January 18th, 2020
The week before Christmas, a few of us met at Andrea’s house for a party. It was Liz’s idea, and it was a good one. Everybody there was from our old German Bible study, so the gathering was about as wild as an AA meeting. I didn’t mind. I just wanted to hang out for a while and talk. Liz wanted us all to sing German Christmas carols. We did so, with some reluctance. Honestly, I have never been to a Christmas party where people actually wanted to sing carols. We did so out of a skewed sense of Teutonic duty, and a feeling of gratitude toward Liz.
Once the out-of-tune caroling was done, we sat around and snacked for a while. I sat at the living room table with Ed and Rob. They are both very interesting men, so perhaps I should describe them in more detail.
Rob is in some ways a modern Renaissance man. Rob is brilliant, and he has an interest in almost everything. He was trained as an engineer, and then he became a physician. He just retired from his job as an emergency room doctor at the local VA hospital. Rob hates retirement, with a passion. I don’t really understand that. Retirement is a gift from God. Seriously. Most of the people on this planet will never retire. They will work until they die. Those of us who are retired owe the rest of the world something of our lives. We, few though that we are, have the time and money and health to make a small difference in the world. We have been given a second chance in life. So, I don’t really get why Rob is so averse to his current situation. I would have thought that he would be rejoicing in his new status.
Ed is a wonderful man. He is at least eighty now. His life story is fascinating. He spent his early days in Wuppertal in post-war Germany. Ed’s father had been a German soldier in World War II. The man was Russian prisoner of war until 1955. Ed’s father came back home alive, but in many ways he was ruined. Ed’s father told his son never to go to war. Ed took that to heart. Ed is a strict Bible-thumping Baptist, but he is also a serious pacifist. I have to admire that. Ed has an integrity that is impressive. He is an honorable man, and he has a big heart.
The three of us got to talking about children. I told them about the struggles that my kids face.
Ed said, “You should give them some guidance. Share what you have learned in life.”
I looked at Ed, and then I told him, “I have given up on giving advice.”
He seemed confused by that. He asked me, “Why?”
I told Ed, “Giving advice is counter-productive.”
Rob chimed in, “It can also be dangerous.”
Ed didn’t understand that at all. “What do you mean? You are the parents.”
I sighed. “It’s the message as opposed to the messenger. My kids don’t mind the message. They just don’t want to hear it from me.”
Ed replied, “But they should respect you.”
“They do, but they also want to do it all on their own.”
Ed shook his head.
I really don’t think life was much different when Ed was young. I think he only remembers certain parts of it. Each generation tries to reinvent the wheel. Somehow it always works out the same way. Human nature doesn’t change.
By the way, I love the Book of Genesis. Yes, some of the passages seem like silly fables. However, most of the stories are honest descriptions of dysfunctional families that somehow survived and kept going. The stories in Genesis are just as timely as anything in the daily news. These events in the Bible could be happening now, and they probably are.
I look at our kids, and I don’t see the future. I see the past. I look at Hans and his deep emotional scars from the war in Iraq, and all I can see is his grandfather, Max, who fought on the Russian front in WWII. I look at Stefan and his valiant efforts to be a “Working Class Hero”, but I only see my grandfather, and his endless struggles during the union strikes of the Depression. There are echoes.
Advice is a gift that nobody really wants. In truth, advice is of limited value. My memories may bear some slight resemblance to the experiences of my children, but there is a disconnect. Times change. People change. It is true that some basic things in human life remain constant, but those things are slippery and elusive. Some things cannot be taught. Some things cannot be learned vicariously. Some things can only be experienced.
I believe that most people, including my children, already know what to do. They only need to articulate these ideas and then act upon them. They don’t need me to give advice. They don’t need me to talk. They need me to listen. Just listen. I may agree with a comment they make, or I may encourage them when they suggest something positive, but I don’t give advice. I let them find their path, even though that path is twisted and tortuous. They have to do it. I cannot do it for them.
Nobody could do it for me either.