What One Message Are You Instilling in Your Children?

DadThe dinner conversation was intimate, and powerful, and then a fellow diner steered the topic my way.

So, Christian, what one message did your father instill in you? She had just finished explaining that her father taught her about honesty, recalling examples of how he modeled honest behavior in ways that ensured she would live by that standard.

I was stumped.

No one overriding principle or philosophy came to mind when I thought of my Father’s parental legacy. I remembered fragments of advice gleaned over decades, but no overarching theme I could announce with conviction.

Then it hit me — pragmatism.

My late Father wasn’t book smart and he barely started college before stopping. He was street smart, and that’s what life demanded. He knew how to fix stuff, even things he had no right knowing how to mend. He understood people better than I ever could – then or now. He told me over and again if I made one good friend in my life I was lucky, and I laughed every time he said it. I’m not laughing now, knowing how hard it is to make truly good friends and sustain that bond over years, even decades.

My father spoke in platitudes backed by reality. People do what they wanna do, something I remember when someone in my life lets me down for selfish reasons. Dad told me, “you get what you paid for” so often it still rings in my head whenever I shop for any high-ticket item.

The phrases all sounded canned, but he gave them a world weariness that added texture and truth to every word. He was pragmatic to the core, fusing his New York cynicism with an understanding of how the game of life was played. I’d like to think I have some of that in me now, and if I come up short it’s only because I lack my Father’s innate grasp of human behavior.

So … how will my sons answer that question some day?

It’s technically impossible to know at this point. The cement of my fatherly guidance is still wet, and will stay so for years. It’s a question that should linger as I tuck my boys in at night, punish them when necessary and praise them when they add one new, wonderful skill to their accomplishments.

Only they will know what message I’m imprinting upon them, but Dads should consider the question I was asked and how they hope it will be answered one day.


  1. Nancy says

    Great line: The phrases all sounded canned, but he gave them a world weariness that added texture and truth to every word.

  2. says

    I found this article quite moving and could certainly identify with quite a few bits. My dad in some ways isn’t the type for giving out advice spontaneously but has always provided support when needed and taken a real interest in whatever I’ve been doing.

  3. Christian says

    Nancy – thanks for the kind feedback! Always try to go the extra mile when writing about my Father.

    Jonathan – The best compliment for any blogger is to learn he’s struck a common chord with his work. Thank you!

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