As a child, I thought my father my famous. Everywhere we went, he was stopped by someone who would start a conversation. I was amazed by how he spoke with people with such ease and how outgoing he was at all times. I wanted to be like him and go into the Army and become a woman who was well-networked in my community. I never joined the Army but I have learned to establish friendships and never burn bridges. My father may not truly be famous, but to me is still a rock star.
As a child, I thought my mother was an amazing artist. When we would color, she would first outline the picture with her crayon and then fill in in lightly. I loved the contrast of the hard lines versus the soft fill. I would stare at the pictures and break crayons trying to duplicate her work. To this day I haven’t been able to color the way my mother can. She may not really be an artist, but to me she is better than Picasso.
Growing up, I remember feeling as though my parents wasted their lives by making the professional choices they made. My father retired from the Army and went into the automotive industry, which I thought was a waste of his great sales skills. He convinced hundreds, if not thousands, of people to enter the military, many of them now better men and women because of that choice. Surely he was an amazing salesperson. I thought he should have gone back to school and earned a degree so he could make it to the top of the corporate world. Luckily, I do not control his life so he didn’t make that decision. My father’s decision to accept a position many would not consider glamorous allowed him to be home every night for dinner, attend the pivotal moments of my growth, and help me through some very difficult teenage years.
My mother didn’t escape my judgment. She went into retail when my youngest brother entered school. I knew for sure she would leave and go back to bookkeeping as soon as he was full time. Instead, she stayed in retail. I watched for years as my mother helped customers, stocked shelves, and tagged items with prices. I thought she could have been a corporate accountant, helping others earn great paychecks and allowing us to have a glamorous life. I am glad she did not chose that career path, as she was always there when I arrived home from school, wanted to go to the park, or needed someone to talk to during difficult times.
As I became a parent, I realized my parents had not wasted their lives but enriched them with their choices. While I once thought success meant that you were supposed to follow a prescribed set of steps and reach certain milestones, I have since realized that success is far from the position one holds in society. I have realized that my parents raised wonderful children who are contributing to their communities and making the world a better place. They have taught their children core values such as integrity, respect, hard work, and going after their dreams. I used to think it was a contradiction to tell us to go after our dreams when they had sacrificed everything they once hoped to be so they could raise their children. Then I became old enough to sit at the adult table, learn family secrets, and join in conversations with elder family members. That is when I learned that all they both ever wanted was to raise a good family. To be happy and healthy and respected by their children. To share with the world their genes and traits. To create individuals who would influence those around them and make a difference. In all of these, they have succeeded.
Today, I am an adult who lives on my own and has two beautiful and very different daughters who are my pride and joy. Watching my parents as I grew taught me to love them each for who they are instead of trying to change them into what I wanted to be. I learned that achieving great success in the business world does not matter when you are sitting knee deep in mud with your four year old or riding Superman for the eighth time with your seventeen year old. They taught me that happiness was enjoying the moments in which you lose yourself in your activity and think of nothing but the present. It is not always easy to admit my parents were right about so many things – especially when it comes to me standing in the same position saying the words I once adamantly claimed I would never say to my own children.
My father still comes by my house offering to help paint, weed whack the yard, or trim trees (and by “help” I really mean to “do it himself while I am out with my family”). He is that kind of guy. The one who gets up early on a Saturday morning to trim his son’s hedges not because he was asked but because it is what he enjoys doing. Even with an injured ankle and replaced knee, he hobbles around to help with yard work and ensure our houses look as nice as his. My mother still walks with me through Bluff and tells me we are going for a “short walk” when she really means we are doing the entire perimeter and won’t see solid land for another hour or two. She listens when I need to talk and confides in me like a friend. She supports all of my hopes and dreams, encourages me to go after the “impossible,” and reminds me each week that life is the best it has ever been even if it doesn’t seem so. They both are amazing people who have influenced my life in ways I never realized until this year.
I share these thoughts with you because it is graduation time: a season when young adults around the world are gearing up to head off on their own, travel around the world, or prepare for the “real” world. Some of the graduates cannot wait to leave the nest and get out on their own – to live life on their own terms. Others are thankful for their parents but excited to get away from the overprotectiveness that has followed them throughout their formative years. However, I want to share with the younger generation the realization that we have destroyed a lot of society by training them that success is defined by what you attain in life, when truly it is defined by who you are surrounded by and knowing that you are truly happy.
Whether just graduating or celebrating your 20th, 30th, or 60th anniversary of your high school graduation, take time out to think of how your parents have influenced your lives. Good or bad, you are who you are today because of them. In this fast-paced society, we often cannot help ourselves from wanting to get things over and done with; however, I challenge each of you to slow down and take time to enjoy the famous father you have, the artistic mother, and the “wasted” lives they spent cherishing you, ensuring your needs were met, and seemingly sacrificing their happiness to ensure you became the person you are in progress in becoming. Even those who do not know their parents or did not have have parents who were around often can appreciate the sacrifices their parents made; even when they are were the sacrifice. None of our parents are perfect; all of them have made mistakes. We have too. Our journeys are never complete, but with each breath of our parents’ lives, they only want what is truly best for us. Call your mom or dad today. Forgive past hurts. Forge forward with happiness and thank them, however dysfunctional, for helping you become who you are today and who you will be in the future. Hug them if you can. Respect them. And, on every day, not just the holidays, honor them for who they are.
NOTE: This article was published in the free online publication Christian Witness Online Magazine, July 1 - 15 edition.