We’re sending Ricky to Japan.
When it comes to instilling dreams in our children, it seems like a no-brainer. Every parent wants their child to have fantasies of a greater future full of excitement, love and joy. Even crack moms, with a pipe in one hand and a baby in the other, tell their children how great they can become. But to what end? Why do we fill our kid’s minds with fantasies that, statistically speaking, will never come true? Whose dreams are we giving them?
Paul says: I remember, as a younger man, visiting some of my more agriculturally inclined relatives in their Indiana mobile homes. My aunt has something like eight children (I lost count) with a blend of genders. During the post dinner chit-chat, one of the younger girls, about 7 years old, was drawing Disney characters in a sketch pad and doing it very well. Being from L.A., I made the apparently absurd recommendation that she could be an artist by profession. My aunt and a couple of her older children immediately set out to rectify my misstatement by letting the little girl know that, better than being a professional artist, she could marry a successful man and entertain her children with her doodles.
That story has stuck with me all my life, defining my beliefs in goals and dreams. It kicked up again last week when Lee and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center. As my children looked at rockets and I looked at them, with their eyes filled with hope and excitement, fantasies of space travel rolling around in their heads, I couldn’t help think about why I was doing this. I know that the astronaut job market is rather competitive. It’s up there with president of the U.S. and queen of England. If the goal is to get my kids into space, I would have Bobby working on trajectory math ten hours a day. But I do not think that he will be an astronaut (though it would be cool if he was).
I do want him to be astronaut-like. I want everything that he does to have that quality of excitement and exploration that put a man on the moon. I want him to be the John Glenn of lawn mowing, the Yuri Gagarin of the business world, or the Neil Armstrong of neurosurgery. I realized that it was not about making them into a career astronaut but teaching them to be lifelong heroes. I’d be lying to them if I said that they could do anything. Let’s face it, Jeannie is too short to be a basketball player, Bobby is too tall to be a jockey, but Ricky has a pretty good head start on sumo wrestler.
So, this becomes the hard part. Where does fantasy give way to reality? Am I any different than my aunt who just wants her child to be realistic? I have one answer to this and, to be honest, I do not really like it but here it goes: I want my children to be greater than me. Now, I think that I am pretty good, so I’m not putting this out there as self-deprecation. I’m using this as the only meter that I understand. I do not know what it is to be an astronaut or a president or the queen. But I understand me. So I instill dreams of my best self, the hero that I see in me and my children.
I really hate that answer. I wish I had a better one.
Lee says: I hate when Paul writes before me. I always end up feeling a little inadequate. As for my children growing up to be greater than their father, that is a tall order. Paul is one of the greatest men I know: up there with Ghandi, Buddha and Mr. Rogers.
We are a family of dreamers. I believe that as a parent my job is to foster their dreams, fuel the fire of their passions by introducing them to new things and educating them on how to get what they want. I can not dream for them but I can support them. I will not stand by and support my kids in endeavors that have no hope either. Like those parents who say their kid is the next American Idol. Tell them the truth! Fantasy is one thing but delusions are fatal. Parents who support their children in doing things that they have no business doing are guilty of the worse kind of bad parenting: not having the stones to tell your kid NO!
As a Mom who adores her kids I will say, ‘No Jeannie you will not be a basketball player. And Bobby, you can ride horses but Jockeying isn’t your thing. But Ricky, I don’t know the rules yet but I’ll get your loin cloth ready.’