his doctorate at UGA.
We became a legit UGA family, but Athens really got in my blood when Chris was injured during the middle of his residency. He was in such intense pain that he couldn’t function without meds or drive himself. So, little four-year-old Alex and I drove him to Athens every day, eventually joined an Athens-area homeschool group, and fell in love with our new home away from home.
When it came time for Alex to go to summer baseball camp as a 7th grader, he was delighted to get to live on campus for a week and proudly wear that UGA uniform. Little sister cheered him and the Dawgs on!
Fast forward a few more years to when it came time for my own children to take voice lessons. I drove them to Athens to work with the head of the vocal department at UGA. Once again, we found ourselves at home in Athens.
And of course, we have cheered for many former BHS students through the years who went on to play for my husband’s alma mater.
I guess I’ve had no choice but to be a Dawgs fan. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Regardless of the haters and without regard for the outcome, I hunkered down and cheered for my team through the wins, losses, and heartbreaks, and raised my kids to love all things Georgia.
So, here we are back at present day. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been warmed by all of the nostalgia and excited at the prospect of the second Dawgs National Championship win in my lifetime, particularly as it related to my own personal journey as the mother of two fans, and the biggest fan of one Dawg in particular — my husband.
You see, our personal journey has been a tough one. It’s been full of ups and downs, and moments when it didn’t look like there’d be a happy ending.
When Chris started his doctoral work in the fall of 1998, things were different. We had one child: a two-year-old son. Chris was teaching full-time, endeavoring to build a world class Fine Arts program for the school system, charged with building a Fine Arts Center, playing at a church part-time, being a husband, son, brother, and dad. Plus, I was about to sign a record deal. We had so many obstacles, but Chris knew that he was called to do this degree. The Lord impressed upon him that it was going to be the fight of his life. He was ready. Or so he thought.
Over a two-week period of time in 1999, Chris couldn’t eat, lost a lot of weight, and was in severe pain. He was diagnosed with GERD when an endoscopy revealed erosion on the lower two-thirds of his esophagus. He began a course of treatment and attempted to get on the road to health.
In the fall of 2000, Chris was in the middle of his residency at UGA. Personally, he was killing the workout game. He was owning life. He was looking great, feeling great, busting it, earning the respect of his professors and colleagues, and had a 4.0 in his doctoral work. While bench pressing one day, he unknowingly blew out two disks in his neck. His pain was debilitating. Surgery was the only option. (Did you hear me say that he was in the middle of his residency?) There was no other option but to finish the semester, but he had to have pain meds to survive and couldn’t drive on all those heavy meds. Little Alex and I rallied behind him and he pushed through, driving him around and adjusting our lifestyle to support him. Chris successfully finished the semester and had surgery the week of Christmas, 2000.
Life became very real and very hard very quickly. Going all in behind Chris meant serious lifestyle shifts. The music industry was rapidly changing. As I listened through pitch tapes from publishers, my four-year-old was asking me what certain words meant as I raced to turn down the volume knob. All things combined, I walked away from the music industry in 2000.
After his surgery, things were never the same. In 2001, Chris really began having some weird health issues. We got pregnant in 2001, and Hope was born in May, 2002.
Looking back to when Hope was a baby, I probably had postpartum depression and didn’t know it. What I do know is that in the year following — in 2003, Chris was facing his oral and written comprehensive exams for his doctorate at UGA, was diagnosed with three incurable auto-immune diseases, and his brother was murdered. For me, I went from near-stardom to finishing Alex’s third (and part of fourth) grade year of homeschooling with a one-year-old crawling on me, leaving me feeling completely inept. In Georgia at the time, students had to be tested every three years (3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th). Feeling utterly inadequate and sure that I had failed as a mother — certain the indictment would reflect poorly on me, those catty remarks I’d overheard from Chris’s co-workers condescending toward homeschool moms haunted me. I was paralyzed by fear. I couldn’t go through with testing Alex. If he failed, then I’d failed.
We continually put off testing and finally consulted with the principal at the lower school in the system where Chris worked. She advised us to put him in public school and have him repeat the third grade. Wouldn’t you know it? He soared academically and made a perfect score on most everything.
Chris passed his oral and written comprehensive exams at UGA in September 2003 with flying colors and was told his academic performance was “legendary.” What an amazing end to a troubled path! We were relieved. All that was left was writing his dissertation.
However, the damage had been done at home. Our marriage was falling apart. But for the grace of God and a wonderful, Godly, Christian marriage counselor, our story would’ve ended there.
But God had another plan.
We continued to press through some pretty hard times over the next few years. Financial struggles were crippling us. Just when we’d take a step forward, we’d fall twelve steps behind. We continued to pay tuition to be a student at UGA while “writing a dissertation,” though months turned into years without the first paragraph written. The reasons were legit, and there was no laziness involved. We continued to work harder and harder as the dissertation fell from the back burner completely off the kitchen counter.
By now it was 2015. We knew it was now or never. Chris could walk away and not finish, but would that really satisfy him? Furthermore, as a truly gifted academic, Chris has said for decades that the Lord called him when he was a young man to do a doctorate at a rigorous, secular university so that no man could question his intellect when they attacked his faith. He knew he had to finish.
When he finished the paper and submitted it to the graduate school in the fall of 2017, 19 years after starting the doctoral program at the University of Georgia, we got an email from the graduate school roughly stating:
Dear Mr. Fowler: turns out, your enrollment period has expired.
What? Was anyone going to tell us this?! They took our tuition money; he registered for classes; he’d been working at the school all semester and had been in constant contact with them. Expired?!
Chris contacted the graduate school and explained that he had just submitted his completed dissertation to his committee. They were understanding and had his medical doctors send letters to the graduate school stating the extenuating circumstances leading to the need for an extension.
In November 2017, Chris successfully defended his dissertation before his committee, and they said, “Congratulations, Dr. Fowler! You did it!” On December 15, Chris was hooded as a Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Georgia, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.
From a kid who was the first person in his family to go to college, whose dad was an orphan and disabled vet with a second grade education, to be called “Dr. Fowler” after such an arduous journey is indeed a miracle.
So yeah, I love the Dawgs. Hey, if you look at it just right, we’ve all got a little of that “dog” spirit in us: we are all the underdog at some point in our lives. Maybe you’re in the midst of your own National Championship moment. No one expects you to win. Vegas odds are piled against you. The struggles you’ve faced stopped you dead in your tracks.
Underdog: don’t let circumstances stand in your way of completing the task God has called you to. If He’s called you to it, it’s already done. Stay ready. Stay willing. He’s able.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.
Ecclesiastes 9:10a, English Standard Version
Chris with his major professor, Dr. Mary Leglar, after completing his dissertation defense.
Full of emotion words can’t convey, our son hugs his dad after the dissertation defense. Thank God, it’s over!