When the doctor came in after a much longer time in surgery than we expected, we knew my dad’s open-heart procedure didn’t go well. The doctor confirmed our suspicions: My father was in critical condition and needed multiple machines to sustain life. It didn’t look good.
Very early the next morning, when we were called to the hospital as his blood pressure crashed, I realized that these would be the last conversations I would have with him. He was unconscious, but I told him that I hoped I could be half the father he was when I had kids. My wife and I had only been married for a few years so kids were in the plan, but not the immediate plan. I was heartbroken that he wouldn’t be able to meet my future children.
Seven years after my father passed, my wife and I were battling infertility. My mom entered hospice, and, in a bittersweet twist, we had our first son less than a year after she died. Although she never got to meet our son, we like to think she talked to “someone upstairs” about our challenge.
Having kids provides a daily reminder of my childhood, and a deeper appreciation for what my parents sacrificed to raise us. It also gives me perspectives on things I saw them do that I do with my boys. It is also deeply sad to me that I can’t share with them my worries, my struggles, and my parenting wins. But at least I can learn from the lessons they gave me. Here are five things I learned from my parents that I try to pass down to my kids.
1. I Show My Children Patience
My parents always told one story over and over. It revolved around how, when I was a little boy and my dad was pulling the small “sucker” buds off his peony plant. I thought I was “helping” as I pulled every bud off. My dad was patient as he explained what I did, but I’m sure he had to be a little annoyed as he had a season without peony blooms. I often find myself wishing I had his patience, and think of him when my 4-year-old does something that tries my tolerance.
2. I Share Household Responsibility
I grew up in the ’70s, and even though my mom stayed home for part of my youth, my parents shared household chores. My mom was in a choral group, so he’d make dinner on nights she had rehearsals, or he would put together school lunches for us. Shared parenting isn’t as notable today, but his willingness to do what had to get done inspires me today, and it wasn’t lost on me when I was a kid. So now, my wife and I do the same in our household.
3. I Support My Children’s Passions
You never know what will light a fire in your kids’ spirit. For me, it was cars and later, spaceships. My parents supported those passions wholly. As my sons get older, I strive to mimic my parents’ willingness to support those passions, whether it was through taking me to the auto show or putting science fiction-themed wallpaper in my bedroom. I thought of that wallpaper as we painstakingly applied a Cars decal to my son’s bedroom wall last year.
4. I Embrace Spirituality
My parents were devout Catholics and brought us to mass from an early age. Even though they had a strong sense of faith, they also gave us a chance to make our own decisions regarding faith as we got older. My kids are a bit young to get too serious about religion, but we strive to make sure they will have the moral compass necessary to get through life — and that they know they have the freedom to make choices.
5. I Foster Their Independence
In high school, while most of my friends had curfews and fairly strict guardrails, my parents seemed to take a more hands-off approach, figuring, I guess, we’ll come home when we’re hungry. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be that laissez-faire, but I do believe that being less of a helicopter parent will build stronger kids.
I wish my parents could see the day-to-day decisions I make as a parent. I wish they’d be able to give me advice. But I’ve found, somehow, that having kids has given me a new perspective on my upbringing. It’s also given me another way to keep my parents’ memory alive.