Parenting by Association

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Andy Sauer

When I was 15, I was sitting in on a driving lesson my friend Chris was getting from his dad.

After practicing all the fundamentals, Chris was given the green light to drive home. It was sunny, the windows were open and an air of triumph permeated the car. Inexplicably, a bee flew into the moving car, hit Chris’ neck and landed right on the inside of his leg as he was driving swiftly down this stretch of road. As the bewildered bug began creeping up his leg, and as Chris was wearing shorts on that hot day, he let loose a stream of expletives, pulled the car over and, after deliberately putting it into park, jumped out and danced until the insect flew away.

After reviewing the improbability of it all, Chris’ father had him get back on the road. He complimented Chris on his decisive reaction and offered this observation: “A car is more dangerous than a gun. You have to drive knowing your life and the lives of others depend on how well you do it.”

Those sage words are always in the back of my mind when I drive.

When I was teen, I could not stand being home and was always at friends’ houses. Their families, to their eternal credit, allowed me to drift through their nuclear orbits. Unlike my persona at home, I went along, got along and often found myself tagging along on routine chores, which gave me a chance to see other families in action. When it’s not your own parents telling you what to do, it’s very easy to listen to other points of view. Quite often, they made a lot of sense.

Years later when I had my own kids, I told Chris how fortunate I was to be able to witness some of those unique father-son moments. He was surprised, mostly because he had an entirely different point of view – that of a son whose father was trying to tell him how to be.

As I look back at my own life, I see a long line of people who unknowingly parented me by association. Maybe, had they known the responsibility foisted on them, they would’ve put in a lot more effort and screwed it up. I was, after all, an obstinate teen. Instead, they treated me like a person who was close to someone they cared about and, thus, cared about me.

And, that made all the difference in the world.

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