I’m not going to achieve immortality, certainly not in the corporeal sense and just as unlikely by any historical measure. Maybe I’ll come up with something so incredibly smart and pithy that my quote will be in the 2138 edition of Bartlett’s, but that’s a long shot, and my back gets too sore for me to ride across Asia like Attila the Hun. Likewise, it’s too late for me to invent something earth-shaking like penicillin, the internet or Chia Pets.
Like most guys who think about their legacy and their contribution to the future, I need to scale it down. What’s the most achievable goal for being known and valued by people who have never met you—and never will? What is the equivalent of immortality for someone who will neither save the world nor blow it up?
Ultimately, for me, it is to have my grandchildren tell their grandchildren about me, or at least to pass on lessons that I shared during my hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage.
This is no small feat. I have repeated lessons from my dad to my children, who knew him for less time than any of us would have liked. So my father’s grandchildren are familiar with his insights and they can pass those on to their grandchildren, probably three or four decades from now.
Meanwhile, I have stories to tell my grandchildren about my mother’s dad, who picked us up from school sometimes to take us to lunch at Pekin House or Kow Kow. He told me the wooden bowl story, which was definitely self-serving but one that I will repeat to the grandkids when I am in a self-preservation mood. And when I take them to lunch, I can tell them about my lunches with my grandfather. Thereby, Ben Caplan will be immortal, even though he shuffled off half a century ago.
For me, having grandchildren born when I am past sixty, the challenge is daunting. With kids getting married and having children later in life, fewer of us will see grandchildren in our lifetimes, and for those who do, the connection is likely to be very brief. Great-grandchildren? Almost unheard of, and that ship has absolutely sailed for me.
Thinking about children who are likely to be born around 2075, when I am closing in on 122 years old, might seem nonsensical, but it gives me purpose. If I want to have a positive impact on descendants I will never meet, I need to have a very positive impact on their grandparents, who are my grandchildren. And that is a venture that I can control, at least partially and, of course, temporarily.
When they hold the last party where you are the guest of honor, you don’t get to hear what people say about you. The same holds for the life lessons learned by your great-great grandchildren. Count these among the millions of things we don’t control in this life or beyond.
Still, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be working on it today.
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Every time Independence Day rolls around, I think about the contradictions between the soaring ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the baser actions of the author. There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to give it any thought.
Thomas Jefferson worked to undermine George Washington while serving as Secretary of State within his administration. He spoke of equality while owning slaves. Like many southern gentlemen, he held a rank in the militia, but never dirtied his hands in combat. He racked up enormous debts he couldn’t repay in his lifetime, leaving his heirs to deal with the fallout. He placed the autonomy of states, specifically his own state, above the security of the nation. As founding fathers go, he was the worst.
And yet…he penned what remains one of the most revolutionary and inspirational documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence. An open letter to the rest of the world, the declaration argued that governments are subservient to the rights of the governed and that all men are created equal. In a world of kings and commoners, the idea that royal subjects could simply say, “You’re not the boss of me anymore,” was about as radical as you can get.
Every year around this time, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and every time I get misty as it ends with, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Signing the document was pretty much the same as signing a death warrant for John Hancock and all the delegates who followed, and all of these were prominent men with both lives and fortunes in the balance.
When I read the Declaration, I’m always challenged by two major topics. The first is the airing of grievances against George III and his government. Run through the list and you’ll find a half dozen, or more, complaints that many people levy against our own government today. This isn’t a political blog, so we’re not going to dive into all the similarities and differences between then and now, but it’s a telling reminder of the tensions that always exist between individual citizens and their governments.
Second, and more challenging to me, is the stark difference between the ideals of the author and his lifelong practices. Jefferson was both a radical in theory and a conservative in practice, which made him a hypocrite.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We pen open letters to the world, proclaiming our ideals and our morality, but we might be just a trifle looser about that vision when it comes to our institutions, our state, our leaders…and ourselves. We might insist on holding others to high standards while writing ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. We just might be more like Thomas Jefferson than we ever recognized, although not in a good way.
BTW, if you haven’t read the DOI lately, here’s a link to the text at the National Archives. Have a great holiday.
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One of my friends posted a note on Facebook about his dad’s birthday and said how much he misses his father. We didn’t talk about it, but I know how he feels, especially today.
My dad was a good listener and a good teacher, and I never met anyone who didn’t like him. That says a lot. When he died, he had been retired and ill for a long time, so there were no customers or vendors or anxious heirs to fill the funeral home. Still, the room was overflowing, simply because people liked him.
I’ve always thought about him as the kind of father I wanted to be and want to be, still. I could talk to him about anything and he would listen, without laughing or judging or making sure I knew immediately what he thought of the situation. He taught without lectures. He didn’t view his success as dependent on someone else’s failure, or vice versa. He worked ten hours a day, plus lots of weekends, but he always seemed to have time for me, because I knew he was paying attention when we shared time together.
There are lots of books about how to be a good parent; maybe you’ve read one or twenty. For most of us, whether we read the expert guides or not, our roadmap for parenting is complete by the time we’re in high school. Whatever our parents did up until then will lead us on our own journeys. Later, in our twenties or thirties, without even thinking about it, we mimic them.
There’s comfort and caution to be had here. The good examples of our own parents are etched into our synapses, but so are the bad ones. Abused children become abusive parents because that’s what they know. Oddly, I don’t know many pampered children who become doting parents, possibly because they’ve been trained to see themselves as recipients rather than givers.
As a dad, even with grown children who have children of their own, I’m checking my own dashboard regularly. What can I leave on cruise control and what do I need to change, right now and forever? How can I be the same kind of father to my kids that my father was to me?
I’m still working on it, but the girls haven’t sued me for parental malpractice yet. I’m taking that as a good sign.
Happy Father’s Day.
Next week, we take a deep dive into another father, the founding kind, as we reconsider the meaning of Independence Day. Subscribe by clicking here and you won’t miss a single word.
Looking back on it, all my time in isolation has had its upsides, including a bunch of life hacks and new games that can pay big dividends in any future pandemic, snowstorm or hangover. Just in case we end up with a second wave in the fall, or sooner, you’ll want to bookmark this list of new pastimes I discovered while in the hole…
Normally, we’d say, “don’t try these tricks at home,” but not this time. Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure your homeowner’s insurance is up to date, just to be safe.
Last year on Fathers Day, we chronicled the missed opportunities among unengaged dads. Next week, we look at a different kind of role model. What kind? Just click here to subscribe and you’ll be the first to know.
In the spring, an old man’s fancy turns to leaving the damned house and complaining about the heat and humidity. And bugs. Now that the nation is reopening, it’s time to review what’s out there and what’s ahead, from the only source you can trust 137% on 73% of the issues.
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So I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and I have decided, with only minor regret, that I will not be sacrificing myself in order to reopen the economy. It’s been a tough decision to make, especially when I consider the indisputable arguments in favor of my death from the virus.
My friends on the internet have explained it to me in detail, of course. I am old, past my prime, in that age group where I’m gonna die from something or other, and what do I have to live for anyway? It's my patriotic duty, they say, to dive into the mosh pit and let the chips fall, well, on me.
From an economic standpoint, they explain, I am absolutely “unproductive,” and therefore expendable. Yes, I worked diligently and produced income and jobs over 40 years, raising good kids, consuming goods, and hoisting Old Glory on every national holiday. But that was then and now is now and what the heck have I done for you lately, America?
Nothing, that’s what. Yeah, I mentor startups and give to charity and provide support to people who need it and, once in a while, I even remember to floss. Mostly, though, I’m a leech who sucks on the teat of retirement savings. Worse, I’m getting dangerously close to signing up for the welfare scam known as Social Security. Sure, the government forced me to pay into the system, but they never intended to actually pay the money back. The only way to keep Social Security solvent is for people like me to just croak a few decades early. Problem. Solved.
My internet friends challenge me daily. Don't I want my children and grandchildren to live in a nation with a thriving economy? Yes, yes I do. I want them to be able to go to fancy restaurants and movie theaters whenever they want. Of course, I know they won't want to do any of that, preferring to sit on the couch while they stream their movies enjoy pizza delivery. Still, I want them to have the choice to do or do not.
Still, from a completely selfish perspective, I should make the sacrifice in order to be a hero to all the people who are demanding that I shuffle off in order to create jobs. I know that these people, who are just too busy and productive to volunteer to sacrifice themselves, will thank me for my service and honor my memory in much the same way they have honored the other 100,000 people who preceded me. (Fun fact: When I started fiddling with this post, the number was 50,000. How time flies.)
So, as I said, I’ve given this whole thing a lot of thought, but then it occurred to me that this isn’t a zero-sum game. If I get infected and croak, that doesn’t magically prevent it from happening to someone else. In fact, I am likely to spread the virus to several someones on my way out. Even worse, I might take out one of those productive members of society that we need to protect.
Worst of all, though, I have it on good authority that this whole pandemic didn’t come from China at all. CV-19 was cooked up in a Denver warehouse where airlines once made food to serve on planes and now produce…nothing. Turns out the whole disease is a plot to keep us from using our frequent flier miles. (You can tell this is true because you just read it on the internet.)
Damn you, United, you almost had me. You can get my miles back when you pry them from my cold, dead account. And that, as I said, is going to be later than you hoped.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of slices of cold pizza calling to me from the refrigerator. Who says I have nothing to live for????
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.