I do not remember many important moments of my childhood preceding a certain age. The few fond memories I do recall, however, are of my father teaching me what he felt was important at an age when, it is said, children are at their most impressionable. These same children grow into adults eventually-a fact that I believe has been, at least since I was born, in the forefront of my father’s mind.
The first notable memory I have is of the day of my brother’s birth. There was much commotion, I remember. I also remember this because-perhaps for the first time in my life-my father was not with me. Looking back, even though I was in the company of my grandparents, I felt alone. There was, of course, nothing my father could have done to avoid this, as his second child, my brother, required his attention now as well.
The second notable memory of my early childhood is of my father teaching me to read. I do not know precisely how old I was at the time, but I do know that I was in pre-school. The memory is vivid to this day: myself stretched out on a carpeted floor, face nearly buried in a beginner’s book, my father showing me, from a sitting position, how to sound out and spell the words of the book.
Beyond that, the vividness fades-until the next day, when the memory picks up again. I walked into my school and, taking the first available opportunity, showed off a bit, shouting to all who could hear, “Baby is spelled B-A-B-Y!” I consider this word to be equally as important as the first syllable I ever voiced as a b-a-b-y.
I could describe, in painful detail, every memory I have of my father teaching first me, and then my brother, the basics of what we have both come to excel at as adults. I will spare you this. I’ll just say this much about my father’s style of teaching-to this day, I value the acquisition of knowledge above nearly all else.
So, why is it that I do not value knowledge entirely above all else in life? It is because my father’s teachings have always been manifold and diverse. This does not mean that he did not emphasize one very important quality as the single most important attribute a person can possess. The quality, or attribute, my father stressed above all else was this: empathy.
As I have previously stated, children will eventually, with the proper protection from their parents, grow into adults. This is important to keep in mind when dealing with a child-that someday they will either make for a well-adjusted, grown person-or they may become otherwise. Though there have been factors that are beyond my father’s ability to control, I believe that his parenting, which can be described as a state of constantly educating, has landed me squarely in the realm of “decent human being”.
One may ask what it is that makes a human being decent. Thanks to my father, I can give a practical answer. Decency is, as I see it, a synonym for empathy. But, what, one may ask, is empathy? Do not, at this point look up the word “empathy” in the dictionary so that you may find a definition. Much like the Tao of Lao Tzu’s philosophy, empathy cannot be explained-it can only be acquired.
The acquisition of empathy is not a speedy process. When I was young, and still could not spell the word, I in no way understood empathy. This does not mean that my father had gone awry in his teaching. Empathy is something that takes a lifetime to perfect. I am still perfecting it to this day, even if I sometimes forget this fact. And my father is still teaching this quality-except now, it is as if I am being taught how to fine-tune my connection with everyone else.
And that’s what empathy really amounts to-a sincere and unbreakable connection to the lives of all you come into contact with. Let me make this point perfectly clear-empathy, once learned, will kick in even when you’ve just met someone for the first time. This continues to be true even if you dislike this person. With empathy, you will find it impossible to truly hate anyone, as you would hate yourself just as much. Personally, I dislike the sensation of self-loathing. And so, thanks again to my father, I find it impossible to hate people.
All of these things, my father has taught myself and my brother. Of course it’s not that he’s quit his job as educator quite yet. I am now twenty-eight years of age, my brother being twenty-five-and my father is still parenting relentlessly. I have very few insights to share as to how my father continues to parent his two grown sons-I only know that he does so. As insight requires both distance from an event and reflection, I cannot explain any further-at least, not at the moment. This is not important. The point is that my father has taught me, by both instruction and example, how to live life as a decent human being. And to be quite frank, there is a great joy and a great pride that comes along with being decent. Much as my father has done for me, I may someday have the opportunity to watch over, guide, and truly love my own children. I could not do otherwise, having been educated in parenting from one of the best.