Tag Archives: Parenting

Achieving immortality

It seems like a lot of people these days are very concerned about leaving their mark on the world.  They want to make sure that when their time is done they’ll have LIVED!!!  They’ll have made a difference and the world will be a better place for them having been here.  Certainly, no one wants to shuffle off this mortal coil without leaving some evidence that they’ve existed.

Personally, I applaud this attitude.  It encourages people to push their boundaries and explore and experience new things…which hopefully has the added benefit of opening their minds and souls to the wonder around them.  Too many people don’t open themselves up to new experiences and ideas – often through fear or apathy.  The end result is that they don’t expand their minds, don’t see new things, don’t think new thoughts and end up living worthless, pre-packaged lives circling the drain of their own fears and prejudices.

The thing is, everyone wants to be the next George Washington…or Sally Ride…or Leif Eriksson or <insert name of your personal hero here>.  They want to live life bigger and grander and have adventures and become someone who will be a household name.  Someone who will be remembered.  Someone who made a difference.

But living your life with that attitude is completely forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that fame and historical significance was not necessarily something those people sought out.  In many cases it was something that they didn’t want but that was thrust upon them by a world hungry for the next big thing…or person.

It also ignores the fact that fame is fleeting and a very fickle bitch.  It’s actually not that hard to be famous.  It’s much more difficult to be famous for something good.  And it’s even more difficult to stay famous for something good.  Today’s  great adventurer is tomorrow’s mass murderer and slaver.  Today’s great athlete is tomorrow’s cheating drug user.  Today’s TV Star is tomorrow’s washed up loser.  Then there’s all the people who go out to leave their mark and vanish without a trace.  I can’t tell you about them because the only evidence they ever existed is the shattered lives of the family they leave behind.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should never go out and do something adventurous or even dangerous or that you shouldn’t try to leave your mark on the world.  But go do it for the right reasons.  It should be an accent to your life, not a substitute for it – the cherry on top of the cake, not the cake itself.

Let’s say you enjoy rock climbing.  You’re out every weekend climbing bigger, more difficult rock faces.  You decide that you want to climb El Capitan.  Go for it!  Practice, expand your skills, push yourself and when you’re ready, go climb it!  But if you’ve never climbed anything harder than the stairs in your house, deciding to climb El Capitan is at best, stupid…at worst, suicidal.

Of course, there’s another way you can leave your mark, achieve immortality and never be forgotten.  It’s very simple, absolutely fool-proof and anyone can do it.  One catch though..like most simple things it’s very difficult.  All you have to do is be the best you that you can be.

I know what you’re thinking, “But that’s so boring!  I want to explore, climb, fly, do…exciting things!  I don’t want to just be another <insert job title here>!”  Yeah, right.  You and everybody else.  But everybody can’t be the best exciting thing doer.  There can only be one “Best”.  That’s kinda what Best means.

But there’s only one of you.  And if you resolve to be the best you possible, you can do great things.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”  He succeeded.  But you don’t even have to be Abraham Lincoln.  You just have to be you.  The best you.

My Father-in-Law was a meat cutter.  Not a Butcher.  A meat cutter.  Butcher was too fancy a word for him.  He worked almost every day of his life.  He married, had two kids, supported his family, paid his bills, raised his kids, worked more, paid more bills, lost his vision to glaucoma and still worked and finally died, just as he had lived, with quite, uncomplaining dignity.

Oh, he didn’t do it alone.  His wife was there by his side the entire way, sticking with him through thick and thicker.  But those few lines describes his life.  Except that they don’t.  Not.  Even.  Close.  There is so much more there than I could ever write down.  But he was at heart just a simple meat cutter from West Virginia.  A simple man from a small town…who was so respected that his funeral was almost standing room only.  Who was so loved that his family still talks about him and thinks about him almost daily.  So much so that sometimes it feels like he’s just stepped out of the room and will be back any minute.  That is achieving immortality.

And you can do it, too…from the comfort of your own living room.  Just be the best you possible.  Live, don’t exist.  Find someone to share your life with that loves you as much as you love them.  Do your job the best way you know how.  Have children.  Raise them to be better people than you are.  Don’t expect them to be clones or follow in your footsteps.  Expect them to be the best them that they can be and to find their own path.  And, most importantly, love.  Love your partner, love your children, love your life…and don’t forget to love yourself.

See, it’s simple.  And the hardest, most difficult, most challenging, most rewarding, most fun thing you can ever do.  But if you do it, you’ll make a mark.  You’ll make a difference and you’ll be remembered after you’re gone.  Do it and you’ll be immortal.

Parenthood – Oye Vey!!!

Sean, my eldest, is home for the summer. We’re four again and it feels good. Of course, there are adjustments to make. The tall young man we picked up on Saturday isn’t the same one that we dropped off last fall. Or the same one that came home for Christmas. Or even the same person that was home for Spring Break a few weeks ago. He’s growing into himself and maturing…becoming the man he’s going to be. And I’m pretty pleased with what I’m seeing.

Oh, he’s not there yet but he’s well on the way. And Tami and I get to go through the bittersweet period of adjustment that comes from looking for our boy and seeing a man. She put if perfectly earlier this evening when she said, “We’re not the center of his life anymore but he’s still the center of ours.”

Ahhh, the joys of parenthood. We raise them, teach them, help them grow, all the while hoping beyond hope that we’re not making too many mistakes and that we won’t do something so horribly wrong that it’ll end up crippling them emotionally or intellectually. We spend sleepless nights worrying about…everything. We hug them when we can, spank them when they need it, bandage their skinned knees and send them back out to get more. We teach them how to drive and then pray more earnestly than we have in years the first time they go out solo. And then we pray more each time after that.

We try so hard to guide them and help them grow up straight and strong and we get so wrapped up in their lives that it comes as a major shock when we look up and see that our work is almost done. It amazes us that our children have gone and grown up on us seemingly overnight – Sean is 19 now but still sometimes I hear his voice behind me and I turn around looking for the 12 or 13 year old boy and am surprised when I end up having to look up at him.

Worst of all, it’s truly painful to realize that, even though they still love us and (we hope and pray) they always will, they don’t NEED us anymore. At least not like they used to. But we still need them. That’s the part that really hurts. That’s the part that’s not fair. DAMN IT, they’re not supposed to grow up that fast. Didn’t he just start Junior High School a few months ago? And he was going to his first High School Dance just a few weeks ago. He can’t be 19. I still have so much to tell him. And I still haven’t spend enough time with him. He’s still just a boy. Except, he isn’t.

He’s a tall, straight, honest young man that I’d be proud to call friend…if I weren’t so insufferably prouder to be able to call him ‘Son’. He’s everything I’ve always hoped he’d be at 19 – except for maybe the long hair…and the tattoos…and the piercings. But those are window dressing. I may tease him about them but they don’t change how I feel about him. ‘course, if he ever comes home with gauges in his earlobes I’m gettin’ the pliers.

Jokes aside, I am proud of him and who he’s become…and who he’s still becoming. We don’t agree on everything but that’s OK. Tami and I have raised our sons to think for themselves and make up their own minds. We’ve never required them to agree with everything we say and to believe everything we believe. We do require that they be respectful of us – even when they disagree with us.

When you get down to it, Tami and I never had that many rules. I’ve never really tried writing them down before and I don’t recall us ever discussing them in any organized, “this is what we’ll required of our children” fashion so maybe I should make a stab at putting them down once and for all. So here goes…John and Tami’s rules for our children.

We require that our children treat everyone with the respect they are due – and this includes the respect your give yourself. This means treating everyone with respect. If someone proves unworthy of that respect at a later date, the fault is theirs, not yours. Of course, if the person that proves themselves unworthy of respect is you then you have a real problem on your hands. So make sure that it doesn’t happen.

We require that our children mind their manners and be aware that what passes for good manners at home may not be good manners out in public. This one starts out with the parents making it crystal clear what is and is not considered good manners both at home and in public and being consistent with those standards.

We require that our children take responsibility for their own actions. If you screwed up, then YOU screwed up, not someone else. If you got bad grades because you didn’t study, the fault is yours, not your teachers, not the kids being loud and distracting at the back of the class.

We require that our children be honest. This does not mean that we require them to be little Polly Purebred, never tell a lie, brutally honest at all times with everybody prigs. It means that, if you’re asked a question, you answer it honestly – even if it gets you in trouble. If you give your word, you keep it – even if it hurts.

We require that our children try their best and put forth their best effort at all times. Everyone has days when they don’t feel like putting out the effort – maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re sick, maybe it’s just one of those days. None of that matters. You still do the best you can do knowing that your best on those days isn’t as good as your best when you’re really on your game. The important thing isn’t whether or not you’re as good today as you were yesterday or whether you’re going to be better tomorrow. The important thing is, regardless of how you feel, you do your best. Anything else is cheating yourself.

Of course, that’s the easy part. The hard part is the rules for ourselves.

Hug your child…a lot. Every living thing needs physical contact. A hug conveys love, solace, comfort, stability, friendship, strength, sharing…the list goes on. Robert Heinlein once said, “Touch is the most fundamental sense. A baby experiences it, all over, before he is born and long before he learns to use sight, hearing, or taste, and no human ever ceases to need it. Keep your children short on pocket money but long on hugs.” Ladies and Gentlemen, this is wisdom.

Say, “I love you!”…a lot. And do this out in public, not just at home. And don’t be shy about expecting the same in return. Children need to understand that love is there to be shared everywhere, not just at home. One of the things that I’m proudest of as a parent is that both of my sons will hug me in public, in front of their friends and tell me that they love me without any hint of embarrassment. I’ve always been careful not to do anything that might embarrass them – no yelling “I love you” as I drop them off at school. But I’m also never been shy about going up to them and hugging them and telling them, “I love you. And I am so proud of you.”

Be consistent with your rules. NEVER punish for something one time and let it slide the next time – even…or especially when you’re tired, cranky, out of sorts, don’t feel like it or can’t be bothered right now. Children need consistency. Not so much because it’s easier to learn the rules that way – it is but that’s not the main reason. Children need consistency so they’ll feel secure in their place in the world. That security is the foundation for the rest of their lives. If they get punished for doing something one time and don’t get punished the next time, they don’t know where they stand. The ground under their feet shifts. Don’t do that to them. Being a child is hard enough without that. A corollary of this is if you have to change the rules, explain why you’re changing them…and be aware that the explanation will probably include the words, “I was wrong”.

Never reward what’s expected. If your child acts the way you want them to act, that’s what’s expected and that’s not deserving of a reward. If your child exceeds your expectations – even a little bit – reward them. But be consistent with the rewards.

Never reward a child with money or gifts. Reward a child with hugs. Tell them you’re proud of them. Brag about their achievements to your family and single them out for praise and attention. But don’t raise them to expect a financial windfall whenever they do well. The world doesn’t work that way and you’ll be doing them an incredible disservice.

Never compare one child to another. Never say things like, “Why can’t you make good grades like your brother?” Every child is different with different strengths and weaknesses. One of my sons is dyslexic. The other isn’t. One gets C’s and B’s and the other is on the Honor Roll. Expecting the same grades out of both of them is unreasonable. Instead, I expect something much more important from both of them. I expect them to do their absolute best. If the best a child can do in a given subject is a C-, then expect that C- and don’t be satisfied with a D+. More importantly, don’t let your child be satisfied with it either. And praise and reward that child as much for the C- as you do other child for making the Honor Roll.

Never bribe a child to get them to behave. Once you do this, you’re stuck with it and the bribes never stop…and always get bigger.

Did I mention being consistent?

Be careful what you promise a child because even if you forget, they won’t. And it won’t matter to the child if you shouldn’t have promised because it isn’t good for them or they’re too little or it’s too late or it’s a school night. All the child will understand is that you lied.

Don’t be perfect. Three little words but they cover a whole lot of ground including but not limited to:

Admit when you’re wrong. Then make it right.

Admit it if you don’t know something. Then go find out.

Fight with your spouse in front of your children. Then make up in front of them. Before you start heating up the tar, let me explain. Children need to understand that there are good ways and bad ways to fight or disagree. They also need to understand that, even if you and your spouse fight, you still love each other and you’re both willing to compromise – that sometimes one of you wins and sometime the other one does – and that no one holds a grudge. And that regardless of who wins, life and your marriage… and the childs family goes on. Of course, if you and your spouse can’t fight fair or can’t not hold a grudge then I’d recommend that you seek marriage counseling…and that you tell your child what you’re doing and why.

Punish immediately. Never say, “When you get home you’re getting a spanking!” If the child deserves a spanking, do it then. If that means you have to leave wherever you are then leave. But never delay punishment. It’s cruel.

Let your child see your emotions. Let them see joy. Let them see love. Let them see heartache. Let them see anger. And let them see you handle your emotions in a good way.

And finally – be consistent.

By the way, I should mention that these rules are really for small children. Everything here is subject to change as children grow – except the part about how you should always be consistent. And the part about the hugs. And saying, “I love you.” Those never change.