There seems to be no shortage of inspirational messaging on the internet, though I find little of it to be very inspirational. Most of it strikes me as insipidly trite drivel. I mean, really, who needs to be reminded of the industriousness of ants, the busyness of bees, the delicate gentleness of a butterfly?
While I might appreciate and be thankful for all of the goodness of insect life, I certainly don’t care to emulate it—especially at my age. Industry is what others do. So is busy. I try to be gentle.
There is also a lot of poetry—or, at least, poetic sentiment in all of this. Most of it rates as being prepubescent at best. “Ode On a Demonic Cirrus Cloud” just doesn’t quite make it in the world of odist John Keats, although it should be noted that many poems by Emily Dickinson have the same metric structure found in the “Theme from Gilligan’s Island” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Go figure.
A posting I saw last week intrigued me. Ostensibly it was about educating our children, although personally I should put that in the past tense. I thought it was going to be another inane diatribe about how high schoolers should be learning how to iron clothes and change the oil, both of which are tasks that I believe should fall to parents. Since I do not possess the skills to teach algebra or chemistry (it’s been 55 years since I had to find the value of x; I never studied chemistry), I figure that the schools might do a better job to undertake that task than me.
While I might be on the short side of oil change instructions, I do know how to iron. I can also teach the kids to cook, which I did, and could probably do a decent job of teaching literature and writing. Our family meals (every night, almost) frequently involved talking about the books we’d read or were reading.
Nothing beats a lively discussion about Horton Hears a Who while dining on spaghetti and meatballs.
Our kids are grown now, and Geri and I are quite proud of them. I think we did a good job of raising them, instilling senses of responsibility, kindness, manners, and a playful approach to good trouble.
If there is injustice, they fight against it. Courtney just has a fouler mouth. (Do not approach her in public without a mask to avoid witnessing her swears-like-a-sailor act.)
We’re fairly progressive here at the house on 3rd Street. We stress fairness, equality, and justice within our modest walls. We deny hate, violence, and intolerance. We believe that Black lives matter.
Our ambitions for the kids were never expressed, although we encouraged and tried to support every ambition they might have expressed. At one point, Daniel aspired to be Alan Greenspan; Courtney wanted to be an Olympic equestrian.
I had a friend in California who expected his son to be a professional baseball player—a shortstop, to be exact. He had the kid’s life mapped out: Little League, Legion ball, college at Pepperdine, an early exit to the minors, advancement to the Bigs.
The father had followed that exact path, though he never made to the major leagues. His ambition became what he wanted for his son.
I questioned him about his son’s wishes and the disappointment that might come. How, the father wondered, could his son not relish such a future?
I suggested that he might have different plans, interests. And what if the kid wasn’t a good player? None of that mattered. John knew his kid was going to be great and enjoy the career the father never knew.
As it turned out, the kid was mediocre at baseball. He never played Legion or went to Pepperdine. He’s a chef now, cooking his way to happiness and a fulfilled life. His father, a successful state’s attorney who put criminals behind bars, suffers needlessly in disappointment.
I believe that most of us have our children’s best interests at heart. While we might wish for them lives as renowned attorneys, diplomats, doctors, dentists, research scientists, and corporate moguls, the reality is for something that might seem less worthy but, in fact, is just the opposite. Every job that needs doing is worth doing. Few of our offspring will ever become professional athletes, revered artists, or movie stars. And it doesn’t matter. Our son is a ship’s Captain for a cargo line in Seattle; our daughter, a homemaker and artist who devotes countless hours to working to fight the epidemic of human trafficking. They seem happy, and Geri and I couldn’t be happier, though their achievements are something we never thought about as we raised them.
We invested nothing in their future occupations, but everything in their futures.
What we tried to do (and I happen to think we’ve been successful) was make them into well-rounded intelligent adults who can think for themselves and who strive to do the right thing.
Geri’s grandmother, a bit of a nasty old woman, frequently reminded her that knowledge and manners were the two things that could never be taken away. She’s right, of course.
In the mid-1980s, graduates of Ivy League schools were being recruited left and right by Wall Street firms. But many of them had to first attend what were, for lack of a better term, finishing schools where they learned how to properly eat in public.
Setting a good example should be the first role of parenting because that is how we first learn: imitation. If a parent regularly holds the door for others, eats with their elbows off the table, and merely smiles when another driver fails to show a roadway courtesy, chances are good the kid will have the same approach.
If a child sees hatred in a parent’s eye, that child will grow up to embrace that same hatred.
We owe it to our children, ourselves, and the rest of humanity to teach kindness and love. And not define them by what they do, but who they are.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
I have always loved deviled eggs—the simpler the better. Here’s a foolproof recipe.
6 large eggs
3/4 Tbs. mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Sprinkle of paprika
After making a hole in the roundest part of the egg with a pushpin to release air pressure, lower the eggs into a pot of boiling water. Bring the water back to a gentle boil and let the eggs cook for ten minutes. Place the eggs in an ice bath to completely cool.
Peel the eggs, cut them half and remove the yolks to a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks and add the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, and Tabasco. Stuff the egg halves and sprinkle with paprika.