When I was nine years old I won the junior scholarship prize at my boarding school. The prize entailed having my name inscribed on a small silver cup that was displayed amongst its much larger sporting brethren, within a glass fronted case in the school entrance. It was a particularly fine display case standing at least six feet in height, three feet in depth, and eight feet in length. The school entrance was out of bounds to students, but I had still managed to sneak a peek one night. It was difficult to see my little cup, but I was thrilled to spot it partially hidden by the rugby first team captain’s cup.
I was overjoyed with my achievement, and was still full of it as we children were shipped off to our Grandmother’s house in the Scottish Borders for our annual summer holiday.
We arrived late in the evening and politeness dictated that this wasn’t the time for childrens tales.
I had difficulty in keeping my wonderful news to myself, and it was with amazing self control that I waited until breakfast the next morning to tell my Grandmother the great news. Her response to that beam of sunlight in my life was like a cold November rain.
“One who seeks validation for an achievement is generally not worthy of it.” She said. She was an ex-English teacher and had a way with words.
I went from the heights of elation to the depth of self loathing within the space of one sentence. Her words have stuck with me ever since. She was never the cuddliest of Grandmothers, but if you could look past the ice, her words had a warm point. She was always trying to teach. I just wasn’t always an instant student.
Today is Fathers Day, and was up at seven so that I could complete all my chores in time for me to lounge around on the couch this afternoon and watch Tiger Woods play in the US Open.
I had cleaned the kitchen, emptied the cat pans, started my laundry for the coming work week, and was taking the garbage out to the road, when an elderly gentleman in a Buick stopped on the verge next to me.
He looked at the garbage cans. “It’s Fathers Day you know?” He said.
“Yes I know. That’s why I’m getting everything done early today.” I replied.
He looked surprised, and his glance landed on my stepsons cars. Both were sitting next to each other, and had been decorated at school with the usual graduating class graffiti. It was obvious that the house had at least two teenagers at home. The old boy pointed at them.
“Why don’t you have them do your chores today?”
It hadn’t even occurred to me. “I don’t know.” Was all I could muster.
The old guy shook his head as he drove off, and I came back inside and had a think. Why don’t I ever have the kids do my chores on special days? Birthday; Veterans Day; Fathers Day; I treat them all the same. I get my chores done early so that I can donate the rest of the day to things that I really want to do. Then my Grandmother’s words came back to me. “One who seeks validation for an achievement is generally not worthy of it.”
You can’t get somebody to acknowledge something that they don’t feel. For my stepsons to do my chores for me, and really mean it, they will have to choose to do it themselves. If I ask them to do the chores, then they would, but it would be asking for validation and thus wouldn’t mean a thing. Now I could say that they are just being lazy and selfish for not wanting to make me feel special on days such as this, but that is an easy way out for me; a way for me to feel better about myself. Put the onus on them without acknowledging my own part in their lack of interest for this day.
To put a positive spin on things, I would say only this.
If I had been a better stepfather, then they would want to do my chores today. I need to strive harder at it. I know that some day in the future, maybe on my birthday, my chores will all be done when I get up, and then I will have received that validation. I believe that you can learn as much from peoples actions as you can from their words, and being a father, albeit not a biological one, takes a person that is willing to understand a lesson whatever direction it may come from.
I am just as willing today to learn from my children, as I was all those years ago, learning from my Grandmother. I think that we sometimes try so hard at being the teacher to our kids that we often forget that we don’t know it all.