Nineteenth Century literature tends to carry a strong theme of “the sins of the father” being paid for by the children. I believe in just the opposite. I believe that the lessons of those who come before us are essential ideals that need to be passed on to the next generations. In that way I am a conduit from my parents and their parents’ generations to my children and their children’s generations.
My father spent most of his life as a social worker. From him I learned empathy and acceptance of others. I’m sure that some of his methods would never be allowed in this day and age, but during his tenure as “Welfare Director” our family played host to many “outcasts” from society. Thus, I learned that the “juvenile delinquent” who lived down the street was truly an amazing young woman who had been beaten by her father, and the “unwed mother” who had broken both legs trying to escape from a juvenile detention facility was a loving and caring mother and an interesting role model for me. Learning empathy and acceptance from a very young age also helped me immediately accept and support my gay son when he came out to me several years ago. I am now waiting for the time when I can welcome his partner as my son-in-law as readily as I have accepted my daughter’s husband as my son-in-law. My father’s untimely and sudden death at the age of 52 taught me that I could survive and move on, and it also opened up the door for my mother’s lessons.
My mother had been a homemaker for most of my youth and was working a minimum wage job when she became widowed at the age of 51. She went from a middle class income to a poverty income in one night. My mother taught me perseverance and the ability to truly live out the serenity prayer on a day to day basis. She realized what she couldn’t control and moved on with her life. Her words of wisdom and inspiration helped my entire family to endure her descent into Alzheimer’s and her eventual death as a result. She gave us the strength we needed, even when she had no idea who we were.
The most important lesson I have learned, however, one that both my parents and mentors continually modeled for me is in Shakespeare’s words “to thine own self be true.” This does not only mean being honest, but it also means presenting the same “self” to everyone. I have been a teacher for thirty-four years, and the person I am in the classroom is the person I am in every other walk of my life. Even more important than that, however, is the willingness to admit mistakes and move on and to teach our children the same. I am constantly amazed how many people “tap-dance” around mistakes that they’ve made . We seem to live in a world where it’s always “someone else’s fault.” Grace and forgiveness are always available, if we are only able to be truthful with ourselves and with others.
As a teacher and as a parent, I can give no better lesson to the young people in my life than the lessons I learned from my parents – empathy, acceptance, perseverance, and honesty. This I believe.