August 5, 1994

For My Children

Love your parents, not as such,

But since, like you, forlorn,

They too began this life in dutch,

Not asking to be born.

Samuel Hoffenstein, 1947

Have you ever wished that you had had different parents? I have. Like wishing to be smarter or more talented, it is futile and foolish. No matter who you are, that is who you are and you can't possibly be anyone else.

Most small children believe that their mothers and fathers are perfect. When they find out that they aren't perfect at all, it comes as a bit of a shock. Some children never recover from it.

The tendency to blame parents for your own problems and shortcomings is nothing new, even though it gets a very big press these days, and is much of what the Oprah show is all about. I blamed my parents and, I assume, that they blamed theirs. My father and mother were both devastated by their parents, who had such a lack of consideration for them that they died while their children were still young. My parents didn't make the same mistake, but they made many others, and it wasn't until I had children of my own that I not only forgave them, but understood. I'm glad that I had the chance to tell my father that I thought that he was a fine father, before he died and I could no longer tell him anything.

My children tend to blame me and their mother for their failings -and they are right. We are, in a large measure responsible for who they are. Didn't we raise them through those critical years when their characters formed? Didn't we feed them when they were hungry, diaper them, teach them not to kill themselves, and the myriad of things that parents do for their children. And we made lots of mistakes in the process, just as anyone does when they do something for the first time. Even though we read the proper instruction manual. In my day it was Benjamin Spock, M.D.'s book, and we made loads of errors. Most of those mistakes were trivial, and some were repairable; but there are a few that we regret to this day.

What makes things worse is that we probably made mistakes that we weren't even aware were mistakes. It is only when our kids remind us, that we become aware of them. And they do remind us; to the point where I want to say, "Shut up! There's nothing that I can do about it now -it's done!" Still, I prefer that my children complained to me, rather than do it behind my back.

There are some parents who are so terrible that they create monsters. But within what we call good parents are an infinity of possibilities. Do something one way and your kid will will be influenced in that way; do it another and it will have a different influence. To make matters worse, you can do something to, or for, your child and it will have no effect at all. Do the exact same thing at another time, or to another child, and it will have a profound effect.

Most of us eventually reach a stage in life where we accept what has happened to us and will continue to happen to us as the inevitable consequence of living. We accept the fact that what is cannot be any different. As Omar Khayyam said:

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,

Moves on: nor all your Piety and Whit

Can lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

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