I oftentimes take the dog on a 3-5 mile walk which gives me the opportunity to “get inside my head” as my wife says. Mid-life has been a challenge. Divorce. Job Change. Both of my parents are gone now. Dad died in 2008 and Mom in 2011. I think about a lot of different things, but memories of Mom and Dad and my childhood come up frequently, so I find myself taking a journey back to the 60’s and 70’s quite often.
20 years ago or so, I remember being really pissed about some of the over-sights my parents had during their tenure as parents of me. They started the painful process of divorce when I was 15, so there wasn’t a lot of guidance available down the home stretch. And the house rules felt kind of strict growing up at the time with mandatory private school, and some higher behavioral expectations. It’s funny how attitudes change over time though.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized and appreciated the personal sacrifices they both made in getting 4 kids raised. Each brought something different to the table. Clearly they had different priorities for the traits they would like to see in their kids. Dad seemed to focus on things like self-discipline and academic achievement and relate the two. Mom was more concerned about how her kids treated others and used the word “consideration” a lot. Both seemed slightly obsessed with how we would “turn out”.
I was very lucky to be a part of a family that kept away from the extremes you see today. While conservative in some areas of parenting, they were definitely open minded in other areas and got the big picture. Dad was a strong proponent of ‘natural consequences’ and just let my bad decisions play out. He rarely intervened with disciplinary measures after the age of 12, though there were no shortage of opportunities. If at all possible, he’d just find a way to hold a mirror up so that I could witness my own stupidity. Usually that was enough said.
Mom would get the most upset with me if I was inconsiderate or rude to someone. But both were always there for me and had my best interests at heart, always, even though I didn’t agree with the methods at times. Actually, I had very strong disagreements with the some of the methods, but that’s not what this post is about.
As I got older and became a parent myself, I realized the cool thing about Mom and Dad is that they both tried really hard to walk the talk. Dad set a pretty good example of exercising self-discipline in his own life and Mom was a saint to others, incredibly unselfish with her time and nursing skill-set. She was born to be a nurse, I am convinced of that. I could go on with examples but I’ll skip that for now.
So I’m walking the dog last summer and I’m in my head as usual, and I came across this idea that I latched onto. What’s one thing that I can put into practice to carry on the legacy of Mom and Dad? I’m a very independent thinker and challenged a lot of the status quo in their parenting plan, so I’m sure I was a pretty big challenge for them and didn’t turn out exactly as they had hoped. But now that they are gone, none of that matters. Suddenly I had a real strong desire to make sure all their hard work did not go completely to waste. To carry on some trait they deemed important.
There’s this nature park on one of the walking routes I take called Little Woodrose Park. It’s a fairly short little connector between two neighborhoods but it’s densely populated with trees and has a nice path. About half way in, there’s a pretty steep hill. This may seem a little strange on the surface, but it’s the symbolism that matters to me. What I came of with for Dad was, I’m going to run up this hill every time I come across it. I named it Jim Toner hill, and since last summer, every time I go through there, when I get to the hill, I let the dog loose and chase her up the hill and I run to the top without stopping and think of the old man while I’m doing it. I’m an out of shape 53 year old grandpa, so I’m usually huffing and puffing when I get to the top. But I do that in memory of Dad and his self-discipline message because life isn’t always easy, and we run into challenges and things that are hard.
Figuring out something for Mom was a little harder, but I recently came up with what I think is something that would make her smile. When they were married, Mom had issues with Dad being a little inconsiderate at times and not helping out as much as he could around the house. She didn’t really have the skill-set to challenge him in the moment about it, so she let her frustrations build up over time and developed a lot of resentment. Playing more of the Martyr. When I got married the first time back in 1979, about the worst report she could get back from my wife would be a story about me acting like my father in this regard. Leaving the woman to do all the work or something of this nature. That would really make her mad if she heard a story like that and she’d be likely to give me the business about that in no uncertain terms.
So in honor of Mom, what I do is, I make sure that I’m pulling my weight around the house and then some. If I ever have thoughts that maybe the chores are getting a little one-sided, I just keep my mouth shut and keep rinsing. That one is for you, Mom. I know she’d be super proud of that one and if she’s reading this now, has a big smile on her face.
So there you go, Mom and Dad. One thing each for now. I miss you both terribly.