Sunday, June 6, 2010

Parenting Brings Out the Philosopher in Me

My mom often tells people (or so she tells me) that her greatest accomplishment in life has been me and my brother. Now, while I have to admit that Greg and I are two strapping, responsible, respectful, big-hearted men, I've always felt very clear--and mom, if you're reading this, don't take this the wrong way--that I needed more than children to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Believe me, Jackson was the absolute epicenter of my life for more than 10 years, until he had to make room for Sarah to share that epicenter. More recently, of course, he's had to skooch over even more for Max. But when I'm on my death bed (and please, whoever decides these things, make it a comfy one), merely having been a father won't give me the sense of fullness I'm hoping for.

I was thinking about this recently as I drove around doing errands with Max in tow. The way everyone responds to him, you'd think the stroller contained Michelangelo's David, and in a sense, I suppose it does. Every baby really is a work of art. Regardless, I started asking myself, what does a person have to do for his life to be considered a success? Does he have to be remembered and beloved beyond his family, friends and loved ones? Must he invent something that changes the world? Weed out evil wherever it exists in the world? Raise money to build schools in third-world communities? Take in homeless pets?

I asked Sarah what she thought, and her first instinct was to say that someone who achieves happiness is a success. But that's too easy--there are plenty of terrible people in the world who achieve happiness without any chance of being considered a success in the final analysis.

Is it as simple as treating others with kindness and respect, and being mindful of everything that's flowing around you? Spreading love to those you touch, and accepting the love of others in a deep and meaningful way?

Hopefully, you didn't continue reading this post in the hope that I was going provide an answer, because quite frankly, it's not possible. Success is an awfully big word, and with so many people doing so many things and living their lives in so many ways, there has to be more valid definitions of success than just about any word in the English language.

What I do know is this: If I were to die today, I'd consider myself a success in some regards, not so much in others. I think I've learned to be a good husband and father who's willing to acknowledge and try to address his flaws. I also have managed to build a life that allows me to rule my own schedule, and that in itself is worth more money than I could ever imagine making. But I've also demonstrated a penchant for having big ideas, and even starting to execute them--but never seeming to finish them.

So there you go, I've worked it out. If I want to ultimately consider myself a success--and really, in the end, whose approval do we need more than our own?--I need to become a better finisher. Yep, I'm gonna get right on that. Once I usher Jackson into adulthood, navigate Max through childhood, figure out how to be the best husband I can be to Sarah, and finish updating all the remaining elements on our house, that is. I certainly hope this success thing is all it's cracked up to be.

Now that I think about it, Jackson and Max have given me a big head-start. My mom has had it partly right all along.

1 comment:

  1. My mother died in a car crash a few weeks ago. I used this poem on the back of her prayer card. I chose it because it portrays success in terms of how you have touched other people and what you leave behind, not in terms of your own feelings.

    What is Success?

    To laugh often and much;
    to win the respect of the intelligent people
    and the affection of children;
    to earn the appreciation of honest critics
    and endure the betrayal of false friends;
    to appreciate beauty;
    to find the best in others;
    to leave the world a bit better
    whether by a healthy child,
    a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
    to know that one life has breathed easier
    because you lived here.
    This is to have succeeded.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson