Standing on the shoulders of giants


The 6-year-old boy looked up with eyes full of admiration at the giant of a man and said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you, Dad.”

The father smiled and lifted his son up. Little arms and legs wrapped around and clung. The two exchanged one of the precious moments in life that words would only cheapen. The father closed his eyes and wished, “No, son, don’t be like me. Be better. Learn from my mistakes.” The son climbed higher and stood on his father’s shoulders to watch the parade.

It has been the same since there have been parents and children. Sons want to follow in their father’s footsteps. Daughters dream about being like their mom. For most children, parents can do no wrong. Their judgments are infallible – always based on truth, fairness and wisdom.

I thought this too when I was small. Then something remarkable happened that changed everything. I grew up and saw my parents for what they really were.

My parents weren’t giants after all. They weren’t always right. And with five children, their judgments weren’t always fair. Looking back, the thread of wisdom that I thought ran through all of their decisions unraveled more often than not. I came to this revelation when I turned 30. They were human, just ordinary people.

It was then that I stopped wanting to be just like my father. I didn’t need to make him proud. No longer did I seek his approval. I needed to find out who I was – find my own way in life. The search for my individuality took several years to complete.

Eventually I realized, the more I tried to be me, the closer I came to him. And I finally understood. I still stood on the shoulders of a giant. He’s a part of me and will be forever.

When a child is born, there are no directions. No playbook. All parents want their children to grow up healthy with a good life. They do the best they can, but being human, they fall short. Their saving grace — their children — don’t see their parents’ infallibility until years later.

At 6 years old, The Boy stood on my shoulders and watched the parade down Main Street. Today is his birthday. He has turned 23 and is four weeks into rookie school. It seems he wants to be a firefighter like his dad.

I take pause and wonder. Does he see me as that giant from long ago or as a person? A person who is full of uncertainty, hesitation, and insecurity just trying to do the best he can?

Some parting advice: if you want to be like your father or mother, that’s your choice. Depending on who your parents are, that could be good or bad. Just remember, as you’re trying to be one of them, the only person that can truly finish you is you. If you don’t do it, then the world is incomplete.

Happy birthday, son.