One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.
My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.
On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.
Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.
You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.
I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.
I will say this, however:
I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.
Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.
If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.
When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”
I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. Mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.
– Anita Garner
My friend Anita wrote those words in her blog earlier this week and it made me think about my own upbringing.
My parents taught me small things about washing dishes and how to work a slingshot. Mom taught me to scrub my face with Phisohex to wipe away teenaged pimples. Dad taught me to stand up straight and look a man in the eyes when I shook his hand.
Neither of them talked to me about girls or careers and retirement. I didn’t even get the birds and the bees talk.
There was no talk, not one speck of advice about fulfillment, about health, about work, about relationships, about how all of that changes through the years. – Anita
My parents, like Anita’s, left me to learn the deep, quiet lessons of life in my own good time. They taught me to be honest and respectful and that was pretty much it. Matters of my future and relationships were not theirs to teach.
These days parents seem to be much more hands-on. They plan their kids’ lives from sunup to sundown, from birth to college and beyond.
For all the stuff we read about helicopter parents and everyone-gets-a-trophy I don’t think parents today are doing anything wrong. It’s not mine to judge. The world seems much more complicated now than it was 60 years ago, though I don’t understand why.
I do wish my grandsons could spend their free afternoons building forts in open fields with no grownups around. I wish they could ride their bikes home at sundown dirty, sweaty and wearing a freshly scabbed knee and simply be told to go wash up for dinner.
I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.
When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.
Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.
Be grateful for the people you love.
That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.
Start your day happy.
When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.
As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.
I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.
My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:
“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981
If you can’t love yourself, who will?
I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.
We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.
This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:
“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.” Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave
Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.
A recent study of 2,000 young people about to enter college has concluded that millennials are unprepared for the realities of life in the real world. More than half don’t know how to pay a bill or how much they should expect to spend on rent.
61% of these young people are scared to leave their parents. 58% have trouble sleeping. 27% have panic attacks when they think about moving away from home.
These blossoming adults go off to college nervously in need of “trigger warnings” for their studies and “safe spaces” in which to live their lives. Many don’t want to learn how to drive a car.
Some expect to get a trophy for merely participating in life.
Recently on our Dallas morning radio show on KLIF my partner, Amy Chodroff, and I talked about this study and tried to figure out how young Americans went from being excited about inheriting their own lives, as we were at their age, to being seemingly terrified by the prospect of growing up and leaving the nest.
Amy, a Gen-Xer with two well-parented and supremely prepared and confident children of her own, decided her generation is to blame for coddling these kids.
We talked about so-called helicopter parents and the everyone-gets-a trophy entitlement era of today’s society. It made sense to us and we left the blame there, on the Gen-X parents of Millenials.
Something about the discussion nagged at me and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized what it was:
Amy’s generation of helicopter parents are my generation’s free-range kids.
We Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were the beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 60s. We worshiped at the altar of Do Your Own Thing in the Church of What’s Happening Now.
We had a wonderfully carefree childhood during a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity and yet we rejected every notion of our own parents’ culture from the Hit Parade music they loved to our haircuts and the clothes they wanted us to wear.
We even rejected the uniquely American idea that liberty came with a price worth paying, though that’s easy to understand if you consider our perspective.
Politicians of the 60s sent us to a war of their making. 50,000 of us died in Vietnamese rice paddies ten thousand miles from home.
I frequently think of my high school buddies who had their lives blown away before they were old enough to grow a beard or fall in love for the first time.
Those of us who dodged the draft warned each other to never trust anyone over thirty and shouted, “Make love, not war!”
Now we’re in our sixties and seventies wondering why our grandkids are so nervous and we blame their parents, our children.
Just look at the society we Boomers left in the wake of our cultural revolution.
In some ways our kids are more traditional than we were at their age. Growing up as the children of free-range parenting they’re over-correcting our mistakes by inventing their own, insisting that every spare minute of their children’s lives be scheduled, structured and under constant supervision and by insisting that the road to happiness begins at birth with eyes fixed on the prize: a scholarship to Harvard or Stanford.
Our children’s children are leaving home, entering those schools confused and scared. And who can blame them? They were never taught that they would be challenged and sometimes they would fail. Nobody ever explained that they aren’t really bulletproof, bound for glory or as exceptional as they were constantly assured.
Nobody ever explained they’ll be paying off those student loans for the next twenty years.
We love our children. We don’t want them to ever be scared or disappointed. And yet we know they have to suffer to succeed.
Or did we forget to tell them that part?
Sometimes parents make mistakes. We can’t avoid them. We can only try to minimize them and try to make them teachable moments for ourselves and our kids.
As my Carolann likes to remind her Gen-X son: “You didn’t come with instructions.”
*Source of quoted material: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4666794/Millennials-aren-t-ready-reality-life.html
If people were born with warranties we’d all be guaranteed a certain number of years of good to reasonable health. Untimely death by accident or an act of God would be the only exemptions.
This week my son returned home from the hospital, a week mostly spent in the ICU.
He was very sick. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have lost him and they still don’t know why. Jeremy’s doctors were skilled enough to revive his failing internal organs, reduce his fever and send him home, yet vials of his blood are still being spun in small centrifuges and smeared onto slides in a lab at the CDC in Atlanta.
A couple of weeks from now my kid will turn 39 and while we all try to make sense of the numbers that log our own existence and constantly inform of us how much time we may have left to live, the number of years of JT’s life are completely meaningless to me. I’m his father and all my son’s birthdays are equal from my perspective. They are all scattered moments of his life, the nearly four decades of memories of him that I keep in my heart, timeless and eternal.
He’s still five days old to me, five years old, the teenager, the joyful college student; the remarkable husband and father to his own son that he has grown to become.
He’s still the young man who stunned me by asking that I stand beside him as Best Man in his wedding. When I choked back the lump in my throat and stammered, “Why me instead of one of your buddies?”, he answered as if it was obvious, “Because you’re my best friend”.
For the past week I’ve tried to understand why our children’s lives, regardless of their age and ours, mean more to us than life itself. I suppose it has to do with our own survival instinct, the fierce insistence that above all else we will live forever or at least, in the end, to have mattered.
It’s a spiritual rabbit hole that I can’t enter and that’s probably a good thing.
All I know for sure is all that will ever matter to me:
“Your sons weren’t made to like you. That’s what grandchildren are for.” — Jane Smiley
The boy is seven.
He hangs his clothes on the floor with no regard for whether they are clean or dirty. He leaves string cheese wrappers in the family room, never learns to turn off the TV, frequently forgets to flush the toilet and makes his own breakfast, leaving half of his chocolate milk on the kitchen counter and Cheerios splayed across the floor.
He’s only seven.
As grandparents we are constantly reminding ourselves to be patient. He’s still trying to learn things his father never quite got the hang of. Or maybe he’s not trying and that’s the problem.
But it’s not our problem, it’s his dad’s.
I was pecking away at my computer one early morning recently when Isaiah came in wordlessly, picked up the phone from my desk and rang his dad’s room on the intercom.
“Dad? Would you come get the peanut butter for me? It’s too high in the pantry and I can’t reach it. — Okay, thanks.”
“Isaiah,” I said, “I would have gotten the peanut butter for you.”
“I know, Grandpa,” he said with a new, impressively mature tone to his voice.
“I just figured Dad needs to get up and get ready to take me to school.”
Whether you call that learning the art of diplomacy or of manipulation it is something that gives grandparents a special sense of appreciation.
My son Jeremy stopped by yesterday and today at our request for assistance.
He’s almost thirty-three years old. He’s a husband and dad, he’s got a degree in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly and years of experience as a professional theater technical director. He’s a former Disney Imagineer and is currently a lighting and special effects specialist for the Disneyland Hotel.
I, on the other hand, am the unanimously acknowledged mechanical idiot of the family. Give me a picture of a hammer and three to five minutes of non-pressured peace and quiet and I’ll give you a fifty-fifty chance of correctly selecting the business end of the hammer.
I’m a smart guy. When I was eighteen, forty years ago, I tested for entry into the Air Force and scored above 95% on all areas except mechanical. I got 65% on that one and believe me, it wasn’t much tougher than the hammer problem.
All we needed Jeremy to do was install a new garbage disposal and help Carolann with her Christmas decorations and tree lighting. (Yes, we start early. Don’t bug me about that. We like Christmas.)
And so, he did.
While Jeremy lay under our sink with a crescent wrench (I’m just making up these tool-thingy details, you know,) I sat on the floor and talked just to keep him company. When he put the lights on Carolann’s Christmas tree we listened to the Beatles’ Abbey Road album together and discussed the group’s history, strength and weaknesses.
During the Beatles Anthology early years recordings, I scrubbed the kitchen with bleach and ammonia.
When the work came to an end and he had to leave we hugged and smiled, having enjoyed a special father-son day of doing chores together. Except now, in some ways which don’t bother me in the least, my son is my dad and I am his son.
What goes around comes around and when you still enjoy each other’s company there’s no need for defining roles.