I appreciate the latest Progressive Insurance commercials that portray a professional hopelessly attempting to teach a handful of middle-aged clients How To Not Become Your Parents. Here are a few examples.
“Do we really need a live, laugh, and love sign? No, we don’t.”
(At a restaurant) “We don’t need to tell the waitress our name.”
(Outside a grocery store) “We see it, we all see it. Yes, he has blue hair. We don’t have to say anything.”
My parents are not guilty of these particular crimes. But they definitely have their own twists. And I’ve seen plenty of this type of thing over the years in friends, aunts and uncles, and especially in working with 50- and now 60-something clients. I prefer not to use the term “Boomer” because it seems a bit derogatory. I’ve met far too many sharp, selfless people in that age bracket.
I do often notice becoming my dad in certain ways. It seems inevitable. I’ve talked to the TV when watching professional athletes make basic juvenile errors, calling them “clowns” and “teaching” my kids that physical errors will always be part of the game, but mental errors just shouldn’t happen at the professional level. I often catch myself watching the History Channel and reading books with titles like the Original Trails and Roads of the Ohio River Valley. I saw a few of my teenage clients smirk when I told their group, “You’re only running two of these at full speed, so don’t loaf.” There are plenty more quirks that my kids could tell you about.
Mom and dad are mostly healthy, and I usually check the “No family history” box. Somehow, it only recently sank in that both of my grandfathers had been diagnosed with cancer, though cancer itself did not directly cause their demise. This has possibly eluded me because both of their issues were absolutely due to lifestyle factors, whereas mine is not (that I know of).
It was a blessing to spend a fair amount of my childhood with my grandparents. But both granddads smoked for the majority of their lives, drank fairly heavily for a time, and over the years one of them gradually lost control of his body mass. He carried a stressful daily workload all the way to the iconic PPG building always included in pictures of the Pittsburgh skyline. One of my worst childhood memories is my parents yelling his name in a terrified voice that I never heard them use before. He completely lost consciousness, I assume due to some kind of carotid artery issue. For a minute I thought that he died right there at our dining room table.
To say that everyone loved both of my granddads is a huge understatement. And you could say that a traumatic event like that described above is unfortunate in the life of a ~7 year-old. But due to witnessing this and a handful of other experiences such as a lifetime of nonsense yo-yo dieting, nobody has ever had to lecture me on temperance in food and drink. To this day I have not smoked a single thing, sure, by the grace of God. And this undoubtedly saved me some aggravation over the years. But health-wise, it doesn’t seem to have worked out as planned. Life seems to have no such straight laced formulas.
Sometimes when I’m sleepless during the night, I sit on the ottoman leaning forward with my head down, elbows propped on knees. I stare out the window or into the floor, sometimes praying and often just thinking. Where did I see this before? It’s not like some kind of never-invented behavior. But it is the exact posture that my grandfather would assume, sitting at the picnic table on his back patio late at night, staring at nowhere, usually while slowly eating something like pistachios and smoking a cigarette. And there were a few times of witnessing my other grandfather on a bent knee beside his bed. He was alone, silent and still. This was unlike anything I had previously seen; not in the house of worship or on street corners, to be seen by others…
Progressive Insurance is right. Our families obviously influence us for the better and worse, probably far beyond our own comprehension. Science has taught us that it’s not all nature or nurture, but both. And it’s the stories of our family history, our memories, and insight given from above that help us make even a little sense from any of it.