Family stories fill us, guide us and lead us into the paths of our lives. They code understanding into us and leave imprints of wisdom from times past. Do you relate the stories of your family to your children? Do you know your families past? Are you writing it down? Recently, I worked with a student whom is interviewing on film the great-grandmother who is 100 years old. Along with the mother, I facilitated the initial guidance of brainstorming, planning and sequencing on how to begin to go about it. On my way out of the home I mentioned the obvious to Mom…that the film for her child’s school project would not just be for school, but serve as a record for years to come. Who knows if her child will have a family one day and then will have this record to share with the family. Knowing where we come from and honoring our past is vital to how we step into each present moment as we create our future. I believe that this is a truth worth heeding and it serves not just individual families, but the community itself. A rich person is one who values and takes action to know themselves… to know what they are made of. This impacts us moving forward and by extension, our community.
My Father Coded Himself Into Me
The running began when I was five years old and did not stop until my rebellion at sixteen. It was every day. A constant thing. Before going out ‘to check the fences,’ as he would say, there would be stretching, push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts and exercising a contraption called,’ the ‘Tencelator.’ To this day I am still boggled by his machine-like discipline. He was ‘Special Forces’ and I was his forced protege. The tanned ‘gringo’ ran shirtless with a chest full of hair and I was his right-hand man. You had to see it to believe it. It was a sight to behold.
Day in and day out we went out to ‘commandeer’ as he would have put it, running mile after mile through all kinds of landscape and town. I didn’t know he was not normal at the time. He knew me well. I was a little boy. One fourth of the way through there would be ‘the sprint.’ He taught me to run like the olympic sprinters-knees high and sprinting on the tips of our toes to save on time. Arms open and fingers straight. It would have been exhilarating if I had a different perspective other than it feeling like a forced march whereby I played the part of willing son, complete with miles of smiles. After our sprint would come the rest and his words of wisdom and inspiration to me. I would simply listen to him. Looking back at the whole show all I can be is grateful that he poured his heart and mind into me. It was just him and me each morning. Bill and his son, Billy.
Writing was a great part of him. He was a storyteller in spoken word, with the pen and
later by typed-face (Ariel-Bold) on his laptop. Like the running, the stories were constant. Each one drilling itself into the consciousness to be digested into the heart and mind and coding a great part of my sense of self. There was nothing I could do about it. There was the time President Eisenhower called his 101st Airborne Rangers Unit to go and protect the black children walking into school in Little Rock, Arkansas (you may have heard of that debacle that turned out all right) or his ‘free fall’ parachute jumps across the world, including the 52 ‘pueblos’ in Puerto Rico.
Before they called it the ‘growth mindset’ Dad was a walking, talking example of it. There was no stopping him. Below is an excerpt from one of his writings to my sisters and I. He wrote everything down for us so that we would know where we come from.
I am hitting the “Mean Streets” of Guaynabo tonight and will try to stay out of mischief. It’s hard for me…..
It is here at this point we shout “AIRBORNE….RANGER!!” and go off charging into the night to save the world.
Bill…..You fill me with joy. How fortunate I am to have a son such as you.
With all my love,
Knowing where we come from is pivotal. As an educator, I urge both parents to write down and verbally expand to their children their ancestry. We all have stories to tell and they are worth telling. Not doing so is a disservice to your lineage and it bankrupts your children of knowing who’s shoulders they stand on. Don’t mind it if others tell you to ‘stop with your stories.’ Your children need to know. It is important for them as they form their sense of self. When this is absent your children’s cup gets filled with the real or unreal stories of others. Perhaps they become filled with television programming, catchy music beats or nothing at all but day to day living. That is how we forget to learn the lessons of the past and all that was done by those before us. That is how freedom dies. I am fortunate that a genealogy of my paternal family history is in book format and even readily available online. On my maternal side there is no book, but the family has been iron-clad in passing on the history in verbal format.
I know where I am going then because I know where I came from. It makes it hard for the travails of life to knock me down because I know the human stories of fortitude in my own family. I also know the value of getting back up with a quick recovery and stepping forth once again valiantly. Will you code something into your children today? Keep it enjoyable to listen to. How you say what you say also is part of the experience (paraverbal skills). It doesn’t have to be a great deal of information all at once. Your children will be made all the more richer because you took the time to let them know where they came from. In time, as they mold who they are, they will retrieve these stories and make sense of them in their own lives.
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