Legendary Parenthood Part 2: For us, not in spite of.
Submitted by admin on Sun, 11/20/2011 – 16:41
Steven Covey says that, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” How can I possibly be grateful enough to have a dad for whom the main thing was family?
That didn’t mean giving up passionate causes or ambitions. A deeply patriotic man, he ran for public office, spoke out when he saw injustice, and he was devoted to God. Business got his juices going. It’s just that he fulfilled his dreams within the context of us. He once told someone who criticized him for having his children around the business all the time, “You don’t get it. I’m growing my kids through the business, not the other way around.”
He probably made thousands of choices to put us first, and one of the biggest—very early on—was to give up security in favor of a family business. This one decision allowed us to know each other with more depth than could ever have been possible if we only spent time on weekends. The business gave us freedom with our time and a common cause. You just can’t underestimate the power in that. Working side-by-side gave us a sense of accomplishment, and the wins belonged to all of us, not just to mom and dad.
We also got to learn from each other. I do not know if he consciously walked around each day looking for ways teach us life lessons or if he just instinctively took the moments that mundane days presented. Probably some of both.
We had these opportunities because all facets of life in our household blurred together. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this messiness at times, but I wouldn’t trade the experience. The truth is I long for it in the family I am creating now. American life has a tidier compartmentalization with work separate from home responsibilities, hobbies with friends separate from activities with the kids and ambition separate from spirituality. I want a family hub like the one I grew up in where our priorities extended like spokes and we moved forward together.
Sure my parents had friends apart from us—they made them wherever they went—but we got first dibs on their time. If Dad wanted to take a fishing trip, his buddies and their families could camp with us. Close associates from our industry might get an invitation to join the deer hunt with Dad and the boys. Our business trips doubled as family vacations and we played board games around the kitchen table. Instead of having guys’ night out, he taught his sons to play poker. Political involvement meant supporting his adult children as candidates.
We argued too, sometimes hurting each other in ways only family can. Oh boy could six boys fight. They beat on each other, broke the tension and then acted like nothing happened. The key, I think, was not giving up on each other. Even today as complicated rifts occur today, we keep patching things up. Yes, my parents had their moments too, but Hartley Anderson spent 55 years working and playing alongside my mother, nearly 24-7. What a marriage. He once told me, “If I had to choose, I wouldn’t give up one married month for all my single years combined.” They gave each other and then us their very best energy, not the leftover crumbs.
It is also a fact that we never had any money. In retrospect, I realize that stuff we might have enjoyed would only have broken and been forgotten. Our parents did, however, purchase time to buy experiences that would become part of us and our forever memories. Ask any kid what she got at her last birthday party and chances are she won’t remember. Then ask about her favorite memories from the last family vacation. She’ll light up and tell you all about the butterflies and hikes and even the catastrophes that are the stuff of family legend.
In the end, we will only take two things with us: the person we each become, and our relationships. In modern society we have so much more than we need. This blessing can become a curse of comfort, luring us into a belief that that we need our creature comforts for happiness. Rather, we would all do well to remember that the most important things aren’t things. Acquisition and hobbies are counterfeits for relationships and memories.
The older I get, the more I realize that the family life my parents created for didn’t just happen. They set it up that way because our shared accomplishments were more important than prestige. Our unity was more important than each of us doing our own thing. They gave up having a steady paycheck, but I now see that a strong family provided me more security than all the cash in Vegas. The kind of house that survives an onslaught of outside pressures is built choice-upon-choice. We accumulate these choices daily: Should I take the job that extracts long hours or a less prestigious one that gives flexibility? Should we put the kids in daycare or sacrifice to be home when they are? Should I sign up for an individual sport or buy gear to use as a family? Should I bring my child on this business trip or save the money and go alone? Will I relax in front of FaceBook or in face time? I’m guilty. I’ve been self-absorbed and caught up in how important my own stuff is. I just hope when I face these choices I will picture my dad grinning and saying, “I know, let’s duck out early and go fishing.”