Work In Progress (No, That's The Actual Title)

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  1. #1

    Work In Progress (No, That's The Actual Title)

    At certain times in my life, it's easy to get introspective. I start asking myself questions.
    Some of the questions are deep, some much less so. Others have been asked before. And not answered.
    Today, I'm revisiting the old dichotomy: Is it nature or nurture?

    I worked in corrections for years, including a few in juvenile hall and a treatment facility.
    It's trite, but there is good and bad in all of us. I suppose it's the proportion of each, and how we deal with the impulses. Too often recently we hear about a "good kid" that picks up a rifle one day and kills some people. Or the mom and dad that bribe the system into giving preference to their slacker spoiled brat.

    I think we all get sick of those stories. Here's a better one.

    Cards on the table: I'm what some would call a "boot-strapper". I don't take kindly to any excuses for lack of effort, defeatism, or general sloth. I respect hard work, loyalty, family and love.

    These values were instilled by watching and learning from my father: He never finished high school, yet eventually owned his own business, and supported a family of six. We always felt cared for. It wasn't easy for him, but I never heard him bitch, and he rarely groaned in pain. Seriously, he laughed a lot, and enjoyed life. And he loved his family.

    These values were ingrained by living the life of a warrior in the United States Marine Corps: There was debauchery, misogyny, and general bad behavior. But there was also discipline. Focus. Goals. And accountability. Also, the thing people are dismissive of: The love of something greater than yourself. We had a simple mantra... God, Corps, Country. It worked.

    These values were forged by listening to my grandmother. Slight of stature and tough as nails, she was a Great Depression survivor that had no patience for waste and excess. She knew that every day was a gift, and everything (and everyone) around us was to be treated with reverence. She showed kindness, and quietly demanded respect. She learned tolerance living life, not spoon-fed values in an institute of 'higher learning'.

    What are "these values"? They, and much more, are manifest in my son, Ben.

    When I look back at myself, I kinda seem like an asshole raising my son. My early memories of him were family trips to the beach. His older sister was six, and he was two. I would let Ben romp, then fall in the sand. He would cry, and cry until snot flowed down his face. I would patiently ask him, "Do you want help?" It would usually take a few minutes for him to stop screaming, look me in the eye, and nod "yes".
    Only then would I pick him up, dust him off, and send him off to his next tumble.

    A couple of years later, I was teaching him to play baseball. His older sister was already proficient, and I had to make her demonstrate patience with her brother. Five year olds don't have the best reflexes, and sure enough a ball caught Ben in the face. I ran to him, making sure no damage was done (none was). Then again, I let him cry it out, only occasionally did I inject a "you're fine". After he stopped crying, I asked if he wanted to stop playing. He shook his head vigorously, "no". My daughter and I re-demonstrated the proper placement of a baseball glove. One later glanced off the side of his head, but no more direct hits. We all laughed.

    Later as a Cub Scout, his sense of curiosity took off. But, even then, he seemed more comfortable helping others than advancing himself. His sixth grade teacher told us he'd finish his assignment early just so he could help his classmates. But Ben enjoyed his Scouting, especially the hikes. He really liked the preparation, getting everything just right. I remember one mountain hike, we stopped at a snow run-off pool. The boys had a competition who could hold their hands in the 35 degree water the longest. Ben liked cooperating, but appreciates competition as well. He won.

    We built Pinewood Derby cars and model rockets. He was afraid of the rockets at first, but after a while we actually got him to push the button. Whoosh!
    The next year we brought the rockets along to our multi-family beach camping trip, and launched them on the dunes. Ben was at the head of the Rocket Recovery Team. When he ran after them with the other kids, he didn't fall.

    We had him tested for the "gifted" student program. It turned out he wasn't that smart, just smarter than average. But most importantly, about that time we noticed that he gravitated toward "good kids", including those that the "cool kids" didn't like. He liked to be where he could help others.

    Family day at the shooting range was interesting. The kids made fun of my wife for looking under the scope on the .22 instead of through it (she was a good sport). It turned out that my 15 year old daughter was hell-on-wheels with the rifle. My son, four years her junior, couldn't compete with her accuracy. Instead, with great trepidation, he wanted to shoot one of my "big" rifles. He learned that if he couldn't compete in one area, that he could branch out. Even if that meant something uncomfortable. Soon, he was the only kid in his class to vaporize a zucchini at 100 yards.
    Today, he shoots my SKS and Glock better than I do.

    Ben played Little League, but it wasn't his thing. He eventually dropped-out of the Boy Scouts as well. I was never worried, but my wife and I let him know that we encourage him to participate in some activities. By sixth grade, he joined the school band. He was associating with "band geeks", which as parents we liked. The band director was a sober, focused man that was kind, supportive and firm. Band provides a great mix of learning an individual's responsibilities in the context of a group.

    A couple of his band friends later would introduce Ben to the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). I never inculcated my military values into my son directly. He just always seemed to me to have the right temperament to join the military. When he decided to join ROTC, I wasn't excited, but I could tell it would be a good thing. If nothing else, it would be another good learning experience. It was.

    ROTC normally has 'clubs' within the organization. Each club has a Commanding Officer and an Executive Officer. One of Ben's first jobs on ROTC was as the XO of the Unarmed Drill Team. This club is kinda entry level, and not very prestigious. Basically, you practice marching around, following intricate commands from the CO. Ben's Commanding Officer was a small pacific islander girl named Chicka. As Executive Officer, Ben learned to walk that fine line between letting Chicka struggle and helping her. Too much back-up, and she looks weak. Too little and they all fail. It turned out that they were a great team. She was good at "politicking", and Ben was The Hammer.
    The two became good friends.

    Ben joined other NJROTC clubs such as Color Guard, land navigation and sailing. That's right, our working-class town had a club were kids could learn how to sail. Ben took to it like a fish to water. It's skill, hard work and teamwork... right in his wheelhouse. Once he learned the ropes, he was quickly teaching other cadets. It's had such an impact on his life that he now wants to join the Coast Guard, and eventually become a merchant marine.

    Meanwhile Ben was still in the band, promoted to Low Brass Section Leader. We worried about the competing demands, but he handled it well. I wanted him to get a job once he was sixteen, but in Ben's case I relented. I have made him work on the truck with me, and do yard work and such. And of course, he is dating, which takes up a ton of time. The girl is the daughter of a friend of the family, so no pressure.

    The last couple of years have been about my son juggling flaming chainsaws. They need a Color Guard for an Eagles Lodge event, he was there. The band is traveling to Wenatchee to perform, he went. His girlfriend had a drama performance, he attended and helped. Ben was promoted to Platoon Commander, in charge of 25 cadets. And of course he sailed, a lot. He befriended a short kid named Zippo, who eventually was named as the Sail Team CO. Once again, Ben was Executive Officer, and not bitter.

    Rumors started a few months ago that Ben was being considered for the "Top Four". These are the cadets that run the entire program (with some adult guidance), a Battalion of 140 cadets. The lower positions are Operations Officer and Senior Advisor. Then of course, there are XO and CO to round out the four. Ben was just happy to be honored with consideration. He has always been stoic, and a realist.

    Nature or nurture? Who can say? Besides me, only Uncle Norman briefly served in The Army in the 1950. My great grandfather was a soldier in The Great War. My father in law was also a soldier. Not a great military lineage. Certainly nothing nautical.

    Well, Ben wasn't chosen to be Executive Officer. He was promoted to Commanding Officer. Battalion CO.
    Zippo, Ben's sailing buddy, got XO. They'll be a good team.

    It might not seem like much to many of you, but it started seventeen years ago, when I let Ben cry it out. Then comforted and supported him. I never told him he couldn't, but I never told him he could. He just figured stuff out on his own. He learned, made adjustments, and persevered. I gave him the tools, he mastered them.

    The goal of most parents is to provide for their kids so that they can be at least as successful as their parents. Hopefully, more so. I hear a lot of negative talk and pessimism for future generations. That's their perspective, not mine.
    Well, the sea levels will rise two centimeters in the next century? That's just more ocean to sail over.

    I've recently been asked what success looks like. If I consider myself successful, if so, why?
    I'll confidently take a step back, and let my son step forward.
    There's your answer.

    "Now let's all agree, never to be creative again."

  2. #2
    Great story, one worth sharing with every parent. I too am guilty pushing my kids, now they are both in their mid to late thirties raising kids of their own. I watch them, both are tough, both are good parents who push their kids, both happy and successful, one of the things I am also proudest of.

    What is expected of us, that seems to be the key, at what point does the lesson ever stop? Never. I was on the phone with my 83 year old mother the other day. Before I got hurt this winter I was planning on running 60 miles on my 60th birthday. I had run 19 miles to bring in the new year, and figured if I could do that and if I kept up the training. I was telling her that now I am planning on biking the 60 instead, taking the easy way out but still a note worthy goal. If I fail, I will have tried, I was raised aways to try, it is only a failure if you give up.

    You mentioned nurture verses nature, that is a tough call. My mother who listened to my plans had only one comment, "When I was 60 I biked a 100 miles in day." she giggled a little bit. I realized I had just been called a pussy by my 83 year old mother. Nature verses nurture... I am not sure I will ever figure that one out.
    Last edited by Plasticweld; May 6th, 2019 at 01:14 AM.
    God hates a coward Revelation 21:8

    “Good writin' ain't necessarily good readin'.”

    Hidden Content ,

    To encourage and facilitate "me"

  3. #3
    Great piece, Winston. Definitely food for thought.

    Here's my favorite part:

    Quote Originally Posted by Winston View Post
    I've recently been asked what success looks like. If I consider myself successful, if so, why?
    I'll confidently take a step back, and let my son step forward.
    There's your answer.


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