No politics today. I’ll go back to my usual minarchist activism later. Today I’ll talk about something more serious.
We’re in that interval between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and that’s made me a little reflective at the moment. Parents can – should – have a huge impact on our young lives. Mine certainly did. I hope I’ve had as big an impact on our four daughters and our six (so far) grandchildren. When the Old Man died at ninety-four, in 2018, I had this to say about him:
Dad was a farmer, a quality engineer for a major manufacturer, and an artist of some renown who for years had his own space in the Iowa State Capitol where one of his paintings always was on display. More important, he was a good husband, a wonderful father and grandfather, an old-fashioned country gentleman, one of the finest wingshots I’ve ever seen, a self-educated man conversant in subjects from particle physics to paleoanthropology to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. He was a wise man, and a fine man.
That’s the what. But more important is the who, and I’ll tell you about that by passing on some of the bits of wisdom he gifted to me over the years:
Work comes first.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
A man takes care of his family first, then himself.
There are no lousy jobs, just lousy people.
Dad taught me how to find my way in the woods, how to fish, how to shoot, how to do so many things I couldn’t possibly list them all. More important, he taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. One day I hope I’ll be as good at those things as he was.
When Dad was gone, it was like a light went out in Mom; she saw her ninetieth birthday six months after Dad left us and passed herself two months after that. She loved her family, kids, grandkids and great grandkids, but without her husband of seventy-one years, she didn’t seem to have much will to go on. Mom died in early 2019, after telling my oldest sister that she would “…wait to die until after New Year’s, so she wouldn’t ruin the family’s holidays.” When Mom died, I had this to say about her:
Mom was fond of recalling the first time she met my father, at a wedding, when she was eight and he, thirteen; “he was a little out of my league then,” she would say with a laugh. But that didn’t last. Mom graduated high school in 1944 and spent the last year of the war working a Western Union switchboard, all too often having to call farm families she had known all her life and tell them they had a telegram from the War Department.
A farm wife for many years, Mom mastered a variety of skills. She was a fine pistol shot, an accomplished angler, a master at patching skinned knees and comforting the normal bumps and bruises country kids accumulate. She also invented the energy bar, which she called a ranger cookie; this was a marvelous combination of brown sugar, oatmeal, chocolate and butterscotch chips, crushed corn flakes and coconut. One would keep you going for hours.
But most of all, my mother excelled at being a Mom.
When I became a father the first time, she repeated some advice on parenting that had originally come from her mother: “Hug them, kiss them and feed them, and they’ll turn out fine.” And I have to say, it works. Throughout our childhoods my siblings and I were always confident and secure in knowing she loved us. My kids, all grown now, have always said the same thing.
Life is water, not stone.
We go through life knowing that one day our parents will be gone. We try to prepare for it, but at some level, we’re never ready to say that last good-bye. But I see a little bit of the Old Man every time I look in the mirror, and not just because I have his bushy eyebrows and arched nose. Sometimes during the day when I’m tempted to go goof off instead of putting nose to grindstone, I hear him say “work comes first!” I see a little bit of my Mom whenever I look at my four daughters, or when I eat one of Mom’s ranger cookies now that my own dear Mrs. Animal has taken on that recipe. And when one of our girls is upset or having some problems, I hear Mom say, “hug them, kiss them and feed them, and they’ll be fine.” My siblings and I were lucky enough to have our parents until we were all in our fifties (only me), sixties and seventies, and you can’t expect much more than that. And to the end of their time with us, they were very much our parents, always ready with a word of advice or encouragement; both were fond of pointing out something that I have recognized as a great truth, and that is that one never stops being a parent.
Even after this much time has passed, I must remind myself that now I’m the Old Man. That’s a wheel that never stops turning. My siblings and I are widely separated, me in Alaska, them in the Midwest, but we try to get together at least once a year for a meal and to re-live old times. And, of course, we talk about how our kids are doing, and about the grandchildren we all have, and remember, as my folks were fond of saying, that you never stop being a parent.
Parents can – should – have a huge impact on our young lives. This time of year may make us a little more cognizant of that, but it’s a thought that never should be far from our minds. It’s a lifetime job, being a parent, and for most people it’s the most important job you’ll ever have. It certainly has been for me. I think I’m doing pretty good at it, but then, I learned from the best.
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