The best gift I’ve received throughout my life is that of a happy childhood. I was the proud owner of marvelous parents, and it shames me to say that it took over two decades to realize just how great I had it.
My parents were unlucky enough to be burdened with an annoying, chunky little dork who had a difficult time finding his way in social settings. My childhood was riddled with embarrassing anecdotes, awkward panic attacks, and the bitter defeat of bullying by kids who were either half my size or years younger than me. I was also a teary kid, to which my mom would sympathetically claim that I simply had a big heart.
But they loved that little dork, and my need for approval and affection was never left wanting. My mom would later tell me that in raising me, I was their hobby.
From those early years, I was raised to be a functional adult. I was taught to work hard, whether it be in school or in day to day chores. But of course, I didn’t work hard at all. Working of any sort sucked. Instead, I just wanted to play video games, which I spent vast amounts of time doing (I’m most certain that my parents lost years of sleep over this, imagining their son would continue to be a dork well into his adult years. Sadly, I’m still a dork who plays video games. (Sorry, mom and dad).
But when the disapproving speeches weren’t working, my dad took the time to try another approach at bringing me out of my shell and showing me a more adventurous side to life – he spent quality time with me. A lot of it.
Looking back at times with my dad, I remember fishing, taking long road trips, jumping on a plane and going to Orlando, going to Six Flags, joining up with a Boy Scout Troop, getting involved in formative church activities, he coached every sport I played, and made an effort to involve himself in any and all activities I took part in. I was never without my dad.
My mom was unbearably patient with me, and I had the unique opportunity of having her involved in the vast majority of my early years. She chose to be a teacher where I attended school from K5 to senior year, and she was never out of reach when those pint sized bullies ruined my day or I needed to hide from the perils of high school drama. I was a mamma’s boy to the core, it seems.
By day, there was Teacher Mom. By night, there was Coach Dad.
I also had the good fortune of having parents that simply let me be a confused little kid. When confronted with the choice of playing baseball or trying out for football, I firmly said, “neither!”, to which my dad, gracious as he was, provided his full approval at my decision. When my attention later turned to music, they were all in.
There was never a feeling of having to live up to unrealistic expectations. From as early as I can remember, they had a core message in the way they raised me: you’re our son, and we’re proud of you, no matter what.
• • •
Today, I feel as though I approached adulthood with grace, little of which I attribute to my own doing. In college, I met a great woman that I would go on to marry. I took on a great job that led to an even better career. I walked a path that my parents helped carefully shape through patience, lessons of faith, and an unwavering ability to display their love, even at my worst.
When it was time for me to leave the nest, they waved goodbye with the promise that I would always be welcome back.
In moving away from home, far from the sphere of influence by my family, I’ve found that my relationship with my parents has evolved in a healthy way. What was once wrapped in guidance is now more closely resembling a deep friendship.
I’ve known many people who wallow through their adult lives, never able to claim a constructive childhood. This is the case for many people, and with that knowledge, it makes me ever more appreciative of the impact my parents left on me. Should the day come that I become a parent myself, I have a proven roadmap based on my own upbringing (though I must say, the thought of living up to their example scares the hell out of me).
But for now, I can go out into the world confident in the example they set. I can love my wife completely, I can dedicate myself to a calling with assurance, and I can father a child with humility, knowing that I was given what I needed most in those early years of life.
I know who I am, and I know my name; my dad gave me his.