As a history major in college, it was stressed to me that history is not something that we read about that happened a long time ago. We discussed the idea that history is, in fact, a conversation between time and space… between the past and the present. The lessons we were taught at a young age didn’t make sense until we were older. New archeological discoveries lead to new revelations about the past and our origins. When we finally see our parents as humans and not omnipotent creatures in charge of our fate, it gives us a new perspective on how life really was, and how it really can be. As children become parents themselves, there is a constant internal dialogue between the lessons we were taught, what we actually learned, and how we plan to teach our children. Our own children either help us to understand our parents and how hard they worked on our behalf, or it leaves us perplexed by the choices they made.
Sadly, I fall into the category of the latter. My parents were the BEST when I was young. My family was likened to the Cosby’s by my friends, and other families came to my parents for advice and support. However, this pedestal I placed my family on was shattered, and everything I thought my parents were and stood for was undermined by the time I was 23.
One single example:
My parents were successful Black entrepreneurial business people. Or so I thought they were. They did have a company for more than ten years, and I worked with their employees for two summers. I got to know these people and enjoy working with them. They took me in, and showed me the ropes and I had a good time even though it was hard work. I assumed that the company was doing well because we had a house, and we had enough food to feed several teens, and we had a sailboat that we would enjoy on the Puget Sound. I learned the value of hard work, and a job well done, and to work with integrity because we did not have a supervisor checking in on us all the time. I learned these things from people who, as it turns out, do not have these values. I do not believe that a business owner acts with integrity when they have an expensive recreational vehicle like a 34-foot Catalina sailboat and their employees may or may not have received a valid paycheck for all their work. A sailboat provided me with great memories that are now tarnished to reflect on now, because I can only think of other people who were trying to provide for themselves and their families while we were out on the water. I would have gladly grown up without a sailboat if that meant hard work was properly compensated, and families were provided for.
My parents… were not the Cosbys. The people who raised me until I was 18, was not a true representation of who they truly were. The people who raised me were people of integrity, strong and determined to persevere through the trials and obstacles that got in their way. The people who raised me did not tolerate dishonesty and were the quintessential American Dream realized. They taught me how to work hard and play hard. They taught me to value all people from the most to the least. They taught me how to love God, and how to be my own person. They taught me that no one will hand me anything, and that I have to go get it. They made sure I had the tools and values to be successful in life.
Their ideas of success, and what they taught me success meant were two different things. The people who raised me was not who they really were, and they could not keep up the charade forever. When their veil was pulled from over my eyes they tried to say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
What does this mean for my kids? How have the failings of my parents effected how I parent my children? PROFOUNDLY!!! My wife tells me that I am a good father. I don’t think I can put into words what that little statement means to me. Being blessed to have both a daughter and a son I am living vicariously through them. Not in the way that I am try get them to succeed where I failed in life, or where I came up short. I AM experiencing what it feels like to have loving, honest, parents of integrity, and character. I am doing my best to replace the tainted memories of my childhood with the memories of their childhood.
Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. We are not supposed to be the kind of people who use our children to get something, or to work the system. Our children are not accessories, or trophies. Our children are not charged with the birthright of continuing on our lowly ambitions. As parents, it is US that is charged to help them reach a level we did not know was possible.
For my kids, I’m starting by being the person worthy to be called their dad.