Thursday, August 11, 2011
Birthdays make me philosophical
It was my birthday last week, August 2, and as is my custom, this column will wax a bit on the philosophical side.
For the first time in 14 years, Ginny and I were home alone, without children. All three were at three different camps: Ozark for Lawrence, Talisman for John, and Strong River for Ruth.
Whenever I mentioned this serendipity to friends, they invariably asked, “So what are y’all doing with all your free time?” At which point, I would say, “Ginny is wearing me out!”
As I watched the predictably shocked expressions on their faces, I would add, with a smile, “She’s got me doing more household chores than I could possibly get done in a week.”
Did I miss them? No, but then I knew they were coming back. When I saw Ruth, she hugged me hard and tears welled up in her eyes. Sometimes a busy dad misses things.
Ginny spent her extra time reading several books on how to raise teenagers and bugging me to do the same. I finally made a deal with her: She has to read everything in Proverbs about raising children and I’ll read her contemporary books. I cringed when I noted the authors were from San Francisco.
To be honest, the books were fine and offered good advice (all of which is already in Proverbs).
In essence, the main theme of the contemporary books Ginny had me read can be summed up in Colossians 3:21: “Fathers do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.”
That’s the trick, isn’t it? How to teach your children discipline and responsibility, without embittering them. There are some behaviors worth discouraging.
I have yet to read a self-help book that didn’t offer many good ideas. The idea part is easy. It’s the execution part that is hard.
The same can be said in business. It’s easy to come up with a great idea for a business. Putting the idea into reality is a whole different ball game. Note to youngsters: It’s harder than it looks. When you take the playing field, you will develop a whole new sense of respect for your elders.
It was my 53rd birthday last week. I have an excellent idea of what type of person I should be. Putting the idea into reality is as challenging today as it was when I was 15.
The other problem is variability. Every child is unique. Every parent is unique. Every situation is unique. Some general rules can apply, but the devil is in the details.
I have been called a control freak. Others think I am laid back. It just depends on the situation. Sometimes children need a heavy hand. Sometimes you have to back off. But I will never relinquish my responsibility to do the absolute best that I can as a parent.
For me, prayer works best when tempers flare. When I’m angry and upset, I can envision scenarios filled with revenge and retribution. Such thoughts are - to keep it simple - the devil’s work. I pray the Holy Spirit will guide me away from evil, knowing that my basic nature will lead me toward it. This has worked for me every time.
Every self-help book ever written condensed into one simple delivery vehicle: the Holy Spirit, accessible to all, ever present, powerful beyond belief. Too bad it took me so long to realize this truth.
All religions incorporate the idea of a spirit, a force, a karma that is greater than our individual selfish desires. A big part of developing as a human is to reach this higher state of mind.
As a parent, I have been charged with the responsibility for raising the three precious children I call my own. That being said, they are not me. I don’t own them, I just guide them. They have their own lives to live and must make their own choices, some of which will be good, many of which will be bad.
This is a hard concept for some parents to accept, me included. We are caretakers, not God. We can only do so much. In the end, each child must flap his own wings, for better or for worse.
The flip side of that is the notion that we should be concerned about all children, not just our own.
Too many parents dote on their own children. That‚s great, but each child is equally valued in God‚s eyes.
So why is it so hard for us to rise above the petty irritations of life and see the big picture? Why do we struggle so hard to be the type of person we know we should be?
That is the essence of the human struggle, a spiritual struggle. It is fundamental to our condition, but the frenetic pace of modern society doesn‚t help.
We are so linked in with our communications technology that we have forgotten how to set boundaries. The classic example of this is texting while driving. What could be more idiotic than threatening your very life to read a message a few minutes sooner? It‚s insanity. Yet we do it all the time.
We are not just “texting while driving.” We are “texting” while living. In other words, we are so caught up in a technological maelstrom, we have forgotten how to live. We are like rats in a maze; overwhelmed, confused and totally ignorant of the big picture.
I believe a lot of our day-to-day frustrations are a manifestation of this rat race we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into. Technology has ripped apart the natural boundaries that enable peaceful contemplation and its resultant serenity.
One of my goals for the 53rd year of my life is to stop and smell the roses, even in the midst of raising teenagers. As frustrating as this can be, this time is fleeting and the moments precious. We only have them for a few more years. We must make the absolute most of it.
It seems amazing to realize I have been writing this column 21 years - and the Sun is still in business! I guess I am doing something right. I‚m shocked that I haven‚t worn out my welcome.
But believe me, I work at it every day. I answer my own phone and promptly return all calls. I try to be courteous to every person I interact with. I realize how fragile any business can be. Your continued readership is all the birthday present I will ever ask.
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