Saturday, June 27, 2009

Intergenerational Wisdom

As my sons become adults, I still can’t help offering advice to them, invited or not. I sidle up to them and thrust it out like a slightly wilted bouquet, the remnant of a relationship that has changed forever.
Some of it is well-received, other suggestions are dropped into the dustbin without a second glance.
My older son tends to prickle when I offer up my wisdom. Somehow, it clamors in his ears like criticism. I don’t mean it to be.
My younger son receives advice graciously. Doesn’t mean he’s going to use it, but he smiles and nods as if he’s filing it away.
Recently, he began an internship at his dream employer, a video game design firm. “Do you have the right clothes?” I asked him. “Do we need to go shopping? You want to make a good impression.”
“It’s casual dress,” he said. “That’s what they said.”
“Don’t go in there in shorts and flip-flops on your first day,” I said. “Wear khakis and a collared shirt until you see what everybody else is wearing.”
He rolled his eyes but left the flip-flops at home. That first night, I called him to see how it went. “What were they wearing?” I asked.
“Normal clothes, Mom,” he said patiently.
“What do you mean by normal?” I asked.
“Shorts and flip-flops.”
My sons will likely never wear collared shirts. And maybe that’s fine.
I remember the summer I was married. I’d been living in an apartment with my sister for a year, but moved home with my parents just prior to the ceremony. There I was, lodged in my old room for a month, living out of a suitcase.
I think my father saw it as his last opportunity to prune and shape me in the direction he wanted me to grow. I remember him framed in the doorway of my room , telling me to clean it up.
“You’d better not keep house like this once you’re married,” he warned, shaking his finger at me. “Your husband won’t put up with it.”
This advice was not well received. It was out of date. It did not reflect what I saw as my new peer relationship with my father. It had nothing to do with how my soon-to-be husband and I planned to live our lives.
Looking back, I think it was offered out of love, and his own experience, and the pain of separation. It was all he knew how to give me at the time.

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