Mr. Bad Example
Last night at a public meeting, someone suggested that I was a very poor role model for my children.* I am a poet and a writer, and one of my (several) reactions was to think back on the days when I was young and to recall things I had read that inspired me--that made me want to be a better person. Because I was raised by coyotes and yet, had a library card hidden within our family lair, writers were my role models when I was a child. And so late last night I looked back to the books I read when I was a kid and tried to find a few of the quotations--or if I could not remember them with a fair amount of precision--to find a few of the sentiments expressed by the writers I read and admired; passages that made a difference in forming my thinking and in some small way, shaping my behavior.
Having found a bit of the base materials, one then asks--in your conduct, in what you have stood for, in what you teach and have taught your children, do you try to live up to these early ideals? Let's leave that (potentially self-serving) question unanswered for the moment. Let's look instead at a few of the words I recall reading and as having mattered, if only because I think that is a more interesting subject than how I rate as a role model.
In no particular order:
"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around --nobody big, I mean -- except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff -- I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
"What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
" . . . tell Wind and Fire where to stop," returned madame; "but don't tell me."
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
"Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there . . . . I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'--I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build--why, I'll be there."
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self respect springs.”
– Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.
-Ernest Hemingway, In Another Country
“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”
-Flannery O'Connor, The Fiction Writer & His Country
"Then suddenly he felt a quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back against the counter for support. For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who—one word—love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he felt a warning, a shaft of terror... he was suspended between radiance and darkness. Between bitter irony and faith."
-Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
"In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again: and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward human life; toward the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of terror, and of God."
- James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I believe that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
-William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
*Not to worry; I suspect this person and I have profoundly different ideas about children, education, parenting, and role-models.
However I rate as a "role model," I am sure that I am a very unsatisfying figure for my kids to rebel against.