There is some foundational flint in the core of every mother and every father that sparks a longing to see “better things” for their children. It’s fueled, in part, by a selfless love that can only be truly grasped once you have been irritated, frustrated, exasperated, punched, poked, scratched, kicked, glared at, cried on, spit at, puked on, screamed at, pooped on and stared down by a human being one tenth your size and pardoned every bit of in exchange for a single big bear hug. There is no one else in the world that I would ever cut that deal with and therefore there is no one that I want more for than these horribly wonderful creatures.
It would be terribly misguided, however, to think of ourselves as purely unselfish. Our “better things” longing is not entirely absent of a certain prideful arrogance that likes to think we can do this better than our parents, even if our parents (like mine) were exceptional.
Regardless of our motivation . . . scratch that . . . of MY motivation I want the absolute best for my kids.
It’s not a simple undertaking.
I wish that it was. I wish that I could just insist that they learn math and eat broccoli and ensure that their futures would be bright and shiny and virtually pain free. I can’t.
I wish that I could tell them what to do, what to think, what to believe, who to follow, who not to, when to wait, when to jump, when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away and when to run. I can’t.
I still will . . . but only God knows if they’ll listen . . . or if I’m even right.
I’m learning that what I want most for my kids are contradictions. I want my kids to see in me something that doesn’t make a lick of sense . . . especially when they hold it up in contrast to the way the vast majority of the rest of the world thinks.
These are the contradictions that I want to teach my kids
1. To be Discerning yet Generous
There is an age old tension between helping someone out and not being a sucker. Don’t give money to the beggar because they’ll probably just use it on drugs. Don’t buy too many cookies from the girl scout because they’ll come out of the wood works if they find out you like Thin Mints. Don’t tip more than 20%. Or was is it 15? I’ll go 12 but I need a calculator.
I am 100% in favor of wisdom. I’m a big supporter of discernment. I have always had a phobia of naivete.
Unfortunately, I am just now learning how much absolute joy there is in knowing all of the facts and giving anyway. My wife and I are not nearly rich enough to be philanthropists but we are more excited than we have ever been about random, unsolicited, unexpected and unreciprocated acts of generosity.
- We rarely go through a drive thru without buying for the people behind us.
- We don’t go out to eat unless we can afford to pay for some strangers sitting on the other side of the restaurant
- We tipped our waitress $50 for an $8 meal.
- My wife texted me yesterday and said, “I just bought an old lady’s groceries. You need to ask for a raise.”
This is terrible financial advice but to be quite honest we’re not the ones you want to come to for financial counseling. On the other hand you won’t find anyone who gets more giddy than we do because we paid twice what they were asking at a rummage sale.
Discernment is the fence between cynicism and generosity. I’ve been on both sides and I like it way better here.
I want my kids to know the joy of giving with their eyes open.
2. To be Brilliant yet Ignorant
That’s the most ridiculous sentence I have ever written and I am no stranger to writing ridiculous sentences. What kind of moronic father would ever wish ignorance upon his children.
Let me clarify. I would never wish ignorance on my children. In fact I would never have to. It’s guaranteed that they will be ignorant I just want them to be aware of it. Ignorance gets blamed for so many bad behaviors but it isn’t the culprit. It’s the universal character trait.
Ignorance is not knowing.
A bigot, for example, may arrive at a state of racism because they don’t know . . . but they stay there because they think they do. Ignorance isn’t the problem but not realizing how ignorant you are . . . that’s a problem.
Something horrible happens when you find an answer to anything. You stop looking for answers. I want my kids to be so phenomenally brilliant that they never for a moment feel that they have learned all they need to. I want them to bumble and trip and say embarrassingly awkward things about politics and religion and race and culture and how old people smell and each time they do I want them to become a little more brilliant and get one more glimpse into how far they have to go.
I want my kids to taste the freedom of admitting their own ignorance.
3. To Love Their Country and the Rest of the World Too
My kids have grown up in China. They literally have friends on every continent except Antarctica and my daughter is planning a trip to see what she can do about that. Now we’re back in America and I’m a little bit scared.
I’m a little scared that they’re a bit behind the curve on things like the 4th of July and the Pledge of Allegiance. Currently though I’m even more scared that the beautiful pieces of growing up cross-culturally won’t stick. I want them to be proud to be American but I want it to be the good kind of pride. We’ve got a pretty cool story and we’ve come through some really messy stuff. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and continue to do so but we’ve also faced a great number of our demons and been willing to say, “hey, that’s not right.”
I can’t help but think that 200 years ago my son, who is half black and half white would have been his mother’s shame and his father’s death. Even 50 years ago he would have been a scandal. I know we’ve got a long way to go but I’m pretty proud to be where we are considering where we’ve come from.
I want my kids to know that same pride without forgetting for a moment that there are other great nations and we don’t call the people who live there foreigners . . . we call them friends.
I want my kids to feel the pleasure of pride without arrogance.
4. To be Racially “Blind” yet Celebrate Culture
I hesitate to write this one because I don’t actually want my kids to be, as they say, “color blind.” Honestly I think the term (if I may be a bit nitpicky) is a bit of a sad reflection of all of the messy racial issues that we’ve struggled through. It’s like the best option we have is to say, “you’re black but I’m going to ignore that and just call you a person.” Or, “you may be white but I’ll let it slide.”
I want my son to know that he is African American and love it. I want my daughter to know that she is from China and embrace it. I want them both to learn to celebrate their heritage and each other’s and ours collectively. I also want them to be completely embarrassed to be seen with us but only because we are their parents . . . not because we are white.
I love that my kids are off to a good start because our beautifully blended family has forced them into a position of loving and being loved deeply by people who don’t look like them. It’s in their core already. I think they’ve got an edge on the mono-cultural families. I’m not saying they’re better than all of the other kids . . . but they are.
I want my kids to celebrate their heritage and never miss a friendship for the sake of skin.
5. To Disagree and Love People
I don’t have this one figured out. It’s really not easy to love people who are obviously wrong. This is a major challenge for me because I am so often right. In fact I’m fairly certain I am right about everything. If I didn’t think I was right about something I would change my mind. Then I would be right about everything.
It’s a bit easier on the surface when people just disagree with me about the piddly stuff . . . like politics.
It gets real though, when people start spouting venomous drivel like, “I Love Lucy was the best show ever made.”
EXCUSE ME. Have you never seen The Andy Griffith Show?!! Dirty Joker.
See what I mean? Not easy.
I want my kids to know where they stand. I want them to be firm in their convictions and their beliefs. I don’t want them to be swayed by every fast talker who crosses their path and I don’t want them to apologize for their core values. I also don’t want them huddle up with people who never challenge them and I don’t want them to simply tout their rightness among a crowd of agreeable people.
I want my kids to love hard to love people.
Some people are good at that.
At least not yet but hey . . .
every parent wants better things for their kids.