Leading by example
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I couldn’t stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” –Mark Twain
I am going through the whole “ignorant” stage with my brood. Oh, they love me and are respectful (or punished when not), but I know my two teenagers find me “ignorant” — ignorant of the social issues that plague them in the digital world or the pressures that come with this “race-to-eventual-failure” approach (as I like to call it) to education in which we accelerate our children’s learning to the point of failure.
As parents (or aunts and uncles), we talk to kids A LOT. I am guilty of the “talk-a-situation-to-death” parenting style myself. The funny thing is I can talk until I am blue in the face to my children and they may not respond; however, just the other day, they saw me being especially kind to someone and they both stopped in their tracks and said, “Wow, mom, you are really nice.” A little lightbulb went off in my head: If I want them to grow up to be beautiful, kind human beings, I need to stop talking (I think if they read this letter, they will be overjoyed by this bit of news!) and start actively modeling the behavior I want to see in them.
This month’s feature story is by Dan Martinsen, who talks about the selfless choice he made when he decided to be a living donor for his brother who was suffering from cancer. The decision to go under a grueling, and potentially dangerous, surgery was, I am sure, only made more difficult because he was a father of three young children at the time. What an example this father left on his children about living such an incredibly selfless life. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of that transplant. The man that received that liver currently lives a full life of gratitude for the gift. He can be found at his children’s lacrosse games and wrestling matches, skiing out West with them, or surfing the waves in Puerto Rico with them. He uses his gift of life and shows his children how to truly enjoy living. Martinsen’s story is about brothers, yes, but it is also about fathers. This June we celebrate Fathers Day, and I know that these two men are only the men they are because of the behavior their own father, Dan Martinsen, modeled for them.
I think whether we are a father or a mother, aunt or uncle, now is a nice time to reconnect with the youth in our life and maybe do a little less talking and a little more showing. Show them what it means to be selfless (no, I do not expect you to go through the live liver donor transplant to do this, but you can certainly sign your deceased organ donor card!); show them what it means to see life as a blessing; and rather than preaching (read YELLING) about work ethic, respect and gratitude, simply show them what a life lived in gratitude looks like.
As for me, I know I am in the place where my children think I am a tad “ignorant,” much the way that I thought my own father was when I was young. I can’t change that, not with all the talking in the world. But, like my father did for me, I can model the behaviors I want to see in my children. Ray McGrath didn’t speak a lot while childrearing, but he modeled a strong work ethic, respectfulness, gratefulness and kindness. So, I will talk a little less, yell a little less and model a little more, and when my children come out the other end of “teenagehood” and are graduating college, I hope they, too, will be surprised by how much I have learned. 😉