The Incredible Mystery of Parenting


What did you learn from your parents?  Did you pick up a hobby or two from family members?  My parents had very different hobbies and did them in a different way. 

My mother was a skier.  As a young adult, she would teach skiing on European ski tours.  She was a very good skier and as a family we went on ski trips to both the Northeast and out West.  My father wasn’t a very good skier and had problems with his hips, so the act of skiing was not comfortable, but he did it to keep my mother happy.

My father was a golfer.  He attended the University of Miami on a full athletic scholarship for tennis.  His team won national championships in three out of the four years he played.  There, he picked up golf.  The folks around Miami enjoyed playing with the college phenom and this allowed my father a chance to play a great deal of golf.  It would be a practice he would keep up until his death at 88.  My mother did not play golf, but she would go to the range and hit balls along side my dad. 

My parents were determined to share their hobbies with me, and I got very good at both skiing and golf at a young age.  For decades, I would visit with my parents by playing golf or traveling with them to go skiing.  I still remember the last time I skied and played golf with my parents.  Unfortunately, both are expensive and I just couldn’t afford to keep doing either.  Art turned out to be the way my mother and I connected.  Tennis was the way I connected with my father, even though it would become a point of conflict after my father stopped playing.

All that time and effort my parents put into influencing me and trying to guide me towards a full life.  The results must have been a great mystery to them.  I did something so different than what they put effort into.  My career as a tennis instructor was looked down at by my father. He didn’t want me to become a cripple like him, so he constantly tried to get me to change careers.  My mother did everything possible to stop me from publishing a comic I both wrote and illustrated.

My parents are gone now, and now I’m the parent.  I was determined not to force my hobbies on my family, but the universe doesn’t work like that and any parent will explain the incredible mystery that is parenting.  Words are meaningless sometimes and there are days where every action yields a negative reaction.  You can spend weeks managing a discipline issue, and all of a sudden, without any input from you, things change for the better.  Children are youth-fueled chaos machines!  Children are also life’s greatest gift and a source of unbelievable love and happiness.

I spent years as a tennis pro and have an incredible love of tennis, but my family, not so much!  I tried to share skiing with my wife and that idea flopped like a “Led Zeppelin.” My family loves games, and they all copy my gamer’s nature.  I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for more than 30 years, but it was always something I did with other people.  I did run games for my sons when they were older, but they have no interest in any more.

But… My older son now runs D&D games and he has copied many of my best Dungeon Master traits, without being taught.  My younger son loves card and video games, something we did when he was very young.  My younger son also loves music, something that is ever-present in my home.  How is it that all my efforts and guidance never has its intended consequences?  Not bad outcomes, but gratifying and surprising.  My wife loves things now I never imagined she would ever love, like Kung Fu movies or tennis.  The futility of effort!

It turns out it’s more important to be “who you are” rather than what you say.  My family works so hard to be like me, how did I get this lucky?  The idea of “being” a good person seems more important than acting like a good person.  It seems very clear that it is our actions and examples that others learn from and all the cajoling means nothing.  Americans find the idea that being a good human being is lost in media bombardment and an educational system that has been taken over by big business.  As a father, I must understand that the “act of parenting” is not parenting, but being a good human. And that is all the guidance most individuals need.