It’s almost back-to-school time. For the most part, Utah’s corps of thinly compensated, but well-trained, professional and dedicated educators will soon welcome our youth, and for the next nine months, will spend approximately half their weekdays’ time with them. But what about the other half of these young people’s waking hours?
Part-time jobs, chores, sports, religious activities, talent development, homework, reading, playing, family and friends may consume many hours. But the most indelible and enduring impact will be that of the student’s parents and guardians, older siblings, grandparents and other role models.
The recent Showtime documentary about Roger Ailes, the late, controversial chair and mastermind behind the very successful Fox News network, told the story of his wife urging him to return to Warren, Ohio, where Ailes grew up, in order to share with their young son, Zachary, a vision of Roger’s childhood experiences. The pertinent scene shows them pulling up to the home of Roger’s youth.
“Do you mind if I take Zac upstairs and show him my boyhood room,” Roger asked the current residents. “Sure. Go ahead,” they replied.
When they entered the room, Roger showed Zac where his bunkbed had stood. He told Zac that as a young boy, while standing on top of the bed, his father held out his arms and told him to jump. Then his father stepped back, and Roger went crashing to the floor. His dad picked him up and said, “Don’t ever trust anybody. Don’t depend on anyone.”
This, then, was the lesson Roger was passing to Zac. I was disturbed and saddened as I watched that scene.
I had experienced contrasting feelings a number of years earlier, when reading a fictional tale by the author R. L. Gordon. As the story goes, the very busy John Andrews, Canada’s minister of justice, decided to spend some quality time with his young son, Jackie. The two flew to a dirt landing strip in the middle of the Canadian wilderness by a beautiful lake. They camped, hiked, fished and enjoyed this remote wonderland in complete solitude for several days. On the last night of their outing, sitting next to a campfire after a delicious meal, John issued a challenge to Jackie.
“I want you to prove how courageous you are by jumping in that lake and swimming as far as you can,” he said.
Jackie looked toward the lake, but the sky was moonless and black. He couldn’t even see the lake but wanted very much to impress his dad. He undressed for the swim, walked to the bank, pushed off and started to swim without considering the entirety of this circumstance. Though he was a good swimmer, it wasn’t too long before he felt the strain of the strokes and the onset of weariness. Then panic gradually grew. What could he do? He couldn’t see where he was. How far had he gone? Where was the shore?
It seemed as though he was about to force his last stroke, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was his dad.
“Good job, Jackie. Hang on and I’ll tow you to shore,” said John.
When they got back to the bank and resettled by the fire with warm blankets, John told Jackie he wanted him always to remember this experience.
“I want you to remember that after all you do to help yourself, I’m always there to support you,” he said.
The Dalai Lama emphasizes this concept with the words, “No one can survive as an island.”
We need each other. Our kids need us. A major way to teach them is simply to be a good model. We’ve all witnessed examples. My son-in-law is one of many fathers who reminds his kids to respect their mother and other women in their lives.
His payoff was on display recently, when his 6-year-old son, Bennett Malan, was at a soccer game and noticed another little boy pushing a girl. He approached him with these words:
“Hey, you don’t push girls. You just don’t push girls. It’s illegal.”
Parents on the sidelines were amused. Bennett didn’t understand the statutes, but certainly he understood the principle of courtesy and respect.
What we teach, they learn. What they learn will endure.