I said it many times as a child and a youth growing up. I’m not sure how the thought originated but it is a notion that stayed with me and continued to grow with age. I owe my parents a lot. But for what you might ask? Aren’t they obligated to care for me since, after all, I didn’t ask to be their child so why should I feel the need to give back everything that they gave up for my sake?
Technically that may be true but consider some of the things that one might think could be reimbursable expenses:
- Twenty odd years of living under their roof rent-free.
- Thousands upon thousands of dollars in groceries, clothing, toiletries, shoes and other miscellaneous daily necessities.
- Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on medical, dental and vision care.
- School expenses that include books, school supplies, lunches and the gas they used up driving me to school when I missed the bus or had to make an unscheduled visit to the Principal’s office for some act of delinquency.
My parents would soon forget the countless hours they spent counseling me throughout my life. That bit never ended with childhood but continued on until they left this world, young and still eager for life but broken and consumed by illness and the passing of time, perhaps even from a little too much caring and sharing with their children.
That idea that I owed them must have come from an intrinsic desire within each of us to repay those who give without the expectation of receiving anything in return. As parents they bring us into the world, they nurture, they feed and they build and all the while we take, we take and we take but does that ever change the way that they felt about me? Hardly, in fact they seemingly gave even when it felt like there was nothing left to give but they found a way.
Aside from the measurable, tangible things they paid for and gifted to me are the immeasurable and intangible things of which there seemed to be an endless supply.
- They gave me love and I learned to give love.
- They gave me faith and I have practiced it every day since.
- They gave me something to believe in even when the world taught me to mistrust.
- They gave me purpose, they taught me humility, they prayed for me, they held me and they gave me a fighting chance to be the man that I ought to be.
Did they ever ask me for anything? Of course they did! But it’s not what you would expect from a normal transaction. They never asked me to repay my sizeable debts in the form of money although I’m sure if I had any money it would have been nice to recover some of their costs; especially since I know that I have been the debtor that keeps on taking. No, they simply asked me to repay them with immaterial gifts that I was very capable of giving them thanks to the many things that they gave me in life.
My parents asked me to repay them thus:
Be a blessing to others – I don’t have a lot of money but I try my best to volunteer my time to help others in any way that I can. I learned that from my parents who always served others with their time and their substance. I admit, sometimes I am selfish with my time but I’ve found that I enjoy life better when I’m living for others and not just for myself.
Be independent – a man who cannot take care of himself and those around him is a burden. I watched my parents work part-time jobs on top of full-time jobs just to make ends meet. One of the things our parents always talked about was the value of hard work. They always told us that when you work hard for something it will mean more to you and it will build your character.
Be a man – This has been harder than the other two things because being a man is being a work in progress. They gave me the essential tools to be a man, but sometimes, just like the tools in your arsenal at home, they can be misplaced, become rusty or unfamiliar after years of lying about, unused. But even as the job of becoming and being a man has no expiration date, so too are the timeless lessons that my parents taught that help me each day to strive to be a better man and a better human being.
I still carry around that idea that I owe my parents even though they truly never asked me for a reimbursement on their time and money. I don’t ever want my sons to feel that same obligation and now I wonder if I’m only feeling the same emotions that my parents felt towards me all those years under their care. But if my sons feel the need to repay me, I’ll follow the same advice and course that my parents had for me: Be a blessing to others; be independent and be a man.