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Godfather Wisdom

iStock_000006005818XSmallOne of the most surprising revelations I’ve had this year in reading all of the books is not just the importance of family, but the importance of a family history.

It seems that people, kids in particular, develop more resiliency and are better able to handle the stresses of life when they understand their lineage and genealogy, more specifically their families story.

The narratives within each family can be one of three types:

  • Ascending, “we came from nothing and with hard work we are now blessed.”  (Sutter 104).
  • Descending, “we were blessed and now we have nothing.”(Sutter 104)
  • Oscillating “we’ve had ups and downs but through it all we have each other and will always be blessed.” (Sutter 104)

Adolescents who experience oscillating narratives are knowledgeable about their family history and have developed a strong feeling of belonging to a bigger group than themselves – a family that will be there for one another no matter what (Sutter 104). I think this is one reason I have always admired Italian and Hispanic families. They have such a strong sense of family and it feels that they will not allow other family members to fail – there is a safety net, which may allow them to take more risks which equals more success, and with less stress as they know someone is there to catch them if they fall.

But we have to be careful with family history. If we adopt the attitude that we once had everything but “the Man,” took it away from us all, we have not only adopted a victim mentality we have passed that on to future generations, who will now be less resilient unless able to overcome challenges in their lives.

Several years ago I was having dinner in San Diego with a friend of mine and he had mentioned that he once had a daughter. She was five years old when she passed away in his arms. Having kids about that age of the time (and now) this really hit home. As every parent knows, losing a child is your absolute worst nightmare – nothing compares to it. It is a feeling no parent ever wants. But, even though this was a good 7-8  years ago I still carry the memory of that conversation with me. It helps me to be grateful for every day that we do have with our kids, with our families and with our friends. And every day we have on earth.

Trista Sutter talked about this as well, and her lesson also came with the death of a cousin, Chip.

“I gained the gift of awareness. Today was a gift. My health was a gift. Every breath I took was a gift. I am the first to admit that I still need constant reminders to slow down and embrace my blessings, often literally, but after losing an angel to heaven too soon, I knew the importance of focusing on the precious gift of the here and now,” Trista Sutter (114).

Living in the present was one of my three key themes in my TEDX speech. As someone who has a little bit of attention deficit, beyond the normal culture of ADHD that is out there, I know that I have a tendency to reflect back on a past experience more fondly than when I was experiencing it. This is because my brain is wired to always be looking out for threats, shiny objects and distractions from the present. When I can look back at it a good experience I reflect more fun fondly on it because I already know the outcome. This is a significant obstacle to living in the present, and an even bigger obstacle to looking forward to fun events.

I know that I also have a tendency to make mountains out of mole hills. Last week when my wife’s car would not start I was already projecting massive bills, visions of failed alternators and significant repair costs danced in my head. I couldn’t even jumpstart the car due to short jumper cables nor get it out of the garage. Maybe I look at things this way because I know to envision the worst that I it can be, I’ll be even more happy when it doesn’t happen — but if it does but I was more mentally prepared for it. I’m sure my cardiologist wishes I didn’t think this way.

A good friend of mine came over (with longer jumper cables), we managed to get the car started and it turned out simply to be an interior light had been left on all night. He said if we didn’t get it started, “we’d figure it out.”

In the end, there were no massive repair bills, no major reorganizations of the weekly schedule and no refinancing the house. But I also know that is not always the case, as we had a sewer line break about two years ago costing us about $15,000 in repairs.

But at the end of the day as Trista Sutter says in her book “if the sink breaks, you have a broken sink. So what. It’s just a sink.” (Sutter 117). Of course, let’s remember that she is married to a firefighter and those guys are usually pretty handy. I’m about as handy as a second tail on a cow.

But I had to remind myself (after my initial anxiety attack at the 3 inches of water in my basement) that this too was fixable. Nobody has cancer, nobody died, and even though it was a huge stretch we did figure out financially how to pay for it (in fact, I think I’m still paying for it).

I also know that there is a greater lesson being taught on the day the sewer line broke. Our kids were watching how we handled the entire situation, mentally, emotionally and financially. I would like to think that what they took away from it is that a broken sewer line, is just a broken sewer line. And  while it is okay to get little upset over things, which is a natural emotional response, we managed to recover and move on. “A broken sink, was just a broken sink.”

I hope that resiliency becomes part of the fabric of our family history and that when they are faced with significant challenges in their lives they can remember these times, as I remembered hard times that my parents overcame.

Sutter, Trista. Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart. Boston: Da Capo, MA. Print.

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