When I was young my mother would read and recite Black poetry to me and my siblings. She served as a role model to the four of us children in many ways. Her work, her interaction with the schools we went to and the church. All these things had problems, work, school and church, but all had their positive aspects. That, after all, is what learning is about. You observe a problem and you watch to see what others have done to solve it. Watching is your research, your action to solve the same problems amounts to following the pattern of living.
My father was less verbal than my mother, but I learned how to be a man and take care of my family by watching him and my uncles interact with their families. When he did talk it was usually about how he was being treated in a society that refused to honor Black men. The main lesson from the men in my life was that the needs of the family were first second and foremost. You take care of your family and they will take care of you, the family name, your grandchildren, and your legacy.
I used to get letters from my grandmother (Big Mama) who was still in Oklahoma until my aunts moved her to California. I used to love to get those letters; it was something for me and me alone. I knew I was special to her. And when she would come to California I would follow her around to learn things like planting seeds to create a garden, and keeping our yard clean. Years later when I was taking the Bar examination , something I had to do a few times before I was successful her house was the first place I would stop on my way home to make sure she was Ok and to let her know I was still learning and headed down the right track. In a sense I guess I was showing her that the seeds that she, my aunts, uncles and my parents planted were growing into something I hoped that she would be proud of.
Over the past few weeks I have watched my wife write a series of notes to share with our granddaughters. These notes are instructions on life based on her experiences as a young woman, a girlfriend, a wife, mother and grandmother, a role that I think she enjoys most. It is especially interesting to watch her and listen as we talk about what she has been writing since her biological mother died when she was two. There was no grandmother for her in the sense that she has been a grandmother. My mother, her stepmother, and other women in her life have provided the lessons of life that help to determine where in life women must put up stop and go lights.
She is sharing her life with her children and grand children in a little booklet that she and I are writing called "Miss Ruthie." This will be a gift to the family members as we gather for Christmas this year. In a sense, she is learning about her life again because she became a step child and there are gaps in her biological beginnings. Plus, family members don't always tell young people about life, including their lives when they are growing up.
As she articulates her life as lessons, she refers to books she has read to help shore-up the lessons she has lived such as Hill Harper's book, Letters to a Young Sister which also has a foreword by the beautiful actress Gabrielle Union that tells about the trials of her life including a rape. Union believed that she was not pretty, and she was insecure, yet she set goals for herself, got her education, and prepared herself for success in life. The Harper book has letters in chapters by well known and not so well known women which when taken as a whole provides lessons for life. (Note Harper also has a book, Letters to A Young Brother for boys.
She also refers to the Steve Harvey book, Act Like a
Lady- think like A Man which is instructive about the games men play on women to get that thing they all want. He calls it the "Cookie." Another book she's refering to is by Maria Shriver called Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out Into The Real World. It is great for planning for your career. Think about it, Shriver is a Kennedy, and once got fired, but took it for the lesson it provided and kept moving on. Then theres a book on the life of Michelle Obama which has many lessons on living and rising from humble beginnings to achieving life's goals. There are the lessons you learn by living and there are lessons you learn by checking out what others have lived and that's what my wife wants to share.
Our young girls may get some surprises along the way like marrying a guy who becomes President of the United States. Or she could get lucky, like Miss Ruthie and Michelle Obama did and marry a guy like me or Barack Obama (not that I'm comparing myself to the President). Or is it Barack and I who are the lucky ones? On the other hand your daughter could end up with a fool like Kanye West.
Write your daughters and sons a letter to share with them some lessons you have learned that they could benefit from. It just might make their roadmap a little clearer. Teach them that, "obedience is better than sacrifice." If they will heed your example and follow your advice, they can make you proud.