Today’s ‘The Best I Have To Give’ post comes to you from a really incredible guy – my dad, Brad Shepley. My dad is a storyteller. And while he (regrettably) didn’t make a career out of it, he can hold a room captive and weave together beautiful illustrations, that always have a meaningful tie to everyday life.
There’s nowhere online to ‘catch up’ with my dad. And that’s really too bad for you. Because he’s truly remarkable, and you are (sadly) missing out if you don’t know him. He’s an artist, a craftsman, a writer, a father, and my personal life coach, and not a day goes by that his wisdom doesn’t sneak up from inside my soul and bubble over into my marriage, my parenting, and my decision making.
When I asked him to write a post for me, I really had no idea what he would identify as ‘the best advice he had to give’ to parents. And being parented by him, I figured whatever it was, I’d already be doing it.. I mean, obviously, right? And you know what? I am. Kinda. Because sometimes Laine, and her future, are a mystery to me. And I get really tied up in making sure she’s ‘college ready’ or ‘career ready.’ And that’s valuable. But I really need to make sure she’s, well…. let’s just read what my dad has to say.
(Oh and Dad – it’s not too late to kick start your writing career!)
When I was a very young man I purchased a tree from a local nursery. The nursery was owned by an elderly gentleman who was a master gardener. When he was helping me place the tree in my truck, he said, and I quote “Always remember…Trees are like kids, you must prune and shape them when they are young if you want them to be beautiful when they have grown.” Now, I knew a fair amount about pruning trees since my dad had taught me how to do that, but being a very young father, what I didn’t know a whole lot about, was raising kids.
I believe we can learn something from every one we meet. What I inadvertently learned from that old master gardener that day, wasn’t a lesson about trees, but rather one about life. It was a lesson I never forgot. It was a lesson I tried to apply every day as I fathered, foster fathered and step fathered the children that have been in my care throughout my life.
That lesson being, that as parents we are not really raising kids. We are growing men and women!
A child is a child for a short time, but when they themselves decide to become an adult, they leave the child behind and become a woman or a man for the rest of their life.
This past winter my wife and I went to Florida to escape this brutal winter we have experienced in Canada and the northern USA. We stayed in a hotel at Cocoa beach that was built in the early seventies. The place was built in a block with the two floors of rooms creating a huge court yard in the center of the property. At one end there is a pool area. Around the pool are potted plants and hibiscus trees. While they are very pretty and serve their purpose as decoration around the pool, they are greatly diminished in their size and potential. Their roots are bound in large clay pots and their branches have been pruned short preventing them from spreading out. They are mere shadows of what they could become. Starting at the edge of the pool area spreading back toward the ocean, the rest of the court yard had long ago been fashioned into a tropical garden that has now become forty years mature. The garden is massive, with four hundred and sixty five species of plants. Tall palm trees, gigantic ferns, beautiful flowering trees and plants, with narrow paths leading to benches and sitting areas throughout the garden, allowing the visitors to rest and rejuvenate, surrounded by the garden’s magnificent beauty. As you walk along the paths you understand that the garden was planned. The various plants and trees were planted so as to compliment one another. It is obvious that early on in the life of this place, the gardener spent countless hours tending to it, planting in such a way that all of the plants had the proper nourishment, sunlight and water – the roots having been planted freely in the ground, unbound by clay pots, and branches having been pruned just the right amount allowing them to grow tall and wide toward the open sky. Each individual in this collection of plants, put together, have become something far more than they ever could have been alone. In a word, they have become GREAT!
As we grow the children entrusted to us by God himself into men and women , we don’t do it from a position of isolation. Countless numbers of people and experiences contribute to the development of our children. That’s why it is so important to ensure that we as parents are keeping our children surrounded by the people, experiences and other things that will nourish their bodies, their minds and their souls. We must attempt to create in them a spirit of wonder and exploration in their thoughts. We must help them grow their talents, teach them to respectfully question authority and admit to them that we as their parents don’t know everything and can in fact be completely wrong at times. Even though we may dread the thought, we must be willing to apologize when it’s called for. We must teach them to be givers in this depraved world in which we live, to love and have compassion for others around us and to have a genuine concern for the less fortunate. They must know how to recognize right and wrong and how to respond appropriately to both. We must teach them to be humble and thankful, and to respect our environment. We must convince them of their potential for greatness and give them a hunger to surround themselves with great people, great thoughts and great ideas.
To do this this we must know what kind of men and women we hope and pray our kids will become. We must be diligent. Just as the gardener must be diligent when his plants are young and tender, to ensure they receive the proper care and nourishment to achieve their potential, so we must be with our children, as we identify and grow their talents, feed their bodies, minds and souls. Just as the gardener must know when to prune the branches and when to let them grow, so we must be in our allowances and discipline. Just as the gardener must know when the time has come to simply allow his plants to grow free and become what they will eventually be, so we must be with our children, making sure we respect the fact that they are becoming or have become adults, and need much less input from us. We will always be mom or dad but we must learn to become more of a friend if we want a healthy relationship with our men and women.
Do we wish to keep our children confined to our personal thoughts and ideas, such as the hibiscus trees in the clay pots beside the pool, with their roots bound, and all of their branches pruned short, never reaching their full potential? Or would we prefer them to be as those in the open garden, free to grow, surrounded by others who can help them become something great while their own beauty helps others to do the same?
As I look back over my nearly thirty seven years of parenting thus far, I am reminded of many mistakes and short comings. There are many things I would do differently should I have the opportunity to start over, but we only get one shot at any given moment in our lives so I can’t and won’t lament on those things, though I have apologized for some of them. I simply move on trying to do a better job tomorrow. As I continue to look back, I also remember many things I did well. Times when I pruned the branches just the right amount. Times when I stood back and watched them grow.
Parenting is not an exact science. It is about making mistakes and learning from them. It is about being diligent and consistent. It is about always being there, even when you aren’t needed. It is about unfailing love in every situation. It has been the way for me to be the best example of Christ’s love I could be, through demonstration, and not just words.
When I was young, I wanted my children to grow up to be good people. It was only as I got older that I realized, greatness should in fact be a parents ultimate goal, not only in our children but in our own lives as well. I don’t mean greatness in some haughty way. What I mean is to exhibit greatness through smiles and kind words. To be a humble servant to those around us. To secretly and anonymously help a single mother buy a winter coat for herself and her children, and allow her the dignity of making the purchase herself. To give the hungry person something to eat. To stand beside a friend, even when everyone else has abandoned them. To love unconditionally, those whom God puts in our path. Especially our children!
In a brief moment in time, an old gardener taught me one of my life’s greatest lessons, and unwittingly became a great figure in my life. I only met him once, yet he impacted my life and the lives of my children with his words and they are now being shared with you still today.
The things we say and do, both positive and negative, will have an impact on our children, but more importantly they will continue to impact our men and women many years down the road.
Whether you live in a traditional nuclear family, are maintaining a blended family, or are single or divorced, you can be a great parent and grow great people. If you have regrets, leave them behind, and build on your successes. Move forward with confidence and get on with job at hand.
Our gardens grow quickly. Very quickly!