Photo: Little Prince George wasn’t the only one who got to wear a gown on his baptism day. Both of my boys wore one, too. The gown was actually made from their grandmother’s wedding dress–I don’t love my in-laws, but I thought that this was a pretty cool heirloom/legacy idea. Of course, all of the little old ladies at church thought that Ursa Major was a girl…oh well.
It is Friday morning in Massachusetts, and the air is warm and sweet. The leaves have fallen, for the most part, and they are starting to release that delicious scent that is the hallmark of this time of year. The bittersweet goodbye. The air is warm enough that I was able to stand outside on my deck this morning, letting the smell of my coffee mix in with it all. Such complimentary scents–you must try it. Especially if you mix a little bit of cinnamon with your coffee (I add it to my coffee beans in my grind n’ brew. Perfect with a good dark roast).
I’m so grateful for your responses to my post on Monday. I’m surprised and excited that it resonated with so many of you. I’m surprised because I wish we lived in a world where decisions between adults can be respected. I’m excited because I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings about this topic. This is a long-winded way of saying thank you for sharing. I almost didn’t write that post, and now I’m very glad that I did.
My quiet thoughts this week have branched out from those responses. I have been thinking about my boys in the context of that post. I think a lot about the big-picture of raising my sons, as I understand that I cannot do this fully on my own.
I hadn’t realized just how much I revere and take after my maternal grandmother until I moved away from home. The early mornings, the love of quiet, the need for connection with others… I am always seeking to embody her dignity and absorb even a drop of her wisdom. I realize what made her imposing and fierce was not the volume of her yell (which she rarely did) or the viciousness of her strike (which I really can’t recall…though I’m sure I got at least one spanking from her in my day) but through her loving action and her sharp redirection. I see myself mimicking her a lot in the raising of my own children, mixing in some of my mom’s executive-type aloofness from time to time. There are other women who have become increasingly influential in my life, and I had no idea in my youth just how important they would be to me. A girl must look beyond her mother to find great examples of womanhood. While we often end up having an adversarial relationship with our mothers (I certainly did), there are so many others that we can and should look to for the low-pressure good examples of what womanhood looks and feels like.
And for young men, I think the same thing holds true. Boys need giants in their lives, examples of the different aspects of manhood, the good and the bad. Hopefully more good… but good steady stewards to show them the way.
I’m lucky in that my husband is a good man, a consistent man. He has his moments, for sure, but every man does. Outside of that, the other examples get a little funky. My father is, well, kind of crazy. My father-in-law is, well, an asshole. He certainly has good qualities–he has a moral compass and he holds fast to it. I don’t necessarily like some of his interpretations of the Bible and other religious law, but I appreciate that is has found a foundation and he holds fast to it. I’ll have to talk to my boys, some day, about rigidity and when it is prudent and when it is a hindrance to progress. My step-father is probably the best of the bunch in that generation–another warm and steady figure. Consistent and strong, but also really kind and outgoing. Where my husband is shy and reserved, my step-father will be able to show the boys what it means to be a little out going, have a good handshake, and make connections.
I wish that I had chosen better when it came to the boys’ godfathers. We chose out of obligation and prestige instead of out of good examples. Ursa Major got my brother-in-law, who is a West Point and Harvard Business School graduate. He is also the biggest asshole I know. If it wasn’t totally and utterly illegal, I’d punch that sucker right in the nose. He is the guy who went to West Point and decided everyone was an idiot. He went to Harvard and decided that everyone was an idiot. He works for a hedge fund now. He is smart, yes, but he is manipulative and pigheaded. He treats his wife terribly. He is hyper competitive, shallow, and narcissistic. Despite his achievements, he has acquired not an ounce of wisdom or gravitas. He’s going to be just another smart asshole Harvard manbaby, destroying the world one selfish decision at a time. He would be an absolutely terrible mentor for my eldest son. I wish I could take back the honor that we gave him.
We’d thought that we’d made a better decision for Ursa Minor. His godfather is a good friend of ours from high school who is an MIT and Harvard Business School graduate, currently working for a top tier consultant firm. I feel so blessed that I’m able to surround my sons with people who have achieved great prestige in their lives, through their own hard work. None of us are rich. None of us are legacy folk. We all worked hard to get into these great schools. And our close friend really is a hard worker–a workaholic, really… but he is also really impulsive, spending lavishly on clothes and tech, drunkenly IMing me from First Class flights in the middle of the day… I suppose when you are young and make stupid money for your age, and you have no partner or children, you have a little more room for such impulses. I guess I’m just going to have to teach my son a little bit about control and discipline, even when you have little to no obligations.
But who else will there be in their lives? Who will their role models be in this life and how can i make sure that they are powerful and positive? I wonder if this is something that is out of my control–will they latch on to just anyone? Will they latch on to the figures that I’d most like them to avoid like the plague? I would loathe it if they latched on to some athlete or rapper…only because I know the odds of the boys becoming those people. There is something to respect about athletes. They work hard to hone their bodies and skills so that they can be the best at their sport. There are a lot of vices that are part of that life, and as a suburban mother, that’s the first thing i think of. I’d rather them revere Olympians like Anthony Ervin or Cullen Jones rather than some football star, even the talented RGIII or Colin Kaepernick. If they were interested in a rapper, I would very much mind, at least I’d try to highlight the entrepreneurship of Jay-Z (and his attempts to be a leader in our community) or Sean Combs. But I really, really hope and pray that isn’t who they latch on to. Power has its own trouble–is Cory Booker the best rolemodel for my sons? Barack Obama? Maybe Deval Patrick, who I have so much love and respect for? Politics comes with its own baggage… and would I be teaching my sons to be sharks, essentially, by asking them to look up to powerful men?
There are great men in academia, like Freeman Hrabowski, the president of my alma mater?
There are no true paragons out there. Perfection is absolutely impossible. Indeed, what makes men interesting, especially great men, are their flaws. Men walk through the world with great expectations put upon them, and the temptations are even greater. The best stories are the ones about men who seem to transcend and transform. The great figures and mentors are the ones who have crawled through the rings of Hell and made it through to see the light on the other side and are able to tell their tale to others.
It will be the coaches, teachers, ministers, bosses, and friends yet to be encountered who will be the potential influencers on my sons. This is an exciting prospect and a scary one. It means that my husband and I will have to choose carefully who we allow into our lives. While we won’t always be able to choose–like the teachers, for example–we will at least be able to have some say in the amount of power that these perspective people have. There will also be the chosen brothers and sisters along the way, the peers that our boys will pick to learn and grow with, the ones that they will share their secrets with, the ones who they will experiment with, the ones who they will push the boundaries with. The peers who they will dream alongside of. How scary that is! We have to assemble our team more wisely, exercising good judgement and still tempering all influence with good advice and clarity. We cannot give up the prime guiding position in their lives.
I am cognizant that most of this is out of my control. There is nothing worse than knowing that most of this is out of my control.
Who made up the team that guided you through this life? Who had an impact that wasn’t realized until decades later? Who are the unexpected sources of wisdom in your life? What are the flaws that are worth forgiving in search of the true blue man? Who makes up the team that you’ve assembled for your own children? What team have they assembled for themselves? Do you approve? Does your approval matter now? Will it ever really matter?
And isn’t that question the most interesting of all? Does our approval, as parents, ever really matter? Suddenly, at 29, I really could give two shakes about my parent’s approval. I cannot tell you when that shift happened…but it happened, and there is no going back now. What an interesting thing to think about–one day, our influence ends. Our influence, as parents is finite.
Or is it? Because when I see my kitchen looking a mess, the first person I think about is my mother and how angry she would be to see it.
I have jerk chicken marinading in my fridge. I’ll take it to the potluck tonight, alone. This is one of those nights where I wish I had someone to text during the awkward moments when I’m standing around, not engaged with anyone else. I am only going to stay for an hour, I think. While I know that this is an opportunity to make a good connection, I also know that the chances of this are slim. i’m going to give it a chance, though, because it’s important to feel connected to this community. I need it for my sanity, and my boys need it, too. I hope I have good news for you on Monday. I think I already know the title of Monday’s post: “Why am I so awkward????”
It is Friday, and I have wishes for you. I wish you the joy of thinking about your mentors–a poignant moment you experienced with them. I wish you the opportunity to make an impact on another person, through the extension of a welcoming handshake or a reassuring smile. Maybe a peaceful greeting in the middle of church, or a simple hello in the line in the grocery store. I wish you the recognition of autumn’s perfume and an appreciation of this beautiful transition. I wish you a sincere thank you from a loved one, and a moment when you thank someone else in return. I wish you an intimate moment–a hug, a kiss on the cheek, that exchange of a knowing look between two people who know each other a little too well. I wish you a good glass if crisp white wine, and a plate of lovingly prepared food. And above all, light and love. Every Friday should be full of that. See you Monday!