Sadly, my dad passed away this past weekend. He was 84 and lived a full life. Many times he commented to me that he couldn’t believe he lived this long. When he was a child, he told me, living to 65 seemed like a reasonable expectation. I am glad he beat his own expectations and gave us many more years to be with him. Dad came from a generation where you lived up to your responsibilities. He didn’t complain about it and believed that one of the most important things you could do was to teach your children was to become independent adults. He didn’t coddle us, but also did judge us too harshly. He was always there if needed.
A mother is a very special person in a child’s life and if you are lucky, a lingering positive presence throughout your adult life. Much of what we first learn comes from our mom. She is often the calm in the midst of the many storms we encounter. She is there for you no matter what. I am blessed that my mom had so much to offer. The following lessons are just a small sampling of her overall impact on my life:
As my kids begin another school year school this morning, it is always interesting to watch how both the children and parents are transitioning. In some cases either the kids and/or parents will be a bit anxious or nervous, unsure of what is to come. In other cases, there is an almost a giddy excitement about the new challenges. Old friends will greet each other joyfully, while the new children and parents will be feeling their way on how to best fit in. Some children will walk to school alone, while others will have both parents with them and be accompanied all the way to their new classroom. Many of the teachers will carry themselves with an air of confidence and enthusiasm, while others will be a bit more reticent and laid back.
I’m very concerned about the artificial reality we are creating for kids today. Everyone gets a medal or award. Disappointment and/or adversity is to be avoided at all costs. We are also teaching our children that they are the center of the family universe and everything revolves around them: their needs, wants, etc. If we let them to think everything they do is exceptional, then ultimately nothing they do will be. We allow them to continually isolate themselves socially and retreat into the comfort of impersonal technological communication without the wisdom of understanding the dynamics of human and social interaction. We worship their youth but then push them to grow up quickly and act more mature than they actually are (or should be). It’s almost as if a whole generation of parents is trying to make up for perceived deficiencies from their own childhood. We are forgetting how to be parents, coaches and teachers and instead striving to become friends, cheerleaders and positive psychologists.
I watched an interesting movie last night called The Way. It was written and directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father Martin Sheen. In the movie a straight-laced somewhat taciturn father has to cope with the tragic loss of his 40 year old free-spirited son. The event took place while he was beginning a spiritual trek on “The Way of St. James” or “Camino de Santiago” which is an 800 kilometer pilgrimage (hike) through France and Spain to the burial place of Saint James. The father decides to complete the journey his son started and learns alot about himself and life along the way. As with most of his acting roles, it was a powerful and thoughtful performance by Martin Sheen.
I’ve always like the idea of new beginnings. My mom used to say that every person has 4 seasons to their lives and each one is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and use the wisdom gained up until that point to make better decisions. As I age, I understand more of what she meant. I also believe that within these seasons there are natural changes such as completing your schooling, getting married (maybe more than once), having kids, becoming a homeowner, embarking on a career, being at the peak of your career and having responsibility for other people, caring for aging parents, having your own kids move out and start their own lives, becoming a grandparent, retirement from work and navigating our “golden years” that just seem to happen and lead to new beginnings. I do respect the fact that not everyone opts for all these changes but for the most part they are common experiences shared by most of us.
I’ve always believed that children are a gift from God or whatever higher power you choose to believe in. They are here to teach us as much as we are here to guide them. Sometimes it’s like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself being reflected back through their actions, attitudes, etc. In other cases, you gain entry into the wondrous world of their own individuality. My hope has always been that they will take the best from their mother and me and leave our flaws behind for us to grapple with on our own.
The goal of any society should be to secure the future of the next generation by providing them with the skills, talents and attitudes necessary for both survival and success. It is a certainty that every generation will have to deal with some level of uncertainty and challenge as they assume responsibility for their own destiny (and that of others).