For three days I was away for a conference in Syracuse. These things are always exciting and learning experiences for better business practices. I did not expect to learn something about myself in the process.
We were asked to think of a “great” person. My father immediately came to my mind because I admire him beyond words. Directly following we were asked to brainstorm words that described this great person we had previously thought of. Shouts started coming from the other participants in the room, words like “loyal, caring, supportive, patient…”
Imagine my perplexed feeling when I realized none of these words described my father at all.
He moved to the USA when he was 19 years old. He was born on a huge farm in Morocco where he and his 14 siblings were handed a pitchfork or a pail when they learned to walk and were sent out to keep the farm running. When he got here he didn’t know the language, didn’t have any friends and knew that his cow milking skills were not going to get him where he wanted to be. So he found a skill, bartending, and eventually he soaked in everything he needed and wanted to know about owning a restaurant and he opened his own.
Being a self made workaholic, he was not around much. I could talk about how he missed all my soccer games and school plays, but we’ve heard that story before. What I think is much more important to mention is that he was a very judgmental, impossible to please man. My grades were impeccable, I was the star of every school production and the stand out in every soccer game. When I would tell him later of the winning goal I scored or the spot on solo I had performed, he would ask me why not two goals? Why not two solos?
Eventually, I began to see myself as he saw me. Always falling short of my potential, always a disappointment. What’s worse, I saw others like that, as well.
I am very thankful for his part in my life, and I don’t think he knew that he was being detrimental to me. I don’t think, as parents, we realize the enormous impact we have on our children. We have so much going on in our lives, and sometimes family can seem like such a small part of all the many balls we are trying to keep up in the air. But although for this moment, your kids might not seem like your entire world, YOU are their entire world.
They look to us for how to act, how to feel, what to think. It’s not going to be easy to find the right mixture of personality traits to showcase to your children. You have to open the door for them so they can explore and learn, but know when to call them home so they are safe. You have to love them, but not spoil them. You have to hold them close so they feel cared for, but let them go so they feel independent. You have to teach them things, but lean life teach them as well.
Most importantly, they should always be supported. Although I was not beaten or abused physically, my heart and my ego took a beating. I went on to become someone who always had to be the best, who always had something to prove, and never felt that they had proved it. I am also someone who has a hard time seeing the good in someone, or the potential, because that was never given to me. I am quick to write someone off the very first time they disappoint me, and that is not the legacy I want to leave behind.
It’s time to establish better habits when dealing with people. My son is two, and he gets frustrated easily. When he can’t do something with his ineffectual little baby hands he yells out “I can’t do it!” Without hesitation, without thinking, I say to him “Of course you can do it! Just try again.” He may only be two, he may have no concept of what it means to keep trying, to never give up. But this is my habit with him, because one day when he does understand, that’s what he will hear me say. That will become his mantra, the words he has heard since he knew what words meant. My kids will always hear those words from me, and of course, that they are loved.
If I can channel the way I feel for my kids, like they will never get from me what I got from my father, and balance that with still standing strong in the values of hard work and perseverance that he did teach me, I can be a person that affects other people. I can be impactful and important in others lives. In the end, this is all the immortality we will ever have a shot at.