It is interesting how some things that you learned as a child stick with you, even when the years and decades pile up. I was thinking the other day about how my parents approached certain subjects and had to smile at how sly they were.
For example, we were a quite ordinary middle class (though probably over-educated) family, but as ordinary as we were, we did have a few forebears who made their mark. Over the years, my parents developed a masterful way of gradually introducing me to these antecedents: with every revelation came a strongly worded threat. For example, “we (at least my mother’s side) are eligible to belong to the Daughters of the Mayflower – and if you even think about joining said society you will be pilloried and disowned!” Words to the effect that “we don’t hang our hat on somebody else’s fame” often accompanied these threats, and let me tell you, the message came through loud and clear.
It turned out that we had quite of few of these notables on our family tree – no war heroes or Nobel Prize winners – but still people to take pride in. And as I learned about each of them, I was taught to recognize that their accomplishments were their own – not mine. In other words, it was OK to be proud, but nix on the bragging rights. One of these helped found a Dakota Territory college which still thrives today. He also preached the service at Calamity Jane’s Deadwood funeral when all of the other fine clergy of the town refused to do it. Another was named the first Poet Laureate of the state. One donated the land to build a South Dakota town. And one, as a wartime college president in the midwest, enrolled as many Japanese-American students as he dared, to rescue them from Concentration Camps (and over the vociferous objections of his Regents.) If you go back far enough, there are even some famous names (that’s where the Mayflower comes in, and even one or two US Presidents), but – as I said – name-dropping is seriously frowned upon.
When taken in sum, these accomplishments – I am proud to say – are contributors to the common weal: standing up for the underdog, contributing to the arts, advancing education, protecting civil rights – basically just doing what is right.
There is much to be proud of here, but the bottom line – my parents’ message was – you have to make your own way in the world. And if you don’t leave the planet in better shape than when you arrived, then you’re just taking up space.
That, plus the Golden Rule, pretty much consisted of my own parenting philosophy. I have passed this along to my own children and grandchildren and have to admit, I’m pretty pleased with the results. The comforting message here is, If the substance is sound, the parents don’t have to be absolutely perfect!