It is a fundamental truth that parents make a crucial difference in the successes and failures of their children.
I was the firstborn of two sons raised by God-fearing parents who made us the centerpiece of their lives. From our birth to the day each of us left home for college, my brother, Lloyd, and I were the beneficiaries of a home life where the teachings of the Bible were ever evident, where discipline was administered in an uncompromising way, and where a wealth of love more than compensated for a lack of material riches.
In our home, our strong-willed mother was clearly and consistently the disciplinarian. My brother and I knew well the boundaries of acceptable behavior and the penalties for transgressions. Mother rarely spared the rod. She got us to church on time as often as the doors were open. She made sure that we were dressed appropriately and that our clothes were clean and pressed. She always had a solid breakfast and a “meat and three” for dinner.
Her boys (and she included dad as one of the boys) were the alpha and omega of her life. To her, our existence was her reason for being. She gave us 100 percent of her time and attention. To the best of my memory, she never missed a PTA meeting while we were in school. She insisted that we do our homework, and she reviewed our report cards the way an IRS agent inspects an income tax return.
While our mother clearly gave us our marching orders, Dad was our role model. An electrician (the best in our town by most accounts), he exhibited day after day the trials and values of hard work and the importance of being the best at whatever one does. Our dad had always been a proud man, tough-minded, an over-achiever, an optimist. In his eyes, no mountain was too high to climb.
In our home, profanity was neither practiced nor permitted. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco in any form were never present. The Bible was the textbook of choice, and prayer before every meal and at bedtime was a daily given.
The workaholic nature of our father was contagious. At early ages, my brother and I were introduced to hard work. Many times, we accompanied him on work assignments. I remember that, even as small children, we often assisted him by pulling electrical cables through the ceilings of homes and attaching wires to electrical outlets in the walls.
In large measure, my brother and I abided by the rules of discipline set forth by our parents. There were exceptions, one fleetingly embarrassing and another forever etched in my memory. The former was simply a case of curfew violation by my brother and me. In a small town in the time of our childhood, the only real game in town at night was hanging out at some ice cream parlor or service station.
On the night in question, my brother and I were innocently hanging out after midnight at the only ice cream parlor in town when, much to our horror, we spotted our mother rapidly approaching in our father’s old pickup truck. As she drew nearer, we were further shocked to see that her hair was in curlers and she had on her nightgown. We had no idea what she was about to do.
As she passed the ice cream parlor, she blew the truck’s horn, pointed at us in an unspoken language we clearly understood, and motioned toward home. We got the message and immediately proceeded to go home. We were greeted at the door, told simply to go straight to bed, and advised to make a special effort to never violate curfew again. We were relieved that the rod was spared.
Over the years, the lessons I learned at home have stuck with me. The mental toughness inherited from my father and the strong will instilled in me by my mother served me well in the rough and tumble environment in which I worked. The discipline to which I was consistently exposed has given my life a well-ordered structure and a steady rudder.
Interestingly, the yearbook of my senior year contains a caption that to this day puzzles me, even as it seems to have foreseen the life that was yet before me. Underneath my senior class photograph is the caption, “Nothing can turn him from his purpose.” To this day, I have no idea who wrote that line, although I suspect it was my favorite teacher. What puzzles me is that at that time, I was a shy, unassuming student who was still unclear about what I wanted to do in life. Someone apparently saw in me something I did not see in myself. Perhaps it was simply an accurate reading of my parents’ impact on my life. Truly they made a difference, and I shall be forever grateful.
-adapted from Journal of a Fast Track Life, Chapter 1. © 2018 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved.