Monday, June 1, 2015

Parenthood: Week 103 - Success As A Parent

“ . . . a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.”

Vice President Joe Biden wrote this in his message announcing the passing of his son, Beau Biden. It is a sentiment that has been echoed by many other people, however in this context, it gives us pause. How can you be more successful than a man who is the Vice President of the most powerful nation on the planet? What does success really mean? To our Vice President, success isn’t about political power, but how his son Beau “measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother.” In these significant ways, our Vice President sees his son as being more successful, which brings him pride.

This viewpoint of parenthood embodies a selflessness and a lack of insecurity. It’s an approach to parenting in which the parents find energy and life through their kids reaching beyond the parents’ abilities.

Not every parent feels this way. There are people who do not parent selflessly. Through their children they try to prove to themselves and others that their life has meaning. These people push their children to fulfill their fantasies. Sometimes these people also get embittered when their children reach beyond their own personal achievements. This type of parental relationship inevitably leads to resentment from the child and a deeper layer of regret as the parent now lives with their own failures as an individual and a parent.

I can imagine the difficulty in the shifting role of a parent if Ollie at some point becomes a better pianist than me. For years, I am the one teaching him and at some point he overcomes my abilities. It’s not so much that I don’t want Ollie to be better than me, but it’s sign of him growing up. The thing is that even if he does surpass all of my musical skills, there are things that he will always needs from me as a father.  Yes, on one level it’s sad that he doesn’t need me the same way he did a year ago.  At the same time, the challenge of being the dad he needs now is a thrill.  While the transition is difficult, like every other stage in parenthood, I know that this one will bring us closer.

If our Vice President is right, than I'm a successful parent. Ollie is more outgoing and adventurous than me. He has a deeper well of empathy and his optimism is truly inspiring. Ollie is giving, compassionate and generous. He’s a lot more likely to share his meal with you than I am (and he’s also more likely to simply take food off your plate, if you don’t seem to be interested in eating). And if you’ve met Ollie and you know me, there is no doubt that Ollie is so much cooler than I am.

Ollie surpassing me doesn’t really seem like it comes from me being a “successful” parent. I’m make mistakes up all of the time and I’m still working toward feeling truly successful.  Right now Ollie being awesome feels less like a result of my work, and more like a blessing.

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