Boys, I don’t know if you’ll ever have kids of your own. I imagine you will. I don’t know whether I’ll ever meet these theoretical grandchildren of mine. I hope I do.
If you do have kids, and if I’m gone by then, they’ll probably ask about me.
“Tell me about your dad,” they might say.
What will you tell them?
What am I doing now to create a legacy worth remembering, memories worth sharing with your own children?
I know what I hope you’ll say:
“Your grandfather was smart, kind, patient and funny.
“He loved to read, and he loved to write. He read to us and made up stories with us as the heroes and helped us with our homework. He played video games, too. He was just a big kid at heart.
“He taught us how to throw, catch and hit a baseball, and how to kick a soccer ball. He taught us to care for animals. He took us to nature parks and movies and arcades.
“He loved to visit Disney World every bit as much as we did when we were little. As I said, he was a big kid his whole life.
“He could really sing, and he taught us to appreciate music. He couldn’t dance even a little, but he was funny when he tried.
“He always told us to ‘be good, be nice, be you and have fun’ every morning before school.
“He loved Mom more than anything in the world, except maybe for us.
“He showed me how to live with grace and dignity, and every day I try to be the kind of man he was.”
That’s what I hope you’ll say.
Here’s what I fear you’ll say:
“Your grandfather loved us, but he had no idea how to relate to us – or to anyone – in a mature, meaningful way. He really was just a big, immature kid his whole life.
“He liked to call himself a writer, but he never published a book and he would put us to sleep with boring stories about covering baseball for a newspaper.
“He played video games, for God’s sake. And he dragged us to Disney World so many times I get hives just thinking about Mickey Mouse.
“Oh, and don’t get me started about all the times he tried to live vicariously through us with Little League baseball and youth soccer. He just didn’t understand why we didn’t care about playing or watching sports. If he had the sense God gave a ferret, he’d know we hated sports because he constantly shoved them down our throats.
“Sure, he could sing a little, but not as well as he thought he could – and he made an absolute idiot of himself whenever he tried to dance.
“He was like a parrot with that ‘be good, be nice …’ blah, blah, blah every day before school. What did that even mean, anyway? As if platitudes could replace genuine communication and empathy.
“As I say, your grandfather loved us – probably – and I think he meant well. But every day I live my life trying not to be like him.”
Here’s the thing about legacies: They are impossible to forecast. Memories are fickle. Even if I do everything right in your eyes from now until the day I’m gone, I have no way to know how I’ll be remembered by you.
Chances are, boys, if you do have kids one day and they ask about me, the things you tell them and the tone of voice you use will be determined by things that have not yet happened, by moments that have not yet been lived. You are just now beginning to form long-term memories. This is Chapter One in your story of me.
All I can do is to attempt to live up to the ideal, while remaining mindful of the possibility of disappointment. If I’m fortunate, my true legacy to you will not be the memories and stories you share about me, but how your children remember you. Because if you grow up to be worthy of emulation in the eyes of my grandchildren, then I’ll consider this a job well done.