We all have passions, those that inspire us, those that drive us, and those that act as a little flame that stays burning all the time regardless of how much it is tested. That third kind is the one that I believe gives us strength. To me, that flame is family.
Family is something we all have in one scope or another; some of you may picture, like I do, your parents and siblings, others may have pictured friends, or relatives that aren’t your parents. Regardless of whom specifically you see, I believe they have done something to help you, to further your life, and to make you better and stronger. Have you thanked them?
The last time I was at home, I was in my Dad’s office and noticed in one of the upper corners of the room a little note sheet that I had written most likely during my early teen years simply reading, “I will not blame my parents for ruining my social life” in bright pink ink. My opinions have not changed on either front, the pen color, or the message, but seeing that little note carefully preserved, reminded me why my Dad is my hero. My family unit is incredibly close; we are a team and support each other no matter what. Our relationships within the unit are all unique, and I don’t love one more than another, only differently but my Dad and I have the most in common.
Our character, values, culture, knowledge, and beliefs are all formed by the people who care for us and help us grow. Sometimes they challenge us to strengthen our weak areas or embarrass us to “build character” but it’s all out of love. As a child I was very shy, and refused to speak to strangers thus I would be given the tasks of calling businesses to find out their hours and sales, talking to waitresses at restaurants, or asking for help in stores. It was horrible, but I kept being pushed to do it so that I would not be as introverted as my father. Now as a young adult, I work as a secretary and am a part of two social organizations, so I guess hard work pays off, and that my parents didn’t ruin my social life, but rather the opposite and made me a stronger person.
Knowledge is another gift that is shared between families, we learn from whom we spend our time with. Each day during elementary school, there would be morning announcements over the intercom and they would always close with a quote, think Martin Luther King Jr, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Maya Angelou… I would tell my family about the quotes over dinner each night and my Dad got an idea. He has always had these little one liners of advice like, absorb knowledge as if you were a sponge, enjoy the learning process, and lastly, “wisdom doesn’t come out of a can and has no expiration date.” One night he sat me down to write down a quote to submit for reading. It was this carefully written wisdom “quote.” I remember proudly marching into school to my guidance counselor, who was in charge of the morning announcements, office to give it to her. She read it, looked a little confused and said she would “try and work it in.” I began to lose hope each day that would pass without my submission. Maybe it was wrong, perhaps I was weird or my dad had said something that wasn’t what she was looking for. I felt embarrassed that I had turned it in, and sad for my dad that it hadn’t been read yet, but when I had lost all hope, probably a month after I had turned in my nugget of wisdom, I heard, over the loud speaker, “and today’s quote comes from Bud Bennett and says ‘wisdom doesn’t come out of a can and has no expiration date.’” I was ecstatic. I was proud.
At the end of the year, the guidance counselor pulled me aside and said she wanted to return my quote to me. She pulled a coffee tin labeled “quotes” down from the top of her file cabinet, fished around in it and gave my the same paper that I had turned in earlier that year. I’ll let the irony sink in for a moment. My father’s insight couldn’t be contained in a can preserved in a windowless closet of an office. To be randomly drawn for morning announcements, it needed more attention, so home it went into my dad’s higgle piggle of sentimental artifacts, not to surface until my high school graduation where it was presented to me, expertly preserved and framed to send me off to college with the knowledge that wisdom is all around us and that it will never go away.
Family is more than a source of who we are and our knowledge base, it is friendship. If the people who you spend the majority of your time with aren’t your friends all those hours will be miserable. Being around people who make you laugh is good for your health, it releases stress, and it makes your brain feel good. We love to play games at my house. A better way to describe that would by my brother and mom love to play games and my dad likes to play one game, phase 10, which is kind of like rummy. When I’m home for breaks we play games a couple times a week, and force my dad to play games like taboo, win lose or draw, and awkward family photos. His over exaggerated displeasure if only for effect because I know the times when the four of us are sitting around the table together are treasured now that I am away at school and my brother is increasingly out playing some war video game, or on dates.
I know he loves it because I like to watch people’s faces when they are doing things they enjoy. Like at the movies, in concerts, or across my dining table during game nights. Believe it or not, I generally have a very serious face, no I’m not tired, I’m not sad, and I’m not angry, that is just my face. Once again, I have my father to thank for that gift. He too has a serious face that for almost my entire life has been made even more serious by a full moustache and beard. Now that he has shaved it, he looks much more cheerful, but I, unfortunately do not have such an easy fix. Anyway, when looking at his cards, writing his answer, or planning his next move, he looks content and happy, like he is really enjoying himself, but as soon as he starts to look up to play his turn or be the “judge” he flips a switch and looks annoyed and serious once again. Our friendship within my family group is strong, built on the foundation of time together and a fierce loyalty.
That loyalty is another key aspect of family that I think we often don’t think about. Each of us has someone who is willing to go to bat for us no matter what. Often during teenage years we feel alone, resentful, and like there isn’t anyone on our side, but that’s generally not the case. We all have our team.
Your team should double as your cheerleaders. With family comes pride, the people who want to share in your biggest accomplishments and cheer you on. My father is the coolest. He is a documentary producer, a musician, an artist, an archivist, a gardener, a home brewer, and the hardest worker I have ever met. It makes me proud when I’m listening to his cd and my friends ask who it is, and when they tell other people how neat he is , when I see he is succeeding in his many projects I feel an unparalleled sense of pride, and when he is there cheering me on.
It makes me happy that I always had someone who was at my track meets, a pal to stare at American Alligators laying too far to even really see for hours, and who would help look out for the mother alligator when we happened upon a whole mess of babies in the wild. Someone who plastered his office at home and work with my childhood artwork, who pushed me to try new foods, to learn new skills, and to work hard every day.
We all have similar stories and experiences, a group of people or one person in particular that has changed your life or made you stronger by shaping who you are, sharing their knowledge, being your friend, showing you loyalty, and by being proud of you and giving you someone to be proud of despite all the mistakes you have made. We all have that little flame of hope and passion pushing us on each day whether they are minutes or hours away.
Say thank you. For the cumulative hours spent in the car shuttling you around to sports practices, games, to school, music lessons, or dance. Thank you for birthday parties, for silly times, for playing games, and for loyalty. Your family loves you unconditionally regardless of it is a parental connection or a friend-family. They deserve your thanks for what they have done, what they have sacrificed, and for hours and hours spent with you even when you were at your worst.