This I believe.
I believe that it is those first 18 years of life that mold us into who we are, that the most critical job of any parent is to take on this responsibility and help each of our children develop into the poised, balanced adult they deserve to be.
As the middle child of nine, and survivor of a broken family, my goal in life has been to be the best father I can be to my two boys, now in their mid-twenties. Dad disappeared during my youth, and showed shortly before his death, and mother struggled with trying to keep her family together.
I think part of what kept her focused was her memory of her own family, and how her father took in a boy from a broken family who became one of their own. That boy Tommy became a prominent member of the community and was always used as an example for my mother.
I often say that my goal is to have my kids invite me out for a beer after they leave home. I have been very fortunate to have this happen. But it is more than that. Those first years teach us how to love other individuals, to be good to ourselves, and to set our direction in life. With my own siblings, I have seen the internal torture that lingers on, year after year, and manifests itself in many ways. What could I have been, why did he or she react this way or that, and how some subtle but loving changes in early life could have eliminated these consequences.
When my oldest was two years old, out of anger I picked him up, ready to give him a ‘good spanking’, as had happened to me many years before. My wife caught me in the nick of time and said, “Do you realize what you are doing? You’re doing the same thing your father did to you!” My brain snapped, I dropped my son on the mattress of his bed, and left the room. Ever since, though I have been firm with my sons, I have not raised a hand to discipline them. If there was violence in your home growing up, it is your duty to break the cycle and improve the life of your child.
Years later, neither my sons nor I are perfect. But there are several differences from when I was their age. First, they are comfortable in their own skin. Secondly they harbor no yearnings from what could have happened if the right circumstances presented themselves. And finally, we are at peace in our relationship. I strongly hope that they provide the same comfort to their own children!
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