“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” – The Fellowship of the Ring
I’ve been thinking a lot about culture lately. The culture in my community of course, but more importantly the culture in my family.
Culture surrounds me whether I notice it or not, a woven fabric of all the unique sights, sounds, textures, tastes and atmosphere that I move through each day. It’s easy to spot culture when I travel to a foreign environment. Stark differences that stand out from the normal rhythm of my typical life help me to think about my culture in a clearer way. It has, however, been difficult sometimes for me to spot all my cultural influences on a daily basis when I am in my comfortable rut.
Parenting, however, calls me to look outside of my routines and ruts to become aware of how the fabric of my culture is clothing my son. I want the culture of his childhood to prepare him for all the seasons of his life. I want him to have layers of protection that can warm, comfort, and shield him from the harsh elements of life without constricting him. I want to help him create his own flexible garment that he can wear without shame.
When he was a tiny child, creating this kind of culture was clearer to me. I knew I wanted him to feel safe, loved, secure and free to be himself. The pastels and primary colors, nursery rhymes and snuggle times of babyhood made it easier to create this kind of cozy blanket around him. As he becomes an increasingly complex and sophisticated child, however, the black and whites and grays of life, the harsher lyrics he can now read, and his increasing time spent away from the reach of my arms, makes the issues of culture become more urgent. I am increasingly feeling that the kind of culture I wish for him will not happen by accident. I cannot merely shelter him from parts of the culture around him, cut out the parts that I don’t like, that would leave him a fabric full of holes. I’ve begun to believe that the culture I wish to weave for him will take focused effort, creation. I must ponder. I must be deeply intentional.
I know a little about fabric, how it can tear under stress, how it can carry stains impossible to remove, how hard it can be as a child to wear a stiff garment that cannot stretch with growth. The culture of my childhood left me many times feeling cold and exposed, struggling to cover and shelter myself in the winds of change. My religion made many of the hardest moments of my life even harder. I grew up stunted and sickly never learning to utilize my body in healthful ways. In the season of my despair, the only music I knew left me. My culture armed me to the point of a burden with academia, but equipped me with no useful hobbies, no passionate pursuits. My spiritual education was full of contradictions and devoid of tools. This culture did not foster my self-awareness which resulted in my devotion to a career that is actually a poor fit for me. I did not develop the skills to create and grow healthy relationships, as my numerous lost friendships and failed first marriage would attest. Yet, despite these concerns, I cannot deny that some things about my culture must have really worked. From some part of it I developed great resilience, inner strength, a deep desire for self-improvement, and a tolerance for change. I managed to make it through seasons of great adversity without turning to drugs or alcohol, abandoning my loved ones, or losing my ability to love, forgive, create peace and reach for faith. From all that bathwater, there came a baby who has somehow grown into a woman I really like. It seems like the challenge will be to find which parts of the culture I knew were the threads that held strength and suppleness and which were the threads that chafed and frayed.
Lately, I have been reading Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ inspiring manual, Becoming a Jewish Parent. It speaks to my intention-seeking heart as way to craft a culture that combines the new spirituality and interests of my recent parenthood with the wisdom and stability of old traditions from my childhood and community. The Rabbi challenges parents not to strive to duplicate their own childhoods, but to consciously seek to always give their children something richer and deeper. He describes parents as “world builders” who shape, by all their intentional or unintentional actions, the possibility of their child’s future.
If my child might need or want faith any time in his life, then I must raise him in a culture that will make it possible for him to seek it. If I want him to be able to give peace a chance, give love a chance, give forgiveness a chance, then I have to make chances for all those things in his life now.I want my son to be able to find and follow his passions, so he needs to see me follow mine and to hear me accepting that his will passions not look the same. If want him to be able to access all sorts of comforts… religion, music, exercise, listening, learning, hobbies, and health… when he needs them, in a useful constructive way, and to be hold onto his true self well enough to be able to discard any destructive parts along the way, then I must do the same. If I want him to have habits and traditions that will comfort and not constrain him, it is up to me to create them.
To be this kind of parent, one who shuns the fence-building culture of my community, one who chooses to be a weaver of culture instead, I must recklessly abandon my comfort zone. I must search and ponder this wide world ahead of my son. Not to edit out its darkness, but to find and focus its light.
Coming soon to OurLastHomelyHouse: My attempts at finding Focus