We are indelibly entwined with our parents … while they live and until we die. They live on in their children and everyone else we have ever influenced.
Our parents give us their values … impress upon us what is important to them, as it should be important to us.
- And a million other things
As their parents did them and so on.
In a weird way we are hand-me-downs from our grandparents, great-grandparents, great-greats, and as far back as parenting began. Imagine how much of us was created in values, opinions, and beliefs established 500 years ago. And of course, we have evolved.
Each generation gains awareness and self-direction.
Each form of travel exposed us to other ideas, cultures, and beliefs.
And the Internet collapsed the whole world into ours in an instant.
Some generations even break from their past and launch a whole new course of life. Sometimes we revolt from our parents, sometimes we just find our own yellow brick road.
My mother passed last week.
She lived to be 91. She tore up the world for 88 years on her own independent terms and coasted to her finish line with dementia. She had super high cholesterol and blood pressure her whole life and a pig valve in her heart for the last 25 years. She defied medicine and science. In fact, she defied just about everything that did not suit her.
Aileen Beards Brooke broke the chain of generational hand-me-down values. She took the road less traveled and carved out her own life on her own terms.
And yes, I have a lot of that in me.
She was born in Santa Cruz, California, and raised in Ely, Nevada. She was a rodeo queen in short shorts in the 1940s. She attended Castalia Catholic girls high school in Santa Barbara and Mills College for women in Oakland, California. She married a Stanford man and raised my sister, Debbie, and me on a cattle ranch in central California.
Her careers spanned nursing, school teacher, travel agent, real estate agent, rancher, and champion quarter horse breeder. Her passions were snow skiing, riding, hunting, travel, food, architecture, and her cherished ranch.
And here is what I learned from her:
I learned productivity.
She left me a list of “to dos” she called chores every day when I got home from school. I hated them, avoided them, lied about them, and even sabotaged things like the lawnmower so I would not have to do them. She did not tolerate avoiding the chores, and I learned to “get shit done.”
I learned courage and adventure.
Mom would try anything from flying to hot air ballooning to killing rattlesnakes. She prided herself on her rattlesnake skin collection and stories of conquest. She traveled the world in the 60s and 70s by herself, burrowing into some of the most remote villages in South America. She would be gone for weeks, and for weeks we had no idea if she was even coming back.
I learned boldness.
Her boldness was the stuff of legend. She seemed to love to sue people that she felt had wronged her. Her nasty handwritten letters and phone calls to government officials would make you cringe. Her profanity seemed to come from some long lost great-great-sailing captain in her past.
I learned passion for a project.
When Mom got an idea … what I would call a Vision today … you had better get far out of the way or get on board. She was what we would call an extreme manifester.
Whether it was business, a construction project, a ski trip, a party, or just “her way,” you had best move over or get run over. That woman had passion, and it was the first time I had ever seen such a force of nature in action.
She designed her life in her mind and then went out and carved it out of nothing or anything.
I learned a lot of things from my mom that I chose not to model.
She was an exercise in contradictions … a very powerful personality to be loved, revered, feared, and despised, often all at the same time. No doubt there are parts of her deeply embedded in me forever. And no doubt I intentionally broke the chain and have spent my life inventing me the way I want me to be … not the way she wanted me to be.
One of the first questions I ask coaching clients is from whom they learned their attitudes, beliefs, and bias … Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa.
We are hand-me-downs.
And it is a glorious thing.
We have a choice on the road we travel in life. We can walk the beaten, well-marked path of those that have come before us just because we may win approval. It's safe, predictable, popular, and socially proven.
We can rebel against said path in an addiction to always doing what others don't want us to do. Neither, I have found, will allow us to discover the freedom and fun of expressing our authentic genius. Neither will stage us to break free from the patterns of generations of family. Neither of those roads lead to quantum leaps in discovery.
The Road Less Traveled, as Scott Peck shared with us, is an authentic inspired journey that can lead to our own emerald city. I am fortunate to have a model of such a pioneer in my life. May the gift live on.
My mother never told me or my sister about the poem below. She wrote it in the 1940s to be read upon her passing. I found it in an old stack of her things.
She did not want a service or memorial of any kind. So I share it with you here, as all of her friends are gone.
A loving son,
P.S. My blogs are, for me, a conversation. I rant for a bit and then … if so inspired, you respond. Your comments close the loop of conversation. They let me know I was heard. They let me know I contributed something … or not. I encourage you to close the loop … or open a new one and say something. :)