A grown woman finds herself in the surprising position of being the mother of two young children. By its very nature this circumstance provides explosive episodes of self-realization, sometimes multiples in one day.
The youngest, not yet three, yells at the top of her lungs: "Don't talk to me like that!"
Huh. Little whippersnapper's pretty sassy. And with a strong sense of what's acceptable. Perhaps misplaced, given her tender years and status on the totem pole, but hey, it's nice to note the healthy expectations of how she should be spoken to.
And thus, the self-realization takes on its inevitable layers and the thickness of generations.
How do my kids know how they should be spoken to? Treated? Regarded? How do I know how to teach them?
I remember learning to put a worm on a hook and being told, gently, that yes, my father feels a little sorry for the worm, too. But worms don't have the same kind of nervous system we do and while the worm surely isn't happy about his/her predicament, it isn't the same as what I might feel under the circumstances. I was tender-hearted, not a fishing failure.
I remember being taught chess and nascent algebra during the summer break after third grade. In the middle of the night. It was a magical moment where all the world hid in sleep but us, just me and my dad. I was important.
I remember being told after my one and only straight A report card fell to all A's and one B that it isn't really the best thing in the world to be a bookworm. That was second grade and my B was in handwriting. It was the first time I heard the expression "bookworm" and my dad had to explain it to me. Unlike a classic bookworm, I was well-rounded.
I remember doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games of Old Maid around the game table. I was fun to spend time with.
I remember a counselor during a trying period in my college years observing that the reason I had not dated much in high school was that my father had set the standard very, very high. I was shocked. I didn't enjoy a robust dating life in high school, but until that moment I hadn't given much thought to how many boys I turned down or discouraged. Even in that insecure time I was not willing to settle. I wasn't a dateless wonder, I was discriminating.
I struggle with the standard. I've done things in my life I didn't think I could do because I didn't want to not meet the measure of the man that raised me. I was glad I did them. I've things yet to do, some that seem near impossible, but I remember the confidence of the man I think the most of and it becomes sacrilegious not to try. I think of his older children, not blessed with the same mother as I, so damaged and still shaped by the standard. They know the benchmark and rebel because they haven't met it, whatever it is.
If I had to define the mysterious standard, this would be my best effort:
Professional: Whatever you choose to do, be good at it. Use your intellect. If you are a server, shoot for head waiter. If you work in Corporate America, shoot for the highest position that will make you happy. If that is CEO, you can be that. If you don't want to engage in office politics and general B.S., dominate the division where you enjoy working. But paramount is that your professional success should not be dishonorable or predatory. It should be a manifestation of your God given ability and hard work.
Personal: Don't let people take advantage of you. Expect what you deserve. If you don't get what you deserve, cut bait- whether it's business or personal or a blend of the two. Be compassionate. You will know other people who do not have the resources you do. When you find them, help them in a way that protects their dignity.
Family: The greatest charge you are given as a human is responsibility to your family. Honor it. The faith you give to your family honors the people who raised you and teaches the children you are raising.
As fathers go, one could do worse than a father who teaches these things. But one could not do much better.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.