Parenting is No. 1 in importance
I recently got a letter from a friend (a scientist and college professor), who is not a member of the Church.
We've met only once in person; we got to know each other through emails. I've corresponded with him through his marriage, their decision to have children, his battles to maintain rationality at universities determined to go insane over trendy dogmas, his denial of tenure despite a sterling record of publications and grants, and his current pursuit of a permanent place at a different school.
He is a man of courage and principle, who cares deeply about his field of study, his students, his profession, and the world at large.
But this letter came with a photo attached -- his two sons and two boy-cousins, all pre-teens. They were mugging for the camera and they looked happy and sassy. "This may be a silly photograph," my friend said, "but it sure makes me smile."
I wrote back to him a brief comment about how cool it was to watch the kids grow up, and here's what he wrote back:
"As I sit around and mope about overwork and next year's tenure evaluation, it
is easy to forget what is really important. It's much more important I be a good father than a successful academic. For darned sure."
I don't think I had ever quoted to him President McKay's dictum "No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home." And besides, my friend stated it in the positive.
Let me paraphrase him in more general terms: "It's more important that I be a good parent than a success in the eyes of the world."
Think of how many ways we can "fail" in the world's opinion.
His denial of tenure was over politics, pure and simple -- but of course no one admitted that, so they found pretexts to justify their action of getting rid of a gadfly. It hurt, and deeply.
I've had plenty of failures myself. Three times I tried to succeed at mounting play production companies in Utah, back when I lived there. We put on very good plays that deserved, and got, excellent reviews. The business plan in each case was sound -- I didn't overspend, I deferred all compensation for myself, and if we had averaged half-houses during the run of each show, we would have broken even.
But we either charged too little or perhaps too much; or maybe there just weren't enough people who wanted to see a play or musical on that particular theme during that particular time.
No matter how you cut it, though, in the eyes of the world it didn't matter that I had "succeeded" in mounting good productions; they failed financially, and so I "was" a failure as a play producer.
During that very same time, however, my first two children were born; my wife and I worked out this whole business of two very different people getting along well enough to have a harmonious home in which to raise them, and you know what? I think we were a smashing success.
That doesn't mean that in child-rearing nothing will ever go wrong. These are independent people, who come with their own bodies, with all the behavioral foibles that come with their "carnal" minds. We watched them closely from the start, helping them overcome their own particular lacks and weaknesses, and deal with the choices they made that sometimes had unhappy consequences.
As my friend wrote in that same letter: "My oldest boy is so much like me it hurts. I have to survive to be there for him. My youngest -- my circus acrobat -- is much like his mother."
He is studying his children, as my wife and I studied ours. We didn't always act as they wanted us to, and sometimes we allowed our own feelings and weaknesses to interfere. But we all learned from each other and made a home for each other, as they are now making their own lives (even the teenager who is still at home).
We look at their lives now and the question of "success" or "failure" doesn't even make sense. That's an on-off switch that doesn't exist in the real world. We can succeed at everything that is within our power and still have negative outcomes; but then we deal with those outcomes as best we can; and every step of the way, we succeed as long as we care enough to do our best for our kids.
That's one of the best things about the Church. We don't really get to know each other in the roles the world cares about. I don't even know what most of the people in my ward do for a living. I only know them by the callings they have right now or in the past, and -- more importantly -- by their children.
By their sons as they pass through the priests quorum where I teach; by their daughters who are part of our daughter's life in Young Women; by the high schoolers in my wife's seminary class.
We see how every one of those kids is surrounded by love and encouraged in righteousness.
We've seen a few of those kids over the years make choices that grieved their parents and us -- and, ultimately, themselves.
In every case, poor choices did not come through ignorance -- they had been well taught -- or from hostility -- their parents were caring and supportive and involved.
All these parents are, in our view, great successes. They did all that could be done, as best they could do it. God asks no more of us.
Inside and outside the Church, parents are all engaged in the same enterprise, as many nonparents also share in the work of caring for and raising and teaching children. It is the noblest work of humankind, the closest we come to understanding the heart of our Father.
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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