Going through my late father’s and late mother’s papers, photographs, old letters and my childish “artwork” she preserved, is a window into nearly ninety years of parental influence. My memories of childhood are much spottier at sixty even with these treasures. Twenty years ago, I determined to be an “opposite” sort of parent than my parents had been for me. Reflecting on memories through a different lens, I am seeing them much more kindly. I know a lot more about history, economics, illness, parenting, and personal imperfections. With this and evidence of each’s upbringing through early married life, I clearly misunderstood my parents. They were just like everyone else. Other than television fictional Father Knows Best or The Cosby Show, perfection may be a peck on the cheek, a roof over your head, and your parents remembering to feed you. And they are interested in your education. While some have experienced truly hellish childhoods, new generations should not look to This is Us <“Crying”> or Modern Family as object lessons in parenthood. These are still caricatures.
We are shaped by our perception of reality whether our youth experienced the Depression, WWII, Vietnam, AIDS, September 11th or the COVID Pandemic of 2019-2020. It was the same for everyone’s parents, shaped by circumstances and their weaknesses. As for mine, I know that in spite of their marriage disrupted by illness, recovery, and separate goals, in all the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, each of my parents were committed to me. Or tried to be.
In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of loveMarc Chagall, artist (1887 -1985)
Observing our eldest son’s personal accomplishments (school, the Army, a trades apprenticeship, marriage and young family), I am confident that his family during the COVID pandemic, their generation’s 9-11, will remain strong. He is considered an “essential” worker and continues in his trade. Which increases their family security. As for our eldest, a parent’s concern for our other two sons over their welfare never diminishes. Frequent cellphone conversations (with their mother) ask for advice or more often, a sounding board as they work out (vent). It reminds me of times when my father had passed I would call my mother to ask about her welfare (but more often to vent). We all have the combined genes of our parents that predispose us to strengths and pitfalls, mentally, emotionally, and physically. As parents who keep memories in a box or a photo album, we collect our children’s finest moments as keepsakes. More than forty years later, looking at some of those memories, and recalling where I was emotionally at the time when I wrote or took the pictures, I realize a loving parent does not see their children through rose-colored glasses. They are a different color entirely.
I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children.Arthur Conan Doyle, author
At age sixty I am satisfied with the person I became, and the relationship I have with my children. I am at peace with the memories of my parents. And I know that circumstances, DNA, and parental Love viscerally combine to shape children as much as they shape us. Though the Marines use the term, a parent is forged in a crucible. A parent provides their charge’s needs, wants, and emotional support first. You witness a child’s development – their first words and the wonder of each new experience – in real-time. And your influence on a child’s development directly contributes to their self-concept, ambition, and world-view.
The artist Chagall truly stated that all color we perceive in Life comes from all-encompassing Love. This palette we express on the canvas of our children. And when they create their own self-portrait.