I have had more graduations than anyone I’ve ever met, and how does someone achieve this? By making a lot of bad life choices: (announcer) Do you want a great way to pay a ton of money for the privilege of doing endless hours of homework? (me) “Will I be able to make less money than my friends when I’m done all that schooling?” (announcer) “You betcha.” (me) “Sign me up!”
After being part of as many graduations as I have (two college and four university graduations – I said I made bad choices), I’m quite familiar with the air of excitement that takes place at them. Sure, the ceremony drags on forever as speakers use clichés and pandering to the point of ad nauseam, but walking across the stage is pretty fantastic, and there’s something really amazing about seeing your family after… at least after the first couple; it soon feels a little embarrassing: “I promise this is the last one… or the next one will be… never mind, I can’t make decisions, which is how I got here in the first place.” The common phrase heard at after the ceremony is “I’m proud of you.” These can be pretty special words because they affirm what most young people long to hear: You’re good enough.
Here’s the thing: There is a difference between a parent being proud and a parent being excited. At a graduation when parents say things like “I’m proud of you,” what they really mean is “I’m excited!” A parent isn’t suddenly proud of their child just because they wear an unfashionable gown with a silly hat. They’re not suddenly proud for a brief moment because the child is given a piece of paper that will get tossed in a drawer or hung up on the wall (if the child is a dork). Whether it’s a graduation, special birthday, wedding, or any special event, parents openly say how proud they are because they’re excited and that’s the best way to express it.
The truth is a parent is proud of their child as long as they’re not doing anything really stupid. Like a lot of young men, I used to struggle with wanting to make my dad proud of me as a way to feel like I was finally a real man, but I eventually realized he was already proud of me and he always had been; I didn’t need to prove anything to him. A parent wanting to be proud of their child is engrained in them because their child is their child. Parents have spent endless hours raising their children, spending ridiculous amounts of money on frivolous things they’d never otherwise buy, and they put up with all kinds of rejection and hurt, which means they are subconsciously looking for ways to justify it. They want reasons to be excited for having kids. They’re also looking for hope, especially as they get older and they look for reasons to prove their life has had purpose and kids can be a major part of that. I’ve met parents who were proud of their children who were in prison – not because they were in prison. Their grown up child had done something really stupid, but they would still find anything they could to feel a sense of pride towards their child. Parents are always looking for reasons to be proud. We can be distracted like I was this week cleaning up urine for the tenth time in two days (not a hobby I would’ve chosen), but a parent wants to find reasons to be happy with their child.
Tip: If you want to be good to your parents, do something that will give them something they can be happy enough to tell others about. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Parents are happy to even say things like “It was so nice, I came home and my children had dinner ready for me.” Other options include vacuuming, having the garbage out, and any other job that you do without being asked. If you don’t live at home, sometimes just calling or sending a letter in the mail (mail still exists) can make their day and give them something to tell others you did, which is a sign they’re proud of you.
I should also point out that I’ve met many adults who were very damaged because they never heard the words “I’m proud of you” even at an event like a graduation. Even worse, they had never even felt like their parents were happy they had them. Because of this, part of them couldn’t help but feel like a failure. What did they do wrong? These people have spent endless hours working towards goals they hoped would be rewarded with hearing words of love and pride. No matter what they did, it never seemed enough as their parents brushed off their accomplishments out of jealousy or deep-seeded negativity where nothing would be good enough. Either way, if this is the case there is something drastically damaged in the parent and it’s important for the child to know their parent has failed as a parent. If a parent isn’t naturally proud of their child, they are the one who is screwed up. In these situations it’s often important for the child to find another person who can give them the affirmation they crave and give up trying to impress such a failure of a human being.
If a parent isn’t proud of their child (and their child isn’t the devil) they are a horrible human being and need to be kept at a very far distance. If I was given the choice of having my dad die at a young age (even earlier than he did), or to have a terrible man as my dad who wasn’t proud of me, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Even if the choice was never meeting my dad, we are better without a dad than one who destroys our sense of self worth because it’s hard not to second guess ourselves and have an underlying desire to make him happy, which is impossible.
My dad only ever said he was proud of me at my graduations, but like I pointed out earlier, saying this was really his way of saying he was excited. It took me awhile to accept this, but he was always proud of me on some level because he was a good person. There were many times I disappointed him (like all children do), but he was always proud of me on some level because all good parents are.
This week may you accept that your parents are proud of you or accept that you missed out on one of the basic good things in life – a good parent.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)