Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Breaking it down for the young ones... (words of wisdom from my dad)

It occurred to me last night that there is a larger audience for my work as an author than I had first thought. After being sent a message from a teenage girl who lives in my building telling me that she was reading my novel and couldn’t put it down my first immediate action was to feel elated, satisfied and very much content with where I was as author. After all I have a daughter myself who is in her early teens and I am well aware of our young people’s high expectations when it comes to the information they pick and choose to focus their attention on. They may at first glance appear to be taken in by trends and multimedia high-jinks but I have known more than one teen to drop a favourite artist and never look back if they think that the artist is misrepresenting or not standing up for the message that the artist first came out with. I have also had long discussions with young people about the misuse and abuse of the power of those in positions of fame; bluntly put our young people seem to feel that their role models have a responsibility to show them through their actions a better more successful path to a healthy happy life. If you pay close attention to the messages in the music from some of the top artists of today you will notice the artists themselves have picked up on this idea and are doing their best to set a positive example by way of their chosen career and they are all painfully aware at the fickleness of fame so they act in accordance with working to maintain the image that first won them their position in the social eye. Knowing all this I considered it to be one of the highest compliments to have ever been paid, for a young woman to approve of my writing was for me a confirmation that I was well on my way to success; in fact to me it very much felt as if I had already succeeded.
You might think it odd that I would put so much store in the opinion of a young woman, yet as I have stated many times, their views and ideas are valid; they are more than capable of seeing the troubles of our world and if we would ditch our own adult ego’s long enough we may just find they have some solutions in mind for those problems we are now facing. I have been saying it from the start, there is nobody closer to the spirit than the young, pure of heart and not yet jaded and warped by the ideals of others, it is in the eyes of the child that you can clearly see the light and hope of our future. That being said, it is up to us as adults to encourage them to see their worth and their value and it was that thought that left me rather numb last night as I lay in bed thinking. Hard enough to raise my own teenager but to be responsible for the minds and hearts of other young people out there; the thought left me feeling a tad overwhelmed.
Yet when I think about all the conversations I have had with my own daughter and reflect on her ability to understand the concepts and ideas I put forth it encourages me to continue to write as I always have secure in the knowledge that if any young ones are reading my work, they will understand and get from my writing exactly what they need to at the time to help them ease into their next step on their own journey of life. Something however was stirred within in me, this sense of responsibility to open up a doorway to open honest communication between the adult and the not-yet-an-adult...
I felt therefore compelled to put my fingers to work at pounding out a message especially for them which has resulted in the following piece of writing...
When I was you...
I had this crazy old man (dad) who used to take me out for drives in the country on weekends to talk about life. He would drive down the back roads occasionally stopping to let the dog out to run around some random farmer’s field and I would sit in the front seat occasionally popping the top of his next beer. This was back in the day and out in farm country, when and where drinking and driving was acceptable and I have to point out here that even though I grew up being driven around by a man who almost always had a beer between his legs while driving the car that when my own daughter was born I refused to let her get in the car when he was driving. 20 years he had toured me around safely, yet when it came to my own child there was no way I was taking the chance; the miracle is when I told him it would not be he merely smiled a knowing smile and got in the passenger side with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. I think in the end he was proud that he had managed to raise a daughter who would stand up for her beliefs even if it meant standing up to her own father. Dad was lot of fun growing up, he did some very odd things given that he was an ex cop and should have probably known better yet as much as he enjoyed breaking the rules he never did so if it meant hurting another. Dad was much more of a giver than a taker, he loved to laugh and enjoyed life to its fullest; every day for him was a new opportunity to play games in the playground we call life.
He raised me to be a thinker and a feeler, to follow my gut when dealing with others and to always stand up for myself and those I loved. He offered a lot of advice over the years which I am now going to pass on to you; advice that I have done my best to offer to my own daughter as it is advice that has served me well through all of my own trials and tribulations. Dad was a pretty blunt kinda guy who never sugar-coated things and in honour of that (it is why I trusted him so very much) I in turn will be equally as honest.
The one thing he told me that stuck with me the most is his words of wisdom on the breaking of rules. He told me once that there may very well come a time in my life where in order to protect the ones I love, or to save myself I might have to bend or break a few rules. He said sometimes you do what you have to do to survive but if you make that choice, and it is a choice, then you make sure you take the time to consider carefully your reasons and the consequences of your actions. He told me that if I had to go that route then I had to also be aware that eventually I would have to pay the price; best then he said to have it straight in my head the why’s and how’s of my choices. Above all he explained when not if, you do get caught, because kiddo you will always get caught (he told me this more than once and always laughed when he did) hold your head high, say to your accuser ‘yes I did that and this is why’ and never try to hide or lie about either your chosen actions or your reason for them. Be honest with yourself and with others, you are who you are and that will never change.
“Never let anybody tell you that your past choices or mistakes make you a bad person, not ever; even good people sometimes have to make tough choices, it does not mean they are bad people; don’t ever let anybody ever tell you different, not even me...”
On being who I was his advice was always the same; “don’t let others steer you off your chosen path, not even me... Don’t let others tell you how you should live your life, not even me... Don’t let others trick you into thinking you will only get their love and respect if you live up to their expectations, not even me...” He would add that this was control, not love; respect was a two way street, people had to earn it form you as much as they expected you to earn it from them which meant for the most part in his mind that it was up to them to give you the space to be who you are.
That was dad’s take on relationships as well, and I remember very clearly being taken into his friends bar at the age of 14 and given a vodka and orange juice (very watered down of course) and embarking on the much dreaded ‘sex talk’... Dad did not do details; he figured for the most part I would get the info from my friends and TV. What he did tell me though was this... “If a boy or man is asking more than he gives, it is time to split... Relationships can’t work if one person is always taking, and even though sometimes one takes a little more than the other in a good relationship it will even out as the days go by. There has to be a balance between the two, giving and taking... If the balance is not there and all he wants is for you to give, give, give then you need to toss him to the side and move on. Life is too short to waste your time on takers; there are a lot of good people out there, keep looking until you find them.” Of course he made it very clear that it went both ways, and if I really wanted to have good relationships I had to make sure I was paying attention to the needs of whoever I was offering my heart to. Relationships he would say were not about always being right, it was sometimes about knowing that you’re right and just shutting your mouth until the other person figures it out; care enough to be there when they need you and eventually they will know the value of your love. Never though he added let them take advantage of it, pay attention to your own heart and when it warns you to run; get the hell out of dodge.
What he wanted above all else was for me to know my worth, to know my own heart and to know what it was I wanted out of life. He worked hard at making sure I had a well rounded up bringing, teaching me everything from cooking and baking (dad was amazing in the kitchen) to putting a pencil in the carburetor if the car would not start because it was flooded (well before your time but the point is he was teaching me car stuff too). He believed that me being a girl was no reflection on my limitations, and that it was up to me to learn about the things I was interested; no limits he would say to what you can do, just limits to what you think you can do. “Figure out where you want to be and then go there, decide what you want to do and then do it; choose who you want to be and then go live it...”
One of my favourites was his explanation about the unfair situation he saw some young men to be in, he viewed it as this need they had to overcompensate for their perceived weakness in women. He told me never hit a man, it is completely unfair to him because he will want to hit you back but society says he can’t... Think before you act and don’t take advantage of the fact that you are a woman, a good man deserves your gentle heart but he also needs to know your strength. Stand up for yourself, but do it honestly, there is no need to be defensive or offensive. The opposite sex is not your enemy, in time you will find one who will more than likely be your best friend, treat them as your equal, act like you are their equal and your relationships will be the solid rocks onto which you can build the foundations of your future.
Of course as I said most of these talks took place on the back country roads of small town Ontario and the wisdoms that he shared with me were not how others knew him. For the most part he was just this much loved, jovial man with gentle eyes and a light hearted laugh who loved the ladies. Thanks to his personality and his open way of approaching strangers the ladies also loved him and old and grey as he was near the end of his days, the cutest of the cute would offer him a wink and smile whenever he passed by. What made the man so special is that he never put on airs, and that was something that he never had to talk to me about or advise me on; it was just something I picked up growing up sheltered by his love. Dad knew his worth, he knew who he was but he never once treated a single soul as if they were any less than he. He also never allowed them to act as if they were any more important than he was; the world was his equal, that is how he viewed it... Nobody above and nobody below; different maybe but never less and never more.
If dad were alive today I am willing to bet he would be cheering me on every step of the way and with that though I am reminded of one final lesson my dad left me with that I think is probably one of the most important things you will ever learn. People will come and go in life, you can’t always hold onto them forever but if you can hold onto the things they taught you, the joy and laughter that you shared then even long after they are gone they are never truly forgotten and a part of them will always be a part of you. Thanks for that dad; it’s good to know you are still around, in spirit, here in my heart where you will always remain close by to offer support and guidance when I need it...
Oh yes and before I forget, one more thing he made sure I knew to shout as loudly and as often as possible... Win or lose, it is family tradition and a blog about dad would not be complete without it... GO LEAFS!!!

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