If you look through quotes about fathers, you’re sure to find quite a number that say kids watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.
Jeff Bridges, the actor and son of Lloyd Bridges, said, “What I learned most from my father wasn’t anything he said; it was just the way he behaved.’’ Many people identify with that, I’m sure. It’s true about moms, too. Kids learn by watching parents.
Last Saturday I was reminded that parents aren’t the only ones setting examples for kids. The adult friends around them set the example, too, in how they treat each other and how they treat their kids and their friends’ kids. Some of the most important lessons children receive in life come as they watch the grown-ups around them. It isn’t a bad thing to be reminded of that. Some of our biggest teaching moments come during casual, unremarkable times in a day.
Nancy and I were in Pierre on Saturday for a ceremony honoring one of our best friends, a woman who had been a best friend for most of half a century. She loved kids – her own, her grandkids, her great-grandkids and two or three generations of her friends’ kids, grands and great-grands. She died just before Christmas. At the Discovery Center in Pierre, a new room and exhibit was named in her honor.
Her husband and most of her family attended, and the short speeches sometimes were drowned out by shrieks and giggles of little children. Our friend would have loved the honor, but she’d have loved much more the delighted laughter of the happy children.
I was thinking of that when one of our friend’s grandsons approached. I’ve known him all his life, and I’ve known his parents since they were kids. The young guy is all grown up, has a good job and a young family of his own. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then he turned serious. He talked about how his family got together with a couple of friends for Fourth of July. During their time together, he told of how his grandma and grandpa and their family used to spend every Fourth of July with two other couples and their families. Nancy and I were one of those other couples, and it’s true. We did get together every Independence Day for a good, long lifetime.
What the young man remembered about those times was how much the three old couples seemed to enjoy each other’s company and how much we seemed to enjoy having our growing, expanding families together every year. “My friends and I got to talking and we decided we ought to start doing that,’’ the young man said.
Well, my goodness. What a compliment. We old couples were just having the time of our lives together. I guess it didn’t occur to us that we were giving lessons about living to the young ones in our families. Hearing that made me feel good, but it also made me wonder if maybe I couldn’t have been more careful to be a positive example during those times. When you’re a young parent hanging out on the river with your best friends, sometimes you don’t think about the example you’re setting.
If our actions were memorable for the younger people in the families, maybe it was just because we enjoyed each other’s company. Having a good time together came naturally. It didn’t take work. Gosh, we were three camping, boating families nearly every weekend from before Memorial Day until after Labor Day. And we were nearly always together out there.
What I remember most about those time is how endless it all seemed. We had the river, an isolated campsite, the shrieks and giggles of little kids, a sundown campfire and maybe a guitar and some sing-along tunes. Back in town, I guess we knew it couldn’t always be that way. Out on the river, with gentle waves lapping a sand beach and stars blanketing an infinite sky, it seemed like it might never end. If we showed the kids anything in those times, I hope it was that good friends are worth having.