Founding Fathers: The view from the rocker
Founding Fathers is back once again to give a Richmond dad a place to reflect/opine/wax poetic about a fatherhood-related topic of his choosing. Today we hear from local writer, producer, director, and relatively new grandfather, Gene Harris.
Sure, the dads occasionally contribute to Raising Richmond, but the conversation there tends to leans more towards the maternal perspective. That’s where “Founding Fathers” comes in. Each month, we’ll be giving a different Richmond dad a place to reflect/opine/wax poetic about a fatherhood-related topic of his choosing. Today we hear from Gene Harris, a local writer, producer, and director who is also partly responsible for creating RVANews editor, Valerie Catrow.
Okay, all you young, new fathers out there. At some point, while you’re holding your brand new, beautiful baby in your arms, and he or she is feasting on a nice, warm bottle, and the mother of the child has dropped into exhausted and much-deserved sleep, you may slip into a quiet reverie and start to wonder what it’ll be like, years from now, when your kid has grown up, moved out, gotten married, and (miracle of miracles) turned you into a new grandpa. What will THAT be like?
Here’s what it will be like: You won’t believe it. Trust me. I’ve got a pretty new grandson, and I still can’t really believe it. Because to be a grandfather, you have to be OLD. And I’m not OLD. No way.
After all, that geezer I see in the mirror every morning isn’t really me. It’s just some old codger that’s kidnapped the real me and is now holding me captive inside this decrepit hulk. And that old man who takes his cholesterol meds every night isn’t really me. And that aging bald guy who can’t remember where he put down his glasses 10 seconds ago isn’t really me. And those 20- and 30-somethings sitting in my den yakking aren’t really MY grown children, are they? Mine are still upstairs playing Space Invaders, right?
Wrong, Geritol Breath. I have to face facts. That geezer in the mirror is me, and if I didn’t believe it before, the proof is right before my eyes, in the person of that beautiful, wiggly grandbaby. Get used to it, Gramps, you’re OLD.
But with age comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom, or so they say. I don’t consider myself to be particularly wise, but as I sit here in my rocker, and review my journey through parenthood’s peaks and valleys, I do believe I’ve managed to pick up a few pearls along the way. Maybe I can pass some of them on to the current whippersnapper generation of new dads who may be reading this.
Pearl #1: Parenting is a long haul, so there’s no sense in worrying yourself to a frazzle about it. Parenting is tough enough without constantly fretting about whether or not you’re doing it right. Take your responsibilities seriously, but don’t expect perfection — that’s an impossible goal. Do your best, but try to have fun doing it. You’ll figure this out by the time you have a second or third child. Relax, use some common sense, set some reasonable boundaries for your kids, and when something goes awry, use it as a learning experience for both the child and you as a parent.
Pearl #2: Your children’s education is all-important. My wife is a teacher who has taught in both public and private schools, and her experiences have convinced me that the single most important factor in how well a child does in school — regardless of the amount of money spent by the school system, regardless of the skill and talent of the teachers, regardless of the teacher/student ratio, regardless of the extracurricular offerings, regardless of any of this — is how much the parents care about whether their children are learning anything. If the parents care, their kids will do well in almost all circumstances. If the parents don’t care, the kids won’t. Simple as that.
Pearl #3: DO NOT try to mold your kid’s lives according to your own desires for them. Let your kids be who they want to be — as long as what they want to be is legal, not harmful to anyone, and has some sort of worth. Your kid might want to be a basketball star or a concert pianist or a nuclear physicist or a teacher or an 18-wheeler operator or a bartender. No matter. Your job as a parent is to expose your children to as many different aspects of life, culture, and knowledge as you can, letting them gravitate toward what they feel has meaning to them, and lending them your encouragement and support — which brings us to:
Pearl #4: We’ve all heard and been told something like the following: If you study diligently, work hard, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. We often hear this from someone who has achieved great success in some endeavor, relating how they got this advice from their parents or some other venerable mentor at an early age, took it to heart, and persevered to become successful in their chosen field. Your parents probably told you the same thing from time to time, and I’m sure you want to give your own kids the same heartwarming and encouraging advice. Who wouldn’t?
Well, guess what. It ain’t true. For every hugely successful person in any field of endeavor you care to name, you can find two hundred also-rans floundering about out there, maybe having reached some modicum of success, but having achieved nothing near what they set out to do. And I’m sure nearly all of these folks had the same amount of desire, perseverance, and self-confidence the successful ones had. It just didn’t work out for them, for whatever reason — lack of talent, inferior education, unforeseen circumstances, bad advice, you name it. So the idea that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to is pretty much a myth. Bummer.
But here’s the thing, the really important, redeeming point, and what you need to impart to your kids: If you don’t study diligently, if you don’t work hard, if you don’t believe in yourself with all your might, you have no chance of achieving your goals. Tell your kids that there are absolutely no guarantees in life, except this: if you don’t try your best in all you do, failure is guaranteed, but if you do all the right things, you have a good chance — maybe even a very good chance — of achieving your goals. And here’s a larger point: maybe whether or not you achieve your goals isn’t really that important, because the reward isn’t really in the achieving; it’s in the striving, the struggle, the effort. That’s how you find out who you are, and what you’re capable of. It’s how you achieve self-realization, which might just be the highest goal any of us should be striving for. Just do your best. That’s really all anybody can ask. It’s good advice for kids — and good advice for parents.
And that’s the view from this grandparent’s rocker.
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