One of the responsibilities of a parent is to nurture their children. Nurturing is a step above loving them. It is preparing them, or better yet, it is teaching them ‘how to prepare’ for their future adult lives. For instance, men aren’t always prepared to be fathers, nor are women always prepared to be mothers--sometimes even minimally. This is often due to not being taught about those responsibilities by their own fathers and mothers. Those opportunities to teach/mentor, when lost, will multiply with each generation if allowed to continue.
One of the best things your children can learn from you is how to think and plan ahead for themselves. Very few young people prepare properly for anything. I fell into the trap of not looking ahead myself and I regret it.
As a twenty three year old lieutenant in the Air Force, I knew I would be attending survival school after graduation from Undergraduate Pilot Training. But for some reason (and I now know why), I did not prepare for this challenge. To no one’s surprise, it was a very physically and mentally challenging course. I was not in peak physical shape and lagged my peers more than I should have. I also was not mentally prepared for training situations that simulated potentially grave circumstances of survival or capture. Don’t get me wrong, this was not Seal Team training, but it was tough enough, especially when you are not prepared. I passed the course but I was disappointed with myself and in my performance.
The reason I was not prepared is because I stopped looking ahead. My goal since childhood had been to be an Air Force pilot. When I attained that long-lived passion, my life of unexpected achievement stopped. My friends and family had always looked at my goal of flying as a pipe dream. Up until that point, and basically on my own, I had gone from the oldest of six children in a single parent, very low income home, to a college scholarship from a great university, a commission in the US Air Force, to the day my wife and mother pinned on my silver pilot wings. Then I lost my way.
I was pushed by a passion, not by a philosophy or life skills. I did not have a great deal of confidence. I was not prepared for either the interaction or competition of others, or the loss of a passion to pull me forward. It was a weakness of mine at that time and I was just not ready for such things. But this is not about me blaming myself or others for my naivety. It’s about opening our eyes to the notion that we often assume too much of others, ignoring or not being aware of their needs. While I grew up without having to be taught responsibility, I never had experiences that taught me confidence. To become an Air Force pilot without having confidence, while competing with self-assured, even some cocky Air Force Academy graduates who already had four years of military training, was a near miracle for me. My passion had carried me through. But what would I do without passion to keep me going?
I’m sure my father thought he loved us, but he did not nurture nor did he even take care of his family. He did not prepare us for everyday challenges or for our lives ahead of us. My mother was seventeen when I was born and was raising six children by the age of twenty-seven. She did not have the time, assets, or experience at that point in her life to nurture or prepare any of us. Day to day survival was often difficult. Beyond that, my mother thought I was the least of her worries among her brood--and I was.
As a boy, I appeared to have it together. I was never in trouble. I did my homework. I helped my mom with my brothers and sisters. My grades were good and I was relatively respectful to my elders. So the little demons in my world were invisible to most. I’m sure my mom knew I was overly shy and tentative, but compared to truancy and troublemaking by my rambunctious siblings, not a big deal.
Although I understand why, and I’m not the least bitter about it, too much was assumed about my maturity. I stood out in some ways that made it look like I was okay, which I was in many respects. But I had no idea how I would have escaped my situation if I didn’t have a passion.
So now I was an Air Force pilot. I loved it and all seemed well for me and my chosen career, but I began to spin in place. I still did not feel comfortable in my own skin. I hid my lack of confidence as best I could, but it was manifested in my lack of aggressiveness. After six years of flying, I left the active Air Force not really having a plan. I still have regrets about that decision to leave, but I will not expand here. For the next twenty years I lived in mediocrity with regard to professional achievement. I always worked hard and responsibly, but rarely did I do so with passion. When you have nothing shiny (appealing) in front of you to reach for, you don’t reach. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and my choices.
Moms and dads, if your child has a passion, let them ride it. If they don’t have a passion, help them explore possibilities. In either situation, teach them to always have goals to strive for and plans to get there, pushing those goals higher and higher as they near each one. And look for weaknesses in your children’s character that you can help them to overcome. Don’t expect a child to come to you and ask for help with their fears.
While I survived professionally with modest success in those twenty years, it remained a very rewarding period for me because my wife Kathy and I were raising our children. After my dream of being a pilot, I had a new dream of being a good father. While I failed in some aspects of that most important of responsibilities (after all, I had no model) my love, dreams, and respect for my children were real.
By my mid-forties, I had learned the confidence and self-assurance that, when missing, had made my life so tentative. Yes, it took quite a while as I read some wonderful self-help classics. Today, many people can’t fathom how I used to be. I became more assertive and forward-looking. My latest passion is helping men to be good dads through my writing. Now, as a grandfather, I have all these great thoughts on what parents can to do for their kids. Thoughts that I was not aware of myself as a young father but came to me as I have seen what can work as a dad and what can work for his children. I now want to share those thoughts through my book The Power of Dadhood, and this blog ‘Helping Fathers to be Dads’. If my experiences can help a parent understand their roles better, I am very happy to do so!
The theme in this article, beyond the need for parental nurturing, was looking ahead, planning ahead, and never allowing a goal to be reached without having another goal to continue towards. In my next post I will expand my ideas on teaching your children how to plan ahead. I hope you continue to read and share my thoughts on parenting, on fatherhood, on ‘Dadhood’! Thank you! And yes, I do have other goals ahead of me!