Wisdom from my father
Sometimes I feel sorry for Barack Obama. Though we grew up in the same era — indeed, were born less than two months apart — he had a very different upbringing. The title of his first autobiography says it all: Dreams from My Father.
Unlike young Barack, I was blessed with a present father who took an active hand in raising me — a hand that, on rare occasions, wielded an old wooden paddle. I got a lot more than just dreams from my father. I received love, affection, counsel, discipline, and direction. Whatever wisdom I possess, whatever wisdom I have managed to pass on to my own children, came mostly from him (and probably from his dad before him).
That Obama overcame his father's rejection is to some extent a credit to him. Unfortunately, it seems to have shaped his warped worldview, especially his apparent belief that the state should act as a substitute parent. Yes, he went on to become president of the United States, leader of the free world, which sadly grew progressively less free under his watch, whereas I, in the eyes of the world, am a nobody.
Yet I would not trade growing up under the watchful eye of a loving, engaged father for anything — not eight years in the White House, not a muti-million-dollar publishing deal, not a mansion on Martha's Vineyard. Between me and Barack, I'm pretty sure I got the better deal.
I realize that this might be starting to sound like a eulogy. Thankfully, it is not. My dad, the noted writer and photographer David B. Jenkins, is alive and well. As I write, he and my mom are traveling across the country in an R.V., fulfilling a lifelong dream. But it is probably what I would write, hopefully in the far distant future. Meanwhile, there's something to be said for eulogizing someone while he's still alive to hear it.
Many of the things my dad taught me growing up are no longer fashionable or politically correct. But they were of infinite value to me, and I believe that young people today (and maybe some not so young people) would still benefit from hearing them. Here is a small sample:
"The world doesn't owe you a living." This is something my dad would say to me whenever I showed signs of being lazy or complacent, which was all too often. He wanted me to understand that I would never be successful if I just sat back passively and waited for success to come to me. Nor could I count on others, including the government, to take care of me. I had to be able to take care of myself — and, one day, a family.
That message seems to be lost on many Millennials and Gen Zers. They do indeed believe that the world owes them a living, or at least their government does, which is to say their fellow citizens do. Hence their embrace of a Universal Basic Income and the reason so many businesses have had a hard time getting people to come back to work, after the government spent two years paying them to stay home.
What they don't seem to grasp is that the "living" they can expect from the government isn't really living. It's just existing.
"That's the price you pay for the price you pay." This was my dad's way of acknowledging that life is seldom fair. Even when you do everything right, sometimes things don't work out the way you want. The only healthy response to that unfortunate reality is to shrug it off and keep pushing forward. In any other course lies defeat and despair.
That's a hard lesson for any generation, but especially one steeped in the seductive fantasy of "social justice." If you expect life to be fair, and then you find out it's not, as you inevitably will — well, that's tough to overcome, especially without a father like mine to prepare you for it.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This old saw has certainly fallen out of favor, replaced by the postmodern, neo-Marxist notion that "words are violence." Generally, that comes from people who have never experienced actual violence.
It's true that words can sometimes be hurtful. But if you go through life allowing yourself to be incapacitated just by things people say, you're going to find it difficult to cope — which may explain why so many of today's generation seem unable to cope. Being successful at life — raising a family, building a career, living your values — requires a certain mental toughness. That is one of the best qualities fathers can cultivate in their children.
"Never start a fight, but if somebody else starts one, be sure you finish it." When I was growing up, in the '60s and '70s, schoolyard scuffles were a lot more common than they are today. There are some good reasons for that, including the fact that these days, the loser might come back with a gun. But I can't help thinking something has been irrevocably lost. By teaching our children never to fight, we're teaching them there's nothing worth fighting for.
My dad was not a big fan of fighting. He would not tolerate bullying. But neither would he allow me to be bullied — and he wouldn't fight my battles for me. He taught me that bullies are generally cowards, and the only way to stop them is to stand up them — with your fists, if necessary. If he found out I had started a fight, I was in big trouble. But if somebody else started one, he expected me to finish it.
That's a lesson many could stand to learn these days — and not just kids.
Image: Pixabay, Pixabay License.