My family has a lot of stories. Happy, sad and funny stories. Whether they’re true, apocryphal or greatly exaggerated, I’m sure a lot of families have their stories that come up when everyone gets together. My Uncle Steve always used to refer to the “Spaghetti Incident” as something hilarious that happened when my mom was a teenager.
One of my favorites from when I was a child is how my brother and I, along with all our little friends, would easily and regularly climb up on the elementary school roof. There were concrete blocks sticking out about ½ inch in intervals that looked like a perfect ladder going up to the top of the one-story building. We would climb it like mountain goats to retrieve basketballs, footballs or just to look around.
In reality, I’d only seen one person ever climb the roof. He was a “big kid” probably a high schooler who went to retrieve a basketball. I just remember fearing he could get caught and get in trouble. Or worse, fall and hurt himself.
All of us younger kids had the same fears – getting in trouble, getting hurt.
So, the “climbing to the roof of the school” story, while I tell it constantly and back it up whenever my sister also tells it – well, it never happened. But I will argue to the death that we ALL did it constantly and I even think our buddy, Bjorn, ate his lunch up there. The view of the mountains was incredible.
In that same vein, I’m teaching my child stories about his great-grandma and great-grandpa, other family members he hasn’t met or deceased ones who he will never meet. I’d like him to take inspiration from his family. It would be wonderful if I can instill pride and dignity into him from just our own, immediate and extended family members.
My son constantly asks for stories during our bedtime routine, something that can easily stretch into 30 minute ordeals. I have been making up stories on the spot for him. Picking things at random, a purple elephant who went to town, a green koala, etc. I love him, but it gets tiring.
One evening when he asked for a story again, I started inwardly groaning. So I took a deep breath and began to spout some nonsense about a character who had four arms – when inspiration struck.
I told him a third-person story of myself as “Young Michael.” A down-and-out 18-year-old:
Young Michael was riding the city bus all around town, collecting paper applications (this was waaaay before the internet, son) and for some reason, Young Michael kept riding the bus past his house to see what was at the end of the bus line. He had never thought about going farther in that direction. What was over there? A minimum wage job at the mall would be good enough, right?
Then, at the last stop on the line, on the last outbound route of the day, Young Michael got off the bus and looked around to see what he could see. He turned to take in the view and saw a … car wash!
Long story short – Young Michael got a job at the car wash, at the end of the bus route that wasn’t on his list. It turned out to completely change the trajectory of his life, his family’s life and many others down the line.
The lesson I ended with was to let curiosity be your guide. Remain determined in achieving a goal. Don’t settle for “just OK” when it comes to your life.
If Young Michael hadn’t wondered, “What’s down that way?” Or, had he said, “A job at the T-shirt shop is good enough.” He never would have met the man he considered a second dad who inspired him to get his life together and join the Marines, go on to college, earning and MBA, and become the man – and dad – I am.
This one brain flash has given me inspiration to lionize my history and my family’s history to pass down to my son. Of course, as he gets older, he’s going to know it’s hyped up, but hopefully the lessons will be repeated enough to give him confidence in himself.
I believe all of us have many courageous stories to tell. Stories of yourself, and stories of your family. Why not take some time, think about how to present them, then give the gift of your experience to your children?
I don’t see it as self-promoting, I see it as motivational speaking.
Michael Jenks, a married at-home father of one boy, is the organizer of our Anchorage Dads Group in Alaska.