There is a phrase my son’s grandmother has been fond of using to describe my son and I since his birth. Nearly every time we talk to or see Bibi (Swahili for grandmother), something occurs to make her say chip of the old block.
For those who are unfamiliar with the expression, chip off the old block means that the child has qualities that are identical to the parent. Figuratively, chip off the old block conveys the image of the parent being a large block of wood and the child being a wood chip that was somehow dislodged from the large block. Hence, chip off the old block.
Most of the time, I find the expression chip off the old block endearing. Why wouldn’t I? I consider Naeem my closest friend in the entire universe so to know that there is someone who is nearly indistinguishable in thought and action from me can be comforting and reassuring.
Even as an infant, Naeem had an uncanny ability to know when I had a particularly rough day and he would instinctively do something only he could do to boost my spirits. From offering his charismatic smile, to bellowing a big hearty laugh or tugging at my shirt or tie when I otherwise would have refused to be bothered by anyone else in the world, Naeem has been my all-natural, non-alcoholic, caffeine free pick me.
When Naeem was living in Brazil, we would have video calls for hours. During many of those calls, we would say very little to one another. As the large block of wood, my intuition resonated back then – that at times the challenges of living thousands of miles away from home were so overwhelming – that having me on a video call was what he needed to feel connected to the originating block. So there we would sit, working on our laptops with the image of the other person in the corner of our screen. We would carry on with our day – speaking on occasion – as if we were in the same room. From a distance it might seem strange or silly but it’s exactly what I would have needed if I were in his shoes.
Today, if I started a sentence and asked him to finish it, odds are that he would finish it off precisely as I would. In fact, when I need a second opinion about something I’m thinking about saying in a speech or an editor for something I’m writing, I seek his input and direction first. I trust his critique completely because I know it is always constructive. Further, I know his comments and suggestions are reflections of his love – a love of one who never expects anything but the best from me.
Without question he gets me and I get him. He is the chip off the old block.
Yet, for as exciting and wonderful as it is to experience life with someone who is simpatico, there is a cruel downside to being so similar. That downside is illustrated in the words of William Shakespeare who wrote “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare demands that a man take an account of who he is.
Who am I? I am a flawed man. I’m a deeply flawed man. And thus this is where the phrase chip off the old block manifests its ugly downside.
If there is any man that I don’t want to be false to it is my son. For Godsake, I don’t want my son to share my flaws. Moreover, I don’t want Naeem’s life experiences to be hindered by my flaws – flaws that I fear I may have already organically, genetically and unintentionally transferred to him.
TOO MANY FLAWS, TOO LITTLE TIME
How am I flawed? Well there isn’t time to share them all but I will share one of my many flaws. One of those flaws is that I am what you would call a reluctant optimist.
If you are a fan of etymology, you can see my flaw almost immediately. Lovers of etymology know that I’m a walking oxymoron. I’m unenthusiastic and hopeful. I am hesitant and enthusiastic. How is it working to be a reluctant optimist? Great question? And the answer is that it doesn’t work very well.
Something good can happen to me and I will dismiss it as trivial almost as fast as it occurs. I can achieve a goal and immediately fret about not yet completing another objective. I could do something better than 95% of the world and I would deem myself a failure for not being the world’s greatest.
My inability to celebrate my successes while immediately lambasting myself for being human and having shortcomings is exhausting. Furthermore, I know that my behavior is counterproductive and I fear it is a flaw that I risk passing on to my son.
This is clearly an area where I don’t want Bibi or anyone else to proclaim that my son is a chip off the old block. I know for my son’s sake that I have to change. I know that I need to do better. However, while I work on eliminating this flaw from my own life, my more pressing and immediate concern is not allowing this flaw to be transmitted to Naeem.
Here are some of the things I’m going to continue doing to keep Naeem free of this flaw:
1. Celebrate Success – Parents don’t have to celebrate every minor accomplishment but we would be wise to commemorate those important achievements. The triumph could be major or touchstone. Maybe you are celebrating your child’s qualification for the Honor Roll or maybe it’s an unexpected A, on a test, in a class that seemed insurmountable.
Regardless of the situation, the point is to remember not to forsake the opportunity to celebrate landmark moments. Landmarks are proof that we are on the right path and that reaching our desired destination is possible.
2. Value Self-Critique – It can be horrifying and grueling for a parent when a child can find little good to think or say about themselves. However, there are times when there is nothing better than honest self-reflection. Consider this, in nearly every recovery program, the first step is admission.
Admission is in itself a form of self-critique. So don’t freak out by a child’s momentary breakdown of themselves. If admission can help someone recovery from addiction, allowing our children a moment of critical honest sobering self-reflection might be the first step to help them become everything we know they are capable of being. Self-critique cannot only help sober an addict but it can be the starting point for a child’s greatness.
3. Life Is Redemption – Don’t forget to inform your child that even at our worse, there is something redeemable about nearly everyone. Unfortunately, this truth is not shared with children. Subsequently, too many children give up on goals or worse they give up on life – as parent’s intentionally or unintentionally leave children feeling or allow children to believe themselves totally diminished.
Instead, of diminishing and devaluing children let’s remind them that they like life are amazing! Tell them that part of what makes life so amazing is that life itself is about redemption – second chances. Life is about picking oneself up from the mat, going to the corner and getting prepared to fight again. Never ever let a child believe that one failure, setback or disappointment defines who they are. There is no sweeter or better story to hear or tell than the one of redemption.
Okay, that’s it for now. The aforementioned are a few of the things I will be working on to make sure that in all ways my son is not the chip off the old block. If you have some additional suggestions, I would love to hear them.
Go ahead, give me some suggestions I want them I really do. I told you that I was flawed which means I can use all the help I can get.
What are some of the flaws you don’t want to pass on to your child? What steps have you taken to avoid infecting your child with your flaws?