“We didn’t think you would make it. Because, well, you know how you are.” Words spoken to me by my mother upon hearing of my impending college graduation.
Some of you may be familiar with the game show Let’s Make a Deal (1963–86), hosted by Monty Hall. If you are, great. If you’re not, that’s okay too—as this post really has nothing to do with that game show. Which, now of course (if you’re still reading this) is probably making you wonder why I brought it up. Well, let me tell you: The deal. It’s the deal part. See, many years ago my parents made a deal with me. More specifically, my father.
It was 1988, I was thirteen, and had recently moved to Utah the previous summer. At this time my two sisters and I were living with my grandmother while my parents were staying at my mother’s dance studio, just a couple blocks away. I had a few friends, but I still wasn’t getting out much this particular warm season. I don’t recall why exactly because my sisters and I were staying in the upstairs part of my grandmother’s house and it was so hot up there that I would get nose bleeds and dehydration. Yet, there I stayed…
Anyway, I have always enjoyed Saturday morning cartoons. For years I would get up at 6:00 a.m. to catch the very first show, and then watch all morning until the last cartoon was over (about 12:30). One year, there was one station—I think it was CBS—that started cartoons at 5:30. I accidentally discovered this because I got up a few minutes before 6:00, turned on the television, and saw the closing credits of the previous cartoon. It only lasted that one year… With each new subsequent television season (back when there was a strict season beginning and ending), for many years, I would get up at 5:30 the first couple of weeks, just to see if anyone else thought 5:30 was a good time to start cartoons. Nope. Nobody did. Well, except me.
This history is important to know… Um, well, maybe not. Too late. See, while I enjoy television, I am not obsessed with it. If I had to live without it, I could. I would prefer not to, as I enjoy watching several old television series that are only syndicated now. I’m not talking about streaming services either. I’m referring to the classic antenna-based signals coming through the airwaves to my home. Again, I could live without television, but, I do enjoy watching some shows. My parents—30 years ago—were becoming concerned that I was addicted to it. I guess when your child would rather sit in a stifling hot room and watch t.v. rather than run around outside, I can see the reason for the concern. And yet, not.
One night, on a local news station, my parents saw a story about how a dad had bet his son that he couldn’t go without t.v. for a whole year. This was because that’s all the kid did was sit on the sofa and watch the tube. The prize: $500. You read that correctly: $500. I still can recall their excitement at trying to ‘help’ me through my ‘addiction’ using bribery. I was totally okay with it. See, I had nothing to lose. If I went without television for a year, then I would earn $500. If I failed at any point, then my dad kept the $500 and life went back to normal. How could I pass that up? I couldn’t. “Deal,” I emphatically replied to the offer. My father and I shook hands. It was official now. Then I realized that the next day was a Saturday. Cartoons! “Could I start after tomorrow?” I was hoping for one more bout of toons before I was cut off. A sort of bon voyage, if you will. Nope. If I was to start, it was right then and there, or not at all.
“Fine.” I took the deal. It was $500 for crying out loud! At thirteen years old there was no way I could pass that up.
I did it. One year later I made it. It had been a no television year. No video games (it was the era of Atari 2600, Nintendos were new and I’ve never had one, so…). It was not that hard to avoid television. It was actually quite refreshing. Now, for those that wonder if I peeked or cheated at a friend’s house: I did not. My friends knew what was going on and were supportive. We found other things to do. Their kindnesses were greatly appreciated. It made me want to win even more. They were all rooting for me. At least somebody was.
After the year was over and I went to my father to collect, I found out that my parents didn’t have the money. They had not planned on me succeeding. They didn’t think I could have done it. Lovely.
On the day I found out that I had completed all my requirements for college graduation, and had the date of the ceremonies, I called my parents to let them know and the words that came from my mother… There was the “Congratulations.” followed by, “We didn’t think you would make it. Because, well, you know how you are.”
“Wait, so you really didn’t expect me to graduate?” I was dumbfounded. Apparently, they were waiting to hear how I had quit school because of ‘how I [was].’ Seriously?!?
I will admit, I have quit a few things in my life. All stuff I never wanted. Some of them were things I was pushed into. But the things that I wanted, I got them. High school diploma: Got it. It was rocky and had some hiccups due to some parental interference, but I got it just the same. Marine Corps: Oohrah! Tough work. Still done. Marriage to the woman of my dreams: Twentyfive years and still going. We have had some rough patches (like any marriage can—I can be a real horses patoot), also, my mother has never really gotten around to loving my wife. College: Done. Both undergraduate and Master’s degrees. In my field—graphic design—I’m done. I don’t need a doctorate. Family: Four wonderful children, a daughter-in-law, a soon-to-be son-in-law, and a grandson. I have it. All I wanted.
Just so you know, this isn’t meant to be a ‘my parents are terrible people. Grrr…’ kinda post—even though it comes across that way. No, my parents did pretty well. My father has been dead for several years, and regardless of whatever failings he may have had, he was a good man. I’ve never met anyone who had anything negative to say about him. Ever.
My mother has done the best she could with what she had. And I mean regarding her upbringing. Not everyone gets out of an abusive home life without it affecting them and their future families. I’m not blaming, or judging, it is what it is. You do what you can.
It is also, only fair to note that I did receive the $500—almost ten years later—after I had made it perfectly clear that I was going to get married to the woman I loved (and I still do—love her, that is. we’ve been married for a while. I already mentioned that). It was used to help buy my wife’s wedding band.
The reason I mention all this, my reason for mentioning all this, is for those who are still parenting the young, and for those who are still young and being parented. The inspiration for this post came from a recent conversation I had with my mother. In trying to understand why she responded the way she did to a simple ‘yes or no’ question I was given some good advice.
Over the years it has been difficult for me to accept… No, accept is not the right word here. Tolerate. Yes, tolerate is the right word. It has been difficult for me to willingly tolerate negativity from people, especially family. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. So, I keep it away from me the best I can, when I can. Looking back at moments in my life—like some that were previously mentioned—and knowing what I do now about my father and mother, it would seem that more of the ‘we’ moments were just ‘I’ moments (meaning my mother). Yeah, I’m working through some stuff. I have a therapist—he’s pretty good too.
So my message, I guess, is this: Parents, don’t undermine your children. Don’t tell them you don’t believe in them. Don’t reinforce any possible already existing emotional weakness they may already have. You definitely don’t tell them that you expected them to fail! An ‘I told you so…’ after a screwup is almost never received well. Even if they fail, at least tell them that you’re proud of their attempt. Even a ‘Better luck, next time.’ is still pretty good basic parenting 101. Your child should know that you love them—no matter what, even if you don’t agree with their life choices, they should know you love them. That’s kind of a big deal. A child should never have to wonder if you—the parent—is there for them due to an ulterior motive. That’s just wrong. And, if you make a deal with them, hold up your end. Don’t drop the ball.
Children, don’t expect your parents to get it right all of the time. They are learning how to parent as they parent. It ain’t easy. (this is applicable to both young and old children—I’m almost 50 and have only recently put that into perspective for my own role as a youth and adult child to my parents)
Life isn’t easy. There are some things that can make it better though. One of those, I believe, is family. Knowing that you have a safe place to go when the world comes crashing down around you is a big deal. Knowing there is a safe harbor, where people love you, is a big deal. Even if your child makes choices that you don’t agree with, if you, as a parent, have taught them where you stand, they can always trust you. Even if that stance is, “Not in my house.” At least they know you mean it. I hope my meaning comes through. Sometimes it is difficult to properly convey the full meaning and intentions of a thought. With so many words in all the languages, one might think it would be easy.
If you got nothing else from this post, please, take this: Love your children. Make sure they know it.