On a recent vacation, tyke and I were strolling along the beach. He pointed to the ocean and said
“I think it is blue.”
And so it begins, I said to myself. His conversation has been mostly factual and direct so far, a product of pre-school instruction. Facts, axioms, cause and effect, give and take. “That is an apple” or “I want your phone”. Where did this “I think” come from? Is he beginning to develop the vestiges of opinion?
This is an intimidating prospect for me as a parent because I want to ensure he emphasizes the right word in the sentence.
It’s not “I think it is blue”, it should be “I think it is blue”.
Small problem though. I’ve spent 30 years learning the difference and its been a painful process.
There are two important factors to look for in a quest for the “I”.
Knowledge is the first and easiest to cultivate. I don’t doubt for a minute that I’ll be able to pass on my curiosity to tyke. I know he’ll read, trawl the internet to supplement his knowledge, know where to look for information and more importantly how to apply it. I’m confident when he voices an opinion, he’ll know what he’s talking about.
In any case I’ve been warned by the missus that excessive perusing of report cards or any disciplinary action concerning academics will be met with a proportionate response.
I know why.
It’s the second aspect, a cocktail of confidence, character and courage which will drive that “I“. And no amount of studying is going to supplement it. I know because I’ve tried. I’ve tried hiding behind my good marks at parties when I’ve been unable to muster the courage to ask someone to dance. I’ve harbored the delusion that my theoretical knowledge of the world will help me navigate it with ease, using my report cards and degrees as a shield to protect myself from ugly truths. I’m smart, nothing can hurt me.
But it did. Took me a while to peek out from behind my walled garden to notice the world walking along, gratuitiously not giving a fuck. I had the good sense to hang on to the few people who cared to stop, look me in the eye and accept me for what I was. A young man with a chip factory on both shoulders. One of those kindred souls is my wife and I don’t think I’ll ever get to thank her enough for the rest of my life. She helped me understand the meaning of believing in oneself. Standing up to intimidation by not retreating into make-believe infallibility, but to be aware of the circumstances causing those difficult situations. She taught me to gauge people and their motivations, consequences and the courage to deal with them. (You know, being aware of consequences is the first step to feeling confident and I daresay, invincible. Then nothing or no one can exert the power of surprise over you.) Mommy San, to me you ARE courage and I’m glad tyke will see this too.
Character. Sport. I’ve been woefully out of touch with any sport but I do remember my flirtation with cricket during my undergrad years or my obsession with tennis in school. It changed me from a sore loser to someone who could take defeat in his stride and appreciate others better than me; lessons I need to remind myself of from time to time. I want tyke to learn this sooner than I did.
Confidence. Fitness. Enrolling in a gym in my teens exposed me to one simple fact – if you are healthy, you’ll feel good about yourself. Maybe it has some connection to our survival instinct and the need to be fit enough to defend ourselves but there’s no doubt that a fit body exudes confidence. (Not the militant strain seen in over-enthusiastic practitioners like Salman Khan…..). I would really like tyke to discover its power in time.
By now I’ve envisioned my son to be some superhuman ubersoldat-like monster. I bet when he reads this he’ll say “Dad, WTF!? Even Superman hadn’t figured everything out – he wore his undies outside his pants!”
To which I’ll say, “Ah, but son, did he ever let his undies make him feel weak or stupid?”
And that’s the final piece of the puzzle. I want to tell him he’s always going to have faults. They are an integral part of him and some of them will never go away. As long as he never lets those faults define who he is, he’ll be fine. Be aware of them but tell them to grab a bag of popcorn and go sit quietly in the back somewhere watching a movie.
I think it will get the point across.
I think it will.