This I Believe

Marilynn - Canton, Ohio
Entered on January 30, 2007

What My Parents Taught Me

I don’t know that any child appreciates their parents until they themselves become parents. My son is now an adult and I have had time to think about how my parent’s lessons helped me to raise my son. I have come to understand and appreciate the extraordinary example my parents gave us, the lessons they taught, the sacrifices they made and how well they prepared me and my 8 siblings for life.

I believe that parents can give no greater gift to their children then teaching them the value of hard work, respect for others, the importance of education and resilience in the face of adversity. We learned these lessons every day by the way my parents lived their lives. They were a mirror of what they expected us to be.

My mother was up before everyone in the morning and in bed after everyone at night. I sometimes wondered if she ever slept. She firmly believed that idleness was the devil’s workshop. Her admonishment for misbehavior was the edict, “If you don’t have anything to do, I can find something for you to do.” This usually sent us kids scurrying. Her faith carried her through a near death episode after giving birth to her 6th child, the financial strain of raising a large family, and the day to day aggravations of life. She was not a lecturer. Her reprimands were succinct, profound and unforgettable.

One particular episode that still brings a smile to my face occurred when I was 8 or 9 years old. My sister and I were playing with a neighbor and got into a spate. I took the neighbor’s side. That afternoon when I returned home, my mother, having been informed of my betrayal, quietly told me that I was never to take sides against my family. But, I sputtered, and launched into a defense of my position. She repeated herself and that was that. Several years later while watching the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone uttered a similar line to his brother. I smiled to myself. I had had that before. Although, I did not fully understand what she was telling me at the time, I did come to know that one stands by their family through good and bad. They are the ones that have been there since the beginning and will be with you to the end.

My Dad worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known–many times working two jobs. No one took the responsibility of parenting more seriously. He worried, he pushed, he expected and he demanded. I so resented always being asked to do more, to do better, to work harder. What on earth did they want? We were expected to live up to our capabilities and to use the gifts that God gave us. It was as simple as that. Anything less was unacceptable. Excuses were useless. My siblings and I laugh to this day that the only reason we could have stayed home from school is if we were dead.

He wanted his children to have a college education but had no money to pay for it. That was a minor impediment. If you worked hard enough, it would become a reality.

My brothers attended the same high school that he had. I remember him translating the Latin inscription on the building for me: “Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge.” This was the template for his life and this is what he taught us.

When I hear people discussing how much money they will inherit, I think how my parents had no money to give us but they gave us everything we needed. For that, I am truly grateful. I believe that my parent’s example of how to live a productive and decent life was their greatest legacy. By showing us how to succeed, we did.