[Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Enter the Forest,” and “How to Survive Anywhere.” A listing of his classes and books is available at www.ChristopherNyerges.com, and from the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]
I think about my parents when the year-end holiday season rolls around, often thinking of the life lessons they attempted to impart to me. Yes, at the time, I resisted most of those efforts, because as a typically ignorant, arrogant, know-it-all teen, it was my “duty” to resist those efforts to “control me.” Only decades later did I begin to realize the value of what they wanted me to comprehend.
Of course, my parents had no desire to “control” me; they wanted me to gain the ability to control myself. And controlling myself meant not so much what I should do, but rather what I should not do.
My father would often tell me to always keep my word. “A man is only as good as his word,” he’d tell me, and my brothers and I would scoff at him. Little did we realize at the time how profound of a practical lesson that was.
My mother took great pains to attempt to instill in us that there are consequences to our actions. Nothing really complicated, no Eastern words like “karma.” Just simple. Be home at this time or get the stick!
We learned the value of money and work. Our family was large with a modest income. If me or any of my brothers asked our parents if we could have something, the response was predictable: “Sure, now go out and earn the money so you can buy it.” We learned that this was the natural order of things. So we all learned creative ways to earn money for what we needed or wanted, or we learned to make the things we wanted, or we simply learned that we could do without. Yes, and we learned to fix things that broke rather than immediately throw the item away, as today’s throw-away society encourages us to do.
We were a family of mostly boys – my one sister left home at the earliest age to attend a live-in nursing school. We learned to cook, wash dishes, vacuum, sew, polish our shoes, mow the lawn, paint the rooms, fixed the screens. We were naturally expected to do these things, as both our parents worked. If we neglected to do a chore, my mother would say, “Do you think I’m your maid?”
It continues to amaze me when I learn about friends whose children not only do no work, but actually refuse to do any housework. One such “child” demands everything of his parents and one parent confided in me that she is afraid of her son. The child – an older teen actually – does no work, uses drugs, and has the audacity to use the “F” word at his parents. Boy, have things changed!
There is absolutely no way I would have ever gotten away with calling either of my parents a name. It would be incomprehensible, because I knew there would be certain punishment and it would never be forgotten.
Once when I stole something from a neighbor, I was marched over to the neighbor to apologize, return the money, and forced to do some tasks for the month. Of course, there was never a second incident of stealing.
My mother’s use of a stick – and other tactics – helped to modify our behavior so that at an early age we no longer even thought about any criminal activities. I was no saint, and am not a saint today. But I realized that – despite tactics that are today frowned upon, my parents’ efforts did eventually have the desired effect. What was that desired effect? The desired effect was that I would not have to suffer all the wasted time and dollars that the criminal life costs, and that I could learn to experience personal fulfillment through self-control.
My mother was also a nurse, so each of us gained a sense of doing what it took to let the body heal itself with certain foods and water and bedrest, and only taking pills and going to the doctor when absolutely necessary.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Now that both my parents have been gone about 10 years, I find that holidays are not the same without them. And when I recall the practical life’s lessons that they worked frustratingly hard to impart into me, I realized today that my parents are very much still with me.