“Nothing frightened me more than the faith in my young children’s eyes. How many men deserve that kind of trust? One by one, the mentors I’ve mostly admired eventually revealed chinks in their armour, cracks in their facades and tired feet of clay.” (Paraphrasing a favourite author, Greg Isles, in “Natchez Burning.”)
We have two critical responsibilities as parents: 1) to keep our children safe and 2) to shape , guide and support them into becoming successful, productive and contributing members of society – good human beings if you will.
I married when I was twenty-four years old – my wife was twenty. We were not much more than kids ourselves, so very young and immature while trying to function in a world of uncertainty.
Today’s youth have taken a different approach. They tend to marry later – often into their mid to late 30s – and are often more grounded and financially stable than we were. They have the benefit of an extra decade or so of “growing up” and accumulating life skills and experience without the massive responsibility of raising a child.
Only the future will illustrate whether one generation or the other were better prepared. With the value of age and experience, I cannot imagine raising a teenager into my fifties or sixties.
Age seems directly inverse to patience!
We had our first child when I was twenty seven. I recall vividly wondering what kind of a dad I would be. How would I raise this defenseless being? Would I be a good father and protector? What experience did I have to offer?
What I did know, is that I would lay my life down for my children. I had changed.
It is said that in one’s lifetime, that you meet over fifty-five thousand people. Of all the people I have met, I have never heard anyone say that they got their parenting skills from a book. I am sure some of the more intellectual and curious among us may scour the literary expanses for tips and tricks on parenting – but I have found that parenting is a day to day process.
Every child is different – so different in fact, that one might question if they come from the same set of loins. The four I have had the privilege of providing parental guidance to, could not be more diverse in their approach to life.
Parenting is about best practices, guesses, calculated risks and from time to time pure unadulterated luck. We adopt the lessons our own parents instill in us, filter out what we didn’t agree with, and apply the rest to our own parenting style – combining our lessons with those brought through our spouse’s own experiences. Together, we form a style and a process.
Apparently we were the only parents in the world that enforced curfews. Who knew that we were so cruel?
Raising children is an enormous privilege and a bigger responsibility – and often terrifying.
We cajole, prod, guide, nurture, threaten, push, pull, admonish, hug, kiss, bandage and reassure. We mend broken hearts and broken windows, hurt feelings and bruised egos, missed opportunities and missed cuts. Our hearts soar with successes and ache near misses and close calls.
The hardest thing about being a parent is not saying no – it is sticking to it. Especially if you have more than one child. Very early in their lives they learn to pit one parent against another, one sibling against another – politics in its earliest form.
No one tells you that when you become a parent, your worry will never end until the day you leave this earth.
I have been a parent for nearly forty-two years. I have some hard earned experience in this area. In fact to this day, I continue to absorb parental experience – sometimes painful. But the joy far outweighs the hard lessons.
I have decades of experience being a son. All you have to do is show up. Your parents will always be there to provide advice – though we don’t value it at the time – until suddenly they are no longer there – and you find yourself on your own, with only your own instincts, the parental guidance you previously dismissed and subsequent decisions to guide you. An orphan of sorts.
Luck or Good Management?
Suddenly it occurs to you that your lessons as a child are what prepare you to be a parent. You have now come full circle. Seemingly out of the blue, your parents are gone and what was not valued, is now invaluable. You wish you could ask for their sage advice just one more time.
As I get older, I find myself invoking my fathers guidance more frequently and with more veracity, even though he has been gone for thirty years!
“While you are sleeping, someone more ambitious and determined is outworking you.” “Difficult decisions and how you handle them, will define your character.”
“You don’t know what you got till its gone”, could not be more true.
I have made many mistakes along the way. I have yelled when I should have consoled. I have admonished when I should have reassured. I have threatened when I should have nurtured. I have ignored when I should have hugged.
I do allow myself some grace to be proud of a few things I did along the way as well.
I was active in all my children’s activities, from coaching hockey, baseball and soccer, to attending recitals and dance events. I often flew home on a Friday from wherever my job had taken me that week, to be home in time for hockey practice, or games and tournaments. I seldom missed.
Through all this, I have watched four infants become four children, four teenagers, three young men and a young woman become successful in their chosen fields.
More importantly they have become good human beings.
What lessons will they take from me? What will they pass on to their children? Will they look back on a father that did his best, and see me for the flawed human being I am? Will they understand that through all my faults, that I have always loved them unconditionally and always will?
How much of my influence has been nurture vs nature?
I have witnessed many good parents flail with the impact of choices their children have made. The misfortune of being in a school district known for drug problems, the influence of strong personalities pulling against impressionable and immature brains. Strict parenting styles, lax parenting styles, emotionally absent parents, divorced or abusive relationships – all have an effect.
Sometimes we fail as parents through nothing more than bad luck. Sometimes we excel through little more than good fortune.
We are complicated beings. Our children react differently to a variety of stimuli. Some seem to skim through these difficulties throughout adolescence, and some seem to never recover.
Yet others thrive amid the chaos and uncertainty, confident in their ability to navigate the maelstrom we call life.
I look at my children and wonder, “How was I so fortunate to be a part of their lives?”
I hope they are as fortunate and blessed to see their children, my grandchildren, become mirrors of their parents.