Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Makes a Good Father?

I was talking to a group of rich friends once.

"My father is giving me a BMW for my birthday," announced the banker's daughter.

"I went on a shopping spree last weekend and raked up a $10,000 credit card debt," said the lawyer's daughter. "My Dad grumbled a little, as usual, but of course he paid it off."

"My Daddy keeps offering to buy me a condo, but he says to find one that costs under $250,000. Now I need to get him to approve the one I chose that is $310,000," said the businessman's daughter.

Then everybody looked at me.

"My father called me last night to discuss the first chapter of my dissertation," I said. "We talked for two hours, and he gave me a lot of useful advice."

There was a general pause.

"My father doesn't even know what my research is about," said the banker's daughter finally in a small voice.

People often seem to think that giving everything to their children has to do with giving them every material object they might desire, every new toy or gadget that might come on the market, every piece of luxury there is. But does that really make them good parents? Is that what their children really need? I'm not talking, of course, about those cases when parents fail to keep their children adequately fed and clothed. This is abusive, and I don't condone it. However, does giving children more financially is a substitute for talking to them, hanging out with them, discussing their interests and issues, having fun with them?

My father always helped me out financially as much as he could while I was a student. Still, he will never be able to give me a trust fund, a car, or a condo. Things he gave me were intangible but a lot more valuable, in my opinion. He taught me never to leave the house without a book, to question every received opinion, to be scrupulously honest about money, to see myself as a valuable individual whose point of view matters and who should always demand being treated with respect, to be professional, responsible, and hardworking, to set the highest standards possible for myself academically, professionally and personally. I could continue this list ad infinitum.

It's not the material stuff that matters, people. It really isn't.


Leah Jane said...

That's very touching and thoughtful of your father.
My own father died when I was 13, but I think the lessons he taught me when I was a child still resonate today and prove to me he was a good parent. Not just practical stuff like how to collect eggs from under a hen without being pecked, or ride a horse at trot and gallop speed or create a knot Gordious himself would be proud of, but things like the value of keeping and maintaining lifelong friends, making people laugh, and always standing up for what you believe in.
That's worth a lot more than a fancy car at a Bat Mitzvah.
Or, rather, as he would say, "A good life (or a good father!) is about berekh (blessings) not bling bling."

Spanish prof said...

This is beautiful.
When I was growing up, there were better and worse economic times for my parents. One thing I learn very quickly was that if I asked for new clothing (jeans, t-shirt, etc), I might get it or not, according to household finances or how urgent the new clothes were. But if I told my parents that I wanted a certain book to read, I would have it on my desk the next afternoon.