On Parents

The day after I was born.
The day after I was born. (photo: taken by a family friend; via Leo Notenboom)

The best advice I’ve ever heard about how to get ahead in life is to choose your parents wisely.

If only it were that easy.

But, I will admit, without knowing exactly how the choice was made, I came away pretty darned lucky.

This is a realization that has grown on me more and more over the years.

Certainly, as children, our parents are the worst. They prevent us from doing what we really want to do, and force us to do things we don’t, all in the name of “education” or “growing up” or some such nonsense.

It shames me to admit that part of my striking out on my own at age 18 was getting away from my parents. As with all such life decisions, it’s more complex than that, but it was definitely part of my thinking.

My opinion started to change when, after strenuously objecting at first, they came around to my decision to marry, and enthusiastically accepted my wife as part of the family — the daughter they never had.

That’s also about the time I started hearing stories of other parents. Parents that weren’t as accepting and loving as mine had been. Family situations that were significantly more difficult than my own. So much so that part of my embarrassment above is not for the decision, but for not realizing just how great my parents had been to me.

That’s a feeling that has only gotten stronger. I keep hearing stories and I continue to learn just how great I had it.

It’s not that my parents were perfect, by any means. They certainly had more than a few issues. That’s not the point.

The point is that not only did they do the best they could, in hindsight, their best was pretty damned good. And as soon as I compare my upbringing to some stories I hear, even “pretty damned good” feels like an understatement.

While I’m not a parent myself, the other thing I see is that even for the families that seem to do well, by random unqualified measure, it’s also patently obvious that parenting is hard. I knew it was hard to begin with — it’s part of the reason we elected not to have children. But the reality I see around me is even harder. Much harder.

That makes my parent’s accomplishment — everything from immigration, twice, to working hard to make a life, and make sure I could go to school, to raising a child, to being imperfect, yet decent human beings themselves — so much more amazing.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a similar position and realize it, maybe say something before it’s too late. My realization really came too late for me. Either way, be thankful.

If you’re a parent trying your best, know that I respect and admire your efforts.

But if you’re one of the many who, for whatever reason and in whatever way, had less than ideal parents, know that you’re not alone.

In fact, you may not be nearly as alone as you might feel.

My parents: Leo J. Notenboom and Elisabeth G. Notenboom.