As a parent, I wanted to be able to give my son a “guide to life” which contained all the dangers and pitfalls and all the positives and sound methods. Every parent likely wants to do the same. After all, why waste all the painful lessons we’ve already learned?
It’s impossible to do this for a lot of reasons, the most important being that we want our children to be able to make their own best choices, and we realize we have to let them make mistakes in order to do that.
So how do we choose the paths we take?
Clearly, we don’t simply choose on the basis of practicality, or there would be no artists or musicians. And we don’t choose only from a position of safety, or no one would join the military, or become a firefighter or policeman. And do we even think about the choices as we make them, or just reflect on them when we get old, like I’m doing now?
When I was in high school and in the few bits of college I completed, I had no idea what I wanted to do “for the rest of my life.” Lots of my friends did; even in the heady, freedom-seeking Sixties, they were clearly set on paths to become lawyers and engineers. All I knew was that I wanted to travel, and see as much of the world as I could. I wanted to experience everything exotic and colorful and non-New England-like, and in hind-sight, every decision I made in that first decade of adulthood was predicated on that desire.
So I traveled the world, by myself. I couldn’t afford to just “travel”, like the trust-fund babies I met on the way, so I worked on cruise ships, sang songs, did clerical work, crewed on sailboats, milked sheep, wrote for little newspapers. But each new country and each new job required saying “yes” to something I knew little about, and each “yes” required faith in my own abilities and my decisions.
I wasn’t always right. There were a few missteps along the way, and there were times when I envied my more solid friends, who were settled and established while I was still pulling luggage and backpacks off trains in Eastern Europe, wondering how I could make a go in a country where the language was indecipherable.
I did manage, though, and even settled down for a decade or so, long enough to raise a terrific son, a rewarding adventure in itself. And I can’t help but think that having the courage to say “yes” to adventure has stood me in good stead. I’ve got a library of images in my mind that will source my paintings for years to come, and my adventures gave me strength to handle the difficulties and challenges I had to endure, when life wasn’t exciting at all, but merely tragic and sad.
My parents led me to believe I could do anything I put my mind and energy towards, and if I failed, they’d welcome me back. That gave me a lot of confidence. I only had to go back once — living ingloriously in their basement room for a year between journeys, in my late 20s — but I always felt they had my back, and that’s invaluable. Will the children of the “helicopter parents” feel that security, or will they be running as fast and as far as they can from too much protection? Or will they be too timid to leave home at all?!
Would you choose your life again?
I would, even the mistakes. It’s been grand. And those leaps? The scariest ones brought the best results, the most knowledge and the most growth.
So I guess that is the path I would advise a young person to take: the one that brings you the most knowledge and growth. And some fun, if that’s part of the option!