This next chapter I'm writing how I want our children to see life. And in short, I want them to see it with an abundance of gratitude. As much as I believe most people understand how difficult forgiveness can be, I believe they oversimplify the practice of gratitude. Like forgiveness, gratitude requires us to move our focus from self to others, which goes against our human nature. Whereas forgiveness challenges us to move beyond the idea that we've been crippled by the actions of others, gratitude asks us to constantly and thoroughly consider where others have helped lift us to a better place.
I have to confess, although I now consider gratitude to be one of my core values, it was a late arrival. Very late.
At 42 years old, I became a father for the first time when my wife gave birth to our son Elliott. In the words of the doctor who delivered him - he was born with little more than a heartbeat. Through that doctor's heroic efforts, though, and those who worked along side him that day, and additionally those who cared for Elliott in the weeks to come, our son survived his challenging introduction to the world and today is a healthy 7 year old boy.
After we brought Elliott home from the hospital, I would spend hours holding him, stealing opportunities to stare into the eyes of a miracle. Our miracle. As I did, my emotions would sweep me away, most of them lined with gratitude. It was impossible to hold him without at some point realizing that without the care others had poured into him, as if he were their own child, we wouldn't have him. That realization still overwhelms me at times today when I watch him run with a ball or sit at the table doing his homework.
The more I began to consider - with a sense of gratitude - all those folks had done to make sure I could experience the joys of fatherhood, the more the eyes of gratitude began to look deeper into my past. I was suddenly understanding with greater clarity than ever how much my family, friends, teachers, pastors, coaches - even the hardships I'd faced in my life - had contributed to building a father who could love a child like I loved the one nestled in my lap.
For the first time in my life, I was taking inventory of all that had been invested in me: time, money, wisdom, and love. In doing so, I discovered the life-changing power of gratitude. I've come to believe there's an evil motion to life that, left unhampered, will eventually drag all human focus inward - toward self-obsession. It's the current in life committed to washing away all human connectivity, the fertile soil of love and mutual respect. If it weren't for gratitude, I believe, that side of life would have triumphed long ago.
You see, when I made the decision to practice gratitude in my life, I started calculating my self-worth a bit differently. Instead of simply summing the value of my possessions, I began to look closer at the portfolio of investments others had made in me. I began to account for and appreciate one act of love after another poured into my life: a teacher's lesson, a coach's encouragement, a grandfather's advice, a parent's sacrifice, a friend's unconditional acceptance. In doing so, my bank statements and financial investments began to lose their value quicker than stocks in a recession.
And that's when the real magic began. Examining the value of the moments others had invested in me, one after another once meaningless crossroads were transformed into the foundations for who I am today. Those transformations brought gratitude to life in me. The world became much more caring and giving than I had ever imagined. Moreover, it made me look at my contributions to the world. Life can convince us it needs more than we can offer, that our greatest chance of making a difference is looking out for ourselves. But when I looked at the value of my life through gratitude, I realized I was the image of a collection of interactions with people who were, at least in some small way, looking out for others. So many people had the value of their lives invested in the value of mine. Connectivity had won out.
Looking into the eyes of that baby boy, having my heart filled with gratitude, I realized I'd been looking at the world all wrong. That's when I committed to seeing the world differently. I'm proud to say most days I honor that commitment. Experiencing what that has done for me personally, and how it has affected those around me, has put gratitude alongside forgiveness as the two core values I want to instill in our boys. Again, our human nature is self-centered, so I don't imagine those values to be easy to pass on; my parents stressed grateful living and I didn't fully get it until 40 years later. But in the next two parts of this chapter, I'm going to discuss two key elements of gratitude that I think dads have the power to train our children to adopt.
I hope you'll come back and read my continued thoughts on raising children who'll live lives of gratitude.