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Teach Your Children Well

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Courtesy Tom Allen
Courtesy Tom Allen

Odds are that if you are reading Huff Post/50 you are probably the parent of post pubescent children. Me, too. This changes what it means to be a parent. It's not that we've been put out to Parents' Pasture, but we certainly cannot (nor should we desire to) coerce, bribe, guilt trip, or manipulate our children to be anything they are not already. It will not work. Did it ever?

Yes, I love my amazing adult children as much as ever. I desire stable, fulfilling, significant lives for my three sons who are now in their 20s, just as I desire my life to be significant to them. But it would be humiliating, destructive, and totally ineffective if I were to foolishly attempt to direct with a stiff pointer finger, "Son: Get in here NOW and listen to me well! I'm gonna teach you a thing or two!" (Did that ever work after age five?)

So what cards do we continue to hold as parents? We still hold the wild card that trumps all else: The one that we should have been playing all along, but perhaps held too closely.

We can no longer guide our children by dictatorial or condescending lectures. They are not listening, but they are watching, and thus, like it or not, we must come to grip with the inescapable fact that the way we live our own life is the only appropriate influence we have on our children's lives. No lectures; no discussion; just do it. Just be it.

I have more recently discovered on a much deeper level that this is not really about our children; rather it is about us. Once my sons were grown and off on their own, I had to decide how and where I was going to live. Would I continue to practice law in California until it was "Game over" and lights out? Confident that distance did not mean disconnection, I knew that we could be even closer by allowing each other to be independent and self-actualizing, and I set out on a journey that uprooted me, took me halfway around the world, and plunked me down in the heart of Africa.

I have put down roots in what I consider to be the most beautiful spot on this planet, on a bluff overlooking a lake, surrounded by a village full of inquisitive, adorable children and helpful and welcoming neighbors. As we (and I mean that literally) work on the house together, I am getting a whole new appreciation for "Mi casa es su casa" -- a phrase I cannot, unfortunately, translate into Kinyarwanda, but the meaning is clear to them and to me: my house will indeed be theirs.

This is where I choose to be at halftime (perhaps the fourth quarter or even the final minutes). The buzzer (or the trumpet) has not yet sounded. I do not want to drift into the regrets thing. It's far more important to ponder our life's significance and opportunities to be still more significant, and to be energized by the encouraging words, no matter how clichéd, that "this is the first day of the rest of your life."

What do I really want to do with my time that remains? Climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Perhaps. Spend 10 days at Hotel Bora Bora in Tahiti? Perhaps. Whack, hook, cut, slice, top a little white (or pink) golf ball every day? Perhaps, but probably not. I struggle with these questions myself, so I would never presume to have an answer for anybody else. Your answer may take you up mountains, down rivers, onto golf courses, or into your own backyard. "Where" is not as important as "How" -- with purpose and passion.

Currently, I am privileged to live an emotionally rich and gratifying life in Rwanda, where life's questions are frequent topic of discussion and introspection for my many visitors and me. Of this I am now convinced: Whatever the answer may be for you or for me, it no doubt involves personal service and the great joy of giving yourself away to others -- losing yourself to find yourself and your purpose.

So, ironically, what started out as a very natural desire to teach our children well and be significant in their lives actually becomes self-realization on a personal journey toward meaning and significance. And that is what our children wish and expect of us.

(Check out the slideshow below for Tom Allen's images of Rwanda.)

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