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Vices and virtues: Living in the wake of our parents' being

Credit: PEOPLEIMAGES

Understanding your parents, along with their vices and virtues may help you become a better person in the end.


Michael Veenema | Interrobang | Opinion | April 12th, 2019



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“No matter how bad it is, they always want to go home.” That’s one of the anecdotal bits of wisdom you hear now and then if you hang around a youth correctional facility, which I do a lot these days. So, this has me thinking about parents.

With the end of the study term not far away, there will soon be more time to hang out with friends, family – and parents. Or, I should say, parents, parent, or those who fill the parenting role in your life.

If you are fortunate, both your biological parents are together and are there to support you. I don’t think there is any greater source of personal strength as you start off in life than a healthy family home headed by parents.

This is not to say in the least that single parents don’t deserve appreciation. The single parents I meet typically have to work much harder to respond to the needs of their children than does a parent couple. If you are being raised by a single parent – which would usually be a mom and less often a dad – they deserve your respect for surviving the parenting experience while your other parent is not available.

Spending time with your parents or parent (I’ll use the plural from here on) can be very illuminating. It can help you develop a greater understanding of who you are and what kind of life trajectory or career could work best for you.

For one thing, some people follow in their parents’ career footsteps intentionally. Obvious examples of this are Justin Trudeau and former U. S. President George W. Bush. You can find other examples in the entertainment industry and business world.

“How many people follow in their parents’ footsteps with respect to career?” I went online to find an answer to that question. Studies show that in some fields, say the military and law, children clearly tend to replicated their parents’ career choices.

Still, it’s not a one to one correlation. If you are one of four children born into a military family, then likely three of you (let’s say) will go into a non-military career. But still, your chances of choosing the military will be a good deal higher than those of one of your peers whose parents are not in the military. The numbers are a lot more detailed, but the picture is something like that.

Anyway, the thing is that you might find yourself suited very well to a certain career by virtue of what you observed in – or by “osmosis” learned from – your parents.

I think, though, that there are more important reasons for having as full an understanding of our parents as possible. Life as children of our parents is not just about their careers. It is about who they are as persons in a very deep sense. It’s about their being.

You and I live in the wake of our parents’ being. Therefore, I would say, it is very important to understand as much as you can, your parents’ virtues and vices.

So, about vices. We should try to become aware of our parents’ vices, their faults. Your parents may have abused cannabis, alcohol or opioids. They may have committed crimes. They may have created a lot of unnecessary drama in their families. They may have engaged in verbal, emotional, or physical abuse in your home. Your father in a moment of weakness may have been unfaithful to your mother, or vice versa.

We should become as aware of these things as we can – but not to look down on our parents. They’ve probably had plenty of that already, and I am sure it didn’t do them much good. But, instead, to be able to understand their weaknesses, to sympathize with any attempts they made to deal with them, and to be alert to those same vices surfacing in our own lives – those are the reasons for becoming aware of our parents’ failings.

And then about virtues. My parents and I did not get along very well as I was growing up. But I have had the astounding good fortune – an outright blessing from God – of moving back to an area where many people knew my parents in their younger years. They recall my father’s pride in working hard. He was an immigrant from the Netherlands and is remembered for his diligence as a farm hand. I see his “workaholism” in a different light now.

They remember, what to me, was his kind of corny sense of humour. Now I understand that it was actually his enjoyment at having acquired the ability to make jokes in English, which was not his first language.

My mother also: As a teenager I was annoyed by her lack of sophistication and her seeming difficulty at fitting in with our neighbours. But now I realize how courageous she was in moving from her family village in Holland, boarding an ocean liner, and facing the real possibility that she might never see her own family again (the year was 1952).

And for both of them, faith in God was of the greatest importance. Upon arrival in Canada, they immediately found a group of like-minded immigrants who founded a new church in their new home. (In this regard, they were like most European immigrants who transplanted their Protestant and Catholic ways in Canadian soil).

Sometimes now, when I am visiting the youth of Nova Scotia who are in custody, as I’m preparing for worship or leading it, as I am trying to co-ordinate assistance for a community member, or as I am writing an article for the Interrobang, it is as if I can feel the presence of my parents. It gives me strength. I feel their encouragement more now then I did in the past.

And that is not a bad place to get to. I hope you will find plenty to embrace as you get to know your parents more. Have a great summer.

Michael Veenema is former chaplain of Fanshawe College and Western University. His three children live in Toronto, and he lives in Nova Scotia with his wife. He is a Presbyterian chaplain with the provincial Department of Justice and is a co-pastor of a Baptist Church. He continues to write.
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