I just got back from a trip out to Long Beach to attend my daughter's graduation. I've known Maddie since she was 6 years old, so I think of her as my daughter even though I share her wih her real mom. Recently, we were chatting online and she told me that she had decided to become a teacher. I was thrilled, of course, but I knew that the first thing people would tell her was that she'd never make any money being a teacher. She said she'd already heard that.
Now, it's not that I want my step-daughter to become a teacher. I would encourage her to follow her heart's desire even if she wanted to be a juggler in the circus, but it irked me that people were discouraging her. It bothers me that a teacher's value is constantly being assessed in monetary terms rather than in what they contribute to society, but more than that, it bothered me that people whom she trusted would try to dissuade her from following her dream. I know that sometimes we think that we do someone a disservice if we encourage them in pursuing a dream that we feel they can't achieve, or a career that we believe is in some way inappropriate for them. I know I've been guilty of that. I never put money in the tip jars or guitar cases of musicians whose music I don't enjoy, because I don't want to encourage them. And I must confess that when I was younger, I wasn't above heckling them or throwing ice cubes at them from the audience.
Despite good intentions, these little practical messages don't really achieve the desired effect. All they do is dampen the spirits of the person to whom they are being dispensed. After all, how many of us have been told at some point in our lives that our goals were unrealistic or unattainable?
My father and me.
I guess I'm lucky, because when I was growing up my father was constantly reminding me that I could be anything I wanted to be. "You can be the first woman President," he would tell me. My father was not subject to flights of fancy. He knew exactly the kind of world we live in and for him to think that a poor Mexican-American girl from East L.A. could grow up to be President of the U.S. seems ridiculous. Yet he made me believe that he believed it. His affirmations were so strong and so constant that I think they instilled in me an unshakeable sense of self determination. I still feel that I can do whatever I want, if I really want it and work hard enough.
My father left me quite a gift and it's one that I'd like to give to my own kids. Not just my own kids - we all need the same gift. Not everyone is fortunate enough to hear the magical empowering words that I heard as a young girl. Many of us have dreams and aspirations that, to the outside world, may seem foolish, unachievable, or perhaps simply unworthy. We try to ignore the negative comments from concerned friends or family members who feel that they are suggesting better choices for us. To deny that these comments affect us is probably untrue. I never bought into that whole "sticks and stones" theory; words can hurt just as much. I've always tried to stay away from those who say I can't or shouldn't do something that's meaningful for me.
Being able to count on those we trust for unconditional emotional support and encouragement can make the difference between someone giving up their dream without ever attempting to attain it or striving, regardless of the odds or the external pressures that stand in their way. I know I can achieve my goals, I know that my children can achieve their goals and I know that each of us can achieve our goals if we really set our minds to it.
So, thank you for your gift, Dad. Thank you for constantly fanning that little spark inside of me, all those many years ago.