I often write about establishing and maintaining values, but I rarely speak about passing on values. Last weekend afforded me a remarkable opportunity to observe what values have been passed on to my children, and made me reconsider who I need to be today. My wife and I gathered with our five children to attend a University of Nebraska home football game, something we had not done since I was an assistant professor there 20 years ago.
The trip allowed me to wrestle with what it is to be content, to look regret in the eye and stare it down. But mostly, it made me thankful for what I had then, and for what I have now. And it helped me to focus on three things I hope will guide me in the last third of my life.
Remember the Past
Our trip to Lincoln included a tour of old sights, including homes, schools and restaurants that were important to us. We were able to renew faithful friendships that have endured through the years and have significant conversations with people important to us. We laughed at old memories as a family, some that were triggered just by driving by a location. We searched in the half-light of dusk to find a brick on campus dedicated to my mother shortly after she died. I wrestled far less with regrets and mistakes than I might have expected, perhaps because there was such joy in what we were doing together as a family, and in part because I am so happy doing what I do today.
Embrace the Present
I soaked up every moment of 36 hours I spent with people, drinking long and deeply of relationships. Everywhere we went, from our first night’s dinner with old friends to the last gathering of 25 of us for pizza after the football game, was rich with laughter and remembrances. We were even witnesses to a Hail Mary miracle touchdown on the game’s last play that secured victory for the home team and set off bedlam in the stadium. The word serendipity came to mind.
Anticipate the Future
My wife and I became empty nesters less than three months ago after 35 years of children at home, and we are still navigating what it means for it to be just the two of us. Recent health challenges in our family have reminded us of the brevity of life and of how important it is to live each day fully. But while we cannot insure a life free of pain, we can live with anticipation that the ways that we have invested our lives over the last three-and-a-half decades will bear fruit in beautiful ways. I couldn’t help but think that was true as I stared at my precious 3-year-old granddaughter who was on the trip, and thought of her brother and two cousins. I have lived to see – and enjoy – my children’s children.
But I said this column was about passing on values, and these are the values I observed in my children. First, people are more important than things. The kids sacrificed financially in significant ways to be there, and there was not a note of regret that this might have been as expensive a trip as they had taken on a per-hour basis. Second, listening is more important than telling. I looked around the room at Valentino’s Pizza’s party room and saw all my children engaged in deep conversation, just as their mom was. (Obviously I wasn’t, since I was looking around the room.) I think they realized that some of these conversations were ones they might not have the opportunity to enjoy again.
And, importantly, remembering where you come from matters. My children have attended five different universities, and they have each developed their own allegiances, just as I have. But there was a time when we all wore the same color on Saturdays, when we were together in every sense. Our two youngest, one of whom was born in Lincoln and one just after we left, were able to experience for a few hours something of what that unity felt like. Nebraska didn’t give us our faith or our core values, but our older children will say it is where we became, fully, a family. And this trip was a tip of our cap to that place, to that time and to those people.
There is no place I would rather be today than Aggieland, but last weekend I was reminded that there was a different place that helped shape my children into who they are today. In remembering, I found myself overflowing with gratitude.