I didn’t like leaving the last post as just a rant, so I decided to give it some more thought and see if I could spot anything that would explain it. Being a parent myself, I was hoping to get some insight to it that would help me do a better job AS a parent.
I do think I have something to share. It is a bit weird, because it is both a cause (please note: I did NOT say it is the cause, nor did I say it is the only cause) and an additional question.
Still, they say the only life not worth living is the unexamined life, so let’s take a look at what I’ve found, so far.
If you were to take a national poll in the US about the one thing parents most wish for their kids, the number one answer would probably be something like “a better life than the one I’ve had”. Better education, better job, more pay, better health care, more status . . . I’m sure these all factor into that vague wish for kids to have a better life. But, parents don’t really appreciate it when the kids achieve this, and it’s somehow personal.
When I was growing up, my dad worked as a supervisor at the Dolly Madison cake factory in Emporia, Kansas. Of course, he hasn’t worked there for over 35 years, so I wouldn’t expect anyone around there to still remember him, but it’s true. Sometimes he worked night shift, sometimes graveyard, and sometimes days. He didn’t have a lot of time to spend with me, so he tried to make it count. When I was 10, he introduced me to 3 things. On my 10th birthday, I got a new BB gun, which I promptly used to give myself a lesson in respecting firearms – by shooting a BB into the end of my middle finger. He also introduced me to coffee that year, and taught me to play chess.
My dad has a 147 IQ, and had at one time in his life played chess regularly with the man who at that time was the Kansas State champion at tournament chess. He could hold his own, and they considered each other friends. This is who taught me to play chess. He never was brutal, but he didn’t take it easy on me, either. He wanted me to learn to think and critically plan ahead. Slowly, I learned. Incidentally, it was my overhearing conversations between them that helped me learn how to do metric-to-US Standard conversion equations – when I was in 2nd grade. Yes, it turns out I have a higher IQ than my father does. I’ll never be a “Stephen Hawking”, but I’m not stupid, either.
I can still remember the look on his face the day, 26 years later, when I finally earned a victory over him. I beat him in 2 straight games. After so many chess matches, over such a long time, the look on his face seemed to say he never expected this to happen. At the time, it was one of the sweetest days of my life. It was also the last time he ever agreed to play chess with me.
It might mean that he feels he has nothing further to teach me, as far as the game of chess is concerned (never mind that I just enjoyed being able to take the time to play, and talk with him). It could also mean that my victory somehow reminded him of his impending mortality (but nearly 20 years have passed, so that one is getting a bit hard to swallow now).
Finally, it might reveal a deeply hidden truth about us as parents – we “say” we want our kids to do better than us, but what we really mean is we want to sound right to the people listening, but secretly we hope they fail so we’ll continue to be needed. We don’t want to be the shoulders supporting a giant, because we’re afraid our backs can’t support the weight. As Loghaine MacTyre (the principle bad guy in the video game Dragon Age: Origins) tells his daughter – Queen Anora – “Daughters never grow up. They remain 6 years old, with pig tails and skinned knees, forever.” Or at least that is how they remain in our parental minds. I’m sure something similar is true for sons. We, as parents, never feel more important than when our children come running to us with some world-shattering crisis-of-the-day and look up into our eyes with that, “I know you can make it right” look on their faces.
And we never feel more pain, as parents, than the day they look at us for the first time with that, “I know what I’m doing, and I don’t want you interfering” look on their faces. But if we have done our jobs right, we should all know for a fact that this day is coming, long before it arrives. To that degree, the person most to be pitied is the parent who does a wonderfully successful job of raising good kids into good adults, and fails to prepare for letting go.
Like I said, this was an examination of what I’ve found so far. I promised no solutions – and I don’t think anyone could make such a promise. The answers would be as numerous and varied as people themselves are.