Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Doing the best we can

Penny, in a comment on my recent Advice From a Father to His Son post, asked: "Did your dad teach you? Or, is that the sum of lessons of a lifetime? Or, did you figure it all out fairly early on somehow?"

Good questions. I had to take a few days to think about it all. My father did indeed teach me a lot, but certainly not by talking to me. He was a man of very few words. We seldom spoke more than a few sentences to each other. It's not that he was stern and forbidding or anything like that, he just didn't say much. When I learned from my father, it was by his example, by the way he lived, by the way he acted towards me and, more importantly, the way he acted towards others.

My father was a classy guy. He loved to dress up in a suit and tie. He had impeccable manners and was always courteous and respectful of others. He would rarely say a bad word about anyone. He did not, however, like riffraff. He used a German word to describe these people, a word I have never seen written anywhere, and therefore wouldn't begin to know how to spell. He defined these people not by where they lived, not by how much money they had, not by their level of education. He defined them by their actions. Being loud and brash, rude or inconsiderate, might get you on the list. Not having any self-control definitely would. So would 'putting on airs.' My dad didn't like phonies. He didn't like condescending behaviour. He thought everyone should be treated with respect, at least until it was obvious that they didn't deserve it. My father was a labourer all his life, with almost no formal education, but you would never have guessed that on meeting him.

My mother and I spoke often. From her I learned that it is important to use context when evaluating behaviour. Circumstances could explain why someone might be behaving in an unexpected way. Context, though, while it might explain bad behaviour, would never excuse it. Being drunk, for example, might explain being loud and obnoxious, but it would never excuse having lost the self control necessary to govern oneself.

From my mother and father both, I learned fairness. Both parents were almost obsessively fair. If one of the kids got something, so did the others. Favouritism didn't exist in our home.

I did learn some things on my own. I learned by observing. If I didn't like how someone was behaving, I tried hard not to behave that way myself. Being considerate and polite is not only good manners, it is a form of self-preservation. The Golden Rule pretty much sums it up: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I also learned from my mistakes. I've made a few of those. If an action of mine results in pain or trouble, why repeat it?

Life is an interesting journey. In our travels, we can choose whether to be happy or miserable, optimistic or pessimistic, to live in the present or in the past, to deal with problems or to pretend they don't exist. I think you know which of those choices I am likely to make.

We are all imperfect creatures living in an imperfect world. We do the best we can. I hope my best, while I am trying to teach my son, is good enough.


  1. That was a great answer, Atavist! Many people could have learned much from your wise, kind and fair parents. They sound wonderful!

    I can see a lot of similarities in your father and mother and mine, except that my father does talk quite a lot.. er.. lectures, rather.

    Teaching by example, I think, is the most definitive handbook one can offer their children. And, your teachers sound like they both had the gifts of discernment and grace.

    There but for the grace of God...

    And, God Blessed you. And, you in turn, are a wonderful gift to your son. Thank you for, once again, sharing more of your important history and values with us.

  2. This is why your blog is awesome. You address real issues in an honest voice, and that helps the reader make connections in his/her own life.

  3. Thanks, ladies, for your kind words. Actually, I am just a flawed guy trying to understand things that happen around me. Much of the time, I don't have a clue why people behave the way they do, why things are the way they are, and why the human race can't seem to learn from such a long and varied (and bloody) recorded history.

    Colour me puzzled...

  4. Human behavior is basically a spiritual (or motivational, if you prefer) issue. A person is not a thief because he steals, he steals because he is a thief; he has rationalized in his mind that he is "entitled" to the property of others, for whatever excuse, and has more than likely been taught this attitude by word and example, but the final choice to act upon it was his/her own!
    This last point is the one the socialistic/spiritualistic altruism of our day refuses to accept, to them, everyone is a "victim" of some vague third party.
    There are few who accept responsibility fo their own actions and decisions. It is evident Atavist is one of them.
    It is GREAT to see you "walk the talk".