Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I Want For My Son

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with my son.  Right now--it's perfect: I give him everything that he needs and he gives me far more than I think he'll ever realize.  I can hope only that things will get even better.  Most boys idolize their fathers--the first male influence in their lives--but I am not presumptuous enough to assume that he will do that with me.  Still, though, I hope he will.

There is a long history of complicated father/son relationships in my family...something that I am both poignantly aware of and terrified to consider in relation to my son.  I am hopeful though because many of the characteristics that have ruined relationships' past are either inert or non-existent in me; I have my mother to thank for that.  I suppose that I am worried because history has a way of repeating itself...but at the same time, there are people who break the cycle; I need look no further than my wife to see the veracity of the latter.

Ultimately, I have no control over what will become of my relationship with my son down the road; I can instead focus only on the present and hope that my actions, decisions, and behavior will warrant a place in his life down the road.  In a weird way it's kind of like the NCAA Basketball Tournament: each stage of his life represents a round that can end in heartbreak or create a Cinderella story.  I suppose that his infancy represents the Round of 64.  With my position as the top seed (I hold all of the power in the relationship at this point), as long as I don't make any egregious errors, I should be good to go (and, in fact, I am).  The next Round of 32 would be his toddlerhood; this is where we currently stand.  This is the first round where a top seed really needs to worry, especially if there was an upset in the earlier round; you can never underestimate the power of burgeoning confidence that coincides with an unexpected victory.

As it stands now, I have my work cut out for me.  I need to balance being an authority figure and setting boundaries with being nurturing and affectionate.  My wife Heather would be the best one to assess my success here but I think she'd give me a passing grade.  I also have to continue to foster Timmy's development, helping to pilot him through new experiences as he leaves his infancy behind.  The fact that he is wearing sneakers, drinking from a straw, and, at times, feeding himself seems to indicate that, again, success is present (though I would credit most, if not all of that, to Heather's amazing abilities as a mother).  Still, though, he hasn't begun saying "NO!" and we haven't yet reached the so-called "Terrible Twos"...so we'll have to wait and see whether or not I make it through to the next round (I'm sure that I will).

The Sweet Sixteen comes next and this is arguably the most critical one; it will ultimately define the success achieved in all future rounds; this is his childhood.  One of the longest rounds, this is the one where memory begins to come into play.  I have to serve not only as parent but as teacher, as friend, as disciplinarian, as fun-provider...as, well, everything.  Every single thing that I say during this round can come back to haunt me and so I have to be careful.  I need to choose my words wisely and my actions with even more precision.  It is during this round that I will plant the seeds of manhood in my son, both by my deeds and by my instruction.  This is the round where I will instill in him the moral code that can potentially guide him throughout the rest of his life.  He will develop his likes, his dislikes, and begin to create a worldview for himself completely independent from my own perspective or how I would like for him to see things.  He will either survive his childhood or enjoy it and look back upon it fondly in his later years; I can only pray that it will be the latter.

The Elite Eight would be his adolescence.  Clearly this is the most difficult round if for nothing other than we will finally be squaring off head-to-head.  He will begin to assert himself as an individual and begin to identify himself as a man.  Gone will be the days that he will view me as all-knowing and infallible; I will be removed from my pedestal and examined thoroughly; I hope that I will pass the test.  We will argue, we will butt heads, and we will disagree on some of the most inane things...but I just hope that he will know how much I love him and that I am always looking out for his best interests.  I suppose that is what every parent hopes for during this difficult phase (difficult both for the parent and the teenager) but I hope those things just a little bit more.

The Final Four represents his adulthood.  This is a scary time in the tournament because elimination can come at any moment.  Timmy will spread his wings and gain his first taste of freedom, independence, and responsibility; it will be his choice whether or not we have a relationship or what type of relationship we will have.  I will begin to know whether or not my work during his childhood was successful as he will slowly be demonstrating the qualities that will come to define him as a man; I hope he will be an honorable one who respects his mother and future wife and treats them like the treasures that they are.  Though adolescence has the reputation of being the most difficult round, I believe that the beginning of this round will truly be the hardest for me for it will be the final time that I will be letting go.  His first day of school will be tough enough but when he finally moves out and begins his own life, so to speak, then I will know that, to a large degree, my job as a parent will be done.  My prize, hopefully, will be a spot in the final round.

The Championship Game is a reward for successfully navigating your way through the previous five rounds; it represents, in my estimation, my son's own parenthood.  As with all championship celebrations, this time of our lives can arguably be the most rewarding.  It will be the time that I will graduate from parent to grandparent, experiencing most of the joys of parenthood all over again with few of the difficulties inherent therein.  In turn, my son will be able to experience the incredible array of unforgettable and life-changing experiences that I have had and will have being a parent.  He will finally understand many of the things that remained esoteric to him in previous rounds, particularly the moments where we argued over what was best for him; hopefully, he will understand that I really was only looking out for him.  With any luck, this, most special, time of the tournament will be savored until Old Man Time finally improves his flawless record by one more.

Regardless of what ultimate becomes of my relationship with my son, there are a number of things that I want to impart to him--things that I believe will help him to lead a fuller life.  Some of the things that I will enumerate below I can say that I was fortunate to have experienced or achieved...others, not so much.  Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter how or why these things became important to me; what is important is that I can instill in my son the wisdom of these things so that he can become not just a better man than me but a better father as well.

Things I Want For My Son

A childhood filled with laughter and levity; no child should spend most of his or her time worrying or being nervous.  I want him to be able to look back on his innocence and feel that it was never lost but rather that it simply faded away as he grew up.

To make him feel like he is the most important person in the world on his birthday and for him to look forward to this day more than any other.  I want the days leading up to this incredibly special day to be filled with excitement and anticipation, not dread and a desire simply for the day to pass by unnoticed; no child should view their birthday like that.

To make his birthday special not only for him but for his mother too; they shared an incomparable experience the day he came into this world and they should be able to have some kind of unique way of celebrating it together.  After all, it's as much a day for her to celebrate as it is him.

 to be afraid to ask questions; I want to impart knowledge to him whenever I can, not instill a fear of speaking up or seeking help.

To enjoy every holiday to the best of his ability. 

Not to be afraid to ask me for anything, whether it's a lift home or a few extra bucks in his pocket.
To understand that people will treat you how you treat them or how you allow yourself to be treated.  Treat yourself with respect and others will follow suit.

NOT to be a worrier.  I wasted twenty years of my life being nervous and desiring control over things I would never have any possible way of influencing.  I was so rigid in my thinking that I felt that I always needed to have a plan for every single situation; life simply does not work that way and, ultimately, it is an unnecessarily taxing way to live your life.  I hope to achieve this by leading by example.  The only thing that we can control is how we react to situations, not the situations themselves.  I hope my son will take these words to heart:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” --Charles R. Swindoll

Serenity and the ability to create it for himself.

Patience, both with himself and others. 

A faith and belief in a higher power that he can turn to in both his moments of deepest need and highest exultation.

To understand and to respect the power of words.  I hope he can avoid saying hurtful things whenever possible; words, once written or spoken, cannot be taken back.  They can be like scars on the heart and soul.  They can ruin relationships or provide more satisfaction than anything else in the world. 

Not to be afraid of failure--sometimes you will learn more by falling short than you would have through your success.

Not to be afraid of disappointing people or to be preoccupied with it; more than likely you won't and, if you do, there's always redemption.

Never to be afraid of taking chances.  I hope he follows his heart even if it goes against what's practical.  Life is too short to play it safe.  I spent so much of my life trying to take the safe route that I ultimately lost sight of who I truly was; I wasn't living.  I am a creative person--a writer, a photographer, a musician, a teacher; these endeavors are what fulfill me.  I am only now realizing what I want to do with my life and that's because I did what others thought I should be doing instead of exploring what it was I wanted for myself.  I never even entertained the possibility of enjoying a creative career because it wouldn't provide me with a steady income.
Never to have to worry about money and NEVER to obsess about it.  Financial security is important but it shouldn't be the factor that drives what you want to do, at least in the long run.  You will need a steady fiscal foundation to provide you with the opportunity to do what you'd like but I would hope my son wouldn't feel that the need for such security should preclude him from following his heart or his dreams.  If you make the right decisions then you will be fine regardless of what you do. 

Always to have everything he needs and as much of what he wants as he has earned.

To experience hardships, setbacks, and failures for it is through our lowest moments that we can begin to understand the heights that we can reach.  I am only now overcoming some of the most difficult experiences of my life and it is this experience that is helping me to understand the world better.  It has given me a greater appreciation for the relationships that I have, for my perspective on life, and it is influencing my approach as a parent.  I wouldn't change the recent past, my distant past, or what I went through in 2006 for anything because ALL of those experiences have helped to shape me and, ultimately, have helped me to become the man and the person that I am today. 

Another choice quote by Charles Swindoll:

"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

Instead of asking "Why?" or, worse, "Why me?" I hope that my son will choose to ask "How?"  How can I best make it through this situation?  How can I learn from my mistake/decision?  How can I help others with the knowledge that I have gained from this? 

To accept responsibility for his actions first and to understand the opposing perspective in any situation.  People who are quick to point the finger fail to realize that there are three fingers pointing right back at themselves.  If he makes a mistake, I hope he owns up to it, learns from it, and avoids making it again in the future. 

I hope that he is quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive.

I hope that he learns not to take things personally and to avoid pettiness at all costs; the world isn't out to get you and neither are most people. 

I hope that the only addiction that he develops in his life is to learning.

I want him to understand that people can judge him as a man by how he treats his wife and his mother.

Respect both for his body and a woman's; both are temples in their own right and are deserving of the utmost reverence.

What you do when no one is looking says more about you than what you do when you're being watched.  There is something to be said for sitting at a red light in the middle of the night when there is no traffic simply because it is the right thing to do.

I hope that he has the courage to stand up for himself when he is being mistreated and not to fear authority figures if they are the ones mistreating him.

A genuine appreciation for the aesthetic, whether it is musical, literary, or visually artistic in nature.

A clear view of who he is and what he wants from his life as well as the courage and confidence to explore the former and to pursue and to achieve the latter.

The knowledge that his parents love him more than anything in this world.  With any luck, he'll consider us both friends and will respect us as much as we respect him.

To be able to laugh at himself.  People who take themselves too seriously are ultimately unhappy.  Besides, if you laugh at yourself first you can often prevent others from beating you to the punch.

An appreciation for nature, for travel, and for adventure.

To be passionate about at least one thing, if not more, in his life.  Basketball, music, writing, and photography have provided me with immeasurable hours of pleasure--I hope that he will have his own cache of pursuits that afford him the same.

A love not just of eating good food but of cooking it as well.

A romantic heart.

More happy memories of me than distressing ones.

The knowledge that, aside from his mother, no one has loved him more than me.

And, most importantly of all, to have a sense of humor--it will help him through anything life throws at him.