We always want the best for our children. In fact, I would hazard a guess that most people want their children to be better off than they were—after all, they do decide which nursing home you go into.
The other day while driving home I started talking to my son as he sat in the passenger seat meddling with his phone, ear buds firmly jammed in so he could pretend not to hear me. Each weekday morning, before I ever do anything work related, I open an email and insert a word of the day, one what happened on this day in history, a historical figure who happens to have been born on that day, a daily quote, and a series of seven useful (but useless) facts.
I asked the chip off the old block (I used to pretend not to hear my parents when they wanted to talk about something important or serious) if he knew why I sent those emails each day and even expected him to read them. He snorted as teenagers who are encumbered with so much intelligence that it makes dealing with mentally sluggish parents have since time unremembered.
Nothing else. Just that single negative. So, as father’s have for an even greater length of time than teenage snorting, I went into lecture mode. But I tried to keep it brief in order not to lose my audience—after all, he had more important things to consider.
“I want you to go into life with knowledge that will aid you in maneuvering through an ever-more complicated society. An extensive vocabulary will help you converse with people of all educational levels. Learning what a variety of people have said about a broad range of topics will allow you to learn from their successes as well as their failures. I want you to be better than me. I want you to not have to struggle.”
He took the earbuds out and looked at me. “How are the daily facts going to help.”
I answered, “If you are overflowing with little bits of knowledge, it will help you in critical thinking, enable you to inside a box of someone else’s design.”
With the serious and sardonic tone teenagers possess but think is solely their own, he said, “That’s not going to help me in college.”
I almost had to stop the car. The first thought that tore through my head was, “How the hell would you know? How many college degrees do you have? How many times have you struggled to make ends meet financially to ensure your family is housed, clothed, and fed? Maybe you should just listen to these pearls of wisdom and utilize them in making your own life better from the beginning.”
But instead of haranguing him, I just shrugged and said, “It will. I just want things to be better for you than they were for me.”
He grunted—teenagers can do that exceptionally well also. It was like some mountain gorilla had settled down with an armful of food and wished not to be disturbed while he engorged himself.
What was going on? I had wisdom to impart.
Today’s useful but useless facts included a description of how the Ténéré tree was the only tree in the Sahara Desert for 250 miles, and yet, somehow, with nothing else around as far as the eye could see, a drunk driver plowed into it back in 1973. Isn’t that something interesting that you could insert into a conversational lull during a cocktail party?
When I think about his reaction, I am reminded of the DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince song Parents Just Don’t Understand. After I became a parent, I realized that they do understand because they’ve lived it. They want their children to do better.
I remember when we lived in North Chicago that my father had four part-time jobs just to put us in private school. For some reason, my parents didn’t like the Chicago public school system. To see my father—this was back before I became a teenager and realized he was dumb as a bag of rocks—I had to help him at one of his jobs. Mowing lawns at one of those big houses next to the golf course. Cooking at the Staff Lounge on base, where I learned some interesting vocabulary of my own. Stocking groceries overnight at the commissary. Or delivering the Sunday Chicago Tribune.
Yep. Parents just don’t understand. How do we get through their superior intellect to impart a modicum of knowledge? We just want things to be better for our kids. And it took until the middle of my third decade before I realized that things could have been a whole lot easier if I had just listened.