Lessons

I wasn't there, but it is my understanding that Paul Simon performed in front of about half a million people in Central Park not so many years ago. I also wasn't invited to any of the recording sessions for "The Sounds of Silence" or "Still Crazy after All these Years," but it is well accepted that Paul Simon played guitar on those songs. He has had many number one hits over the years. My most powerful Paul Simon moment was the opening of Saturday Night Live in 2001. Eighteen days after the terrorist attack on the world trade center, SNL communicated to the world in no uncertain terms that our country may have taken a blow to the body, but we were not on the canvas. New York City and the United States would come back after the murder of three thousand of our citizens. We would not cower. We were bloodied but unbowed. To emphasize this message, SNL put Paul Simon on stage. He stood there--all 5' 3" of him--and played "The Boxer."
"I am just a poor boy, though my story seldom told. I have squandered my resistance, for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises." Paul Simon's song is said to be about civil disobedience and standing strong. What better statement as we memorialized our fallen heroes? First responders and fire fighters leapt up flaming stairways. "When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy..." Brilliant. Iconic. Magical. Indeed, if you only had time to either read this column or watch the video of Lorne Michael, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Simon, and a few dozen fire fighters, I know what I would recommend.
But I'm not writing today about 911 or fallen comrades or even prescient songwriting. This Tuesday, I want to address practice. At the risk of hyperbolic understatement, can we agree that Paul Simon is a competent guitar player and composer? From "I am a Rock" in 1965 to "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" in 1972, Paul Simon has played guitar in the studio, on tour around the world, in front of hundreds of thousands of people. Paul Simon has played guitar with James Taylor. Paul Simon has played guitar with Paul McCartney. Paul Simon has sold uncounted millions of albums over half a century.
Yet Paul Simon takes guitar lessons.
Paul Simon takes guitar lessons every Saturday. It is hard for me to imagine what more Paul Simon needs to know about the guitar. He seems proficient to me. I suspect that the folks who bought "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" in 1973 or "Graceland" in 1986 would agree that Paul Simon plays guitar well enough for any normal purpose.
Yet he endeavors to improve.
What is it in your life that is so staggeringly important that you would want to improve even after you had attained a significant level of expertise? What is critical to your legacy? What is--in short--arguably the most important relationship you have?

If you said, "my connection with my kids," I could not agree more.

And if you're reading these columns, I bet your attunement with your kids is first rate. You work on the proper work/life balance so that you can hang with your children. You play games or go hiking or have season tickets to a local sports team. (If you can't afford NFL tickets, the local college will welcome you to their baseball games for a tenth the price.) You make it a point to lecture your kids less than you would like and to listen as much as you can. You do the hard work-getting up in the middle of the night, coaching sports, family vacations. ("No, we are NOT there yet!)
What can you do to improve? I dunno. Who said I understand all there is to know about how to raise healthy kids? I've written 387 columns on parenting? Good for me. When I know all there is to know on the subject, I'll be crowned emperor. In the meantime, I might be so presumptuous as to suggest that you give the subject some thought. Don't ask, "How can I get my kids to be more compliant?" Instead consider, "How can I be a better parent?"
I'm not talking about giving kids everything they want. Ice cream for breakfast, no bedtime, and a pony on the ninth floor of your condo are all unsustainable. "No" is a powerful concept and helping kids to understand that you are not supplying all their wants is part of being a good parent. But needs are different from wants and we have to meet every one of our children's needs. Infinite nurture, understanding, and support come under the "needs" category. If I were so presumptuous as to give advice, I might suggest that you even ask your adolescent children how you can do a better job as a parent. Involving them in the process is great and you might be surprised to hear that you are already performing at the A-/B+ level.
And speaking of performing, if Paul Simon is taking guitar lessons, surely there is something you and I can be doing to improve our most important craft. Here is a lesser known lyric from "The Boxer." These lines were not on the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album:
Now the years are rollin' by me
They are rockin' easily
I am older than I once was
And younger than I'll be
That's not unusual
No it isn't strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes, we are more or less the same.
Your kids never truly belong to you. You only get to care for them for the briefest of shimmering instants. They will be grown and gone before you can say, "Wanna go toss the football?" Doesn't it make sense for us to be bringing our best game every day?

 

6 thoughts on “Lessons

  1. Sallie Clark

    I almost always read your blogs, I almost always love what you say!! My kids are grown and gone from home, wish you had been around when they were home! but I love your insight and advice, you are almost always ‘on the nose’ with what you say and think..keep it up!!

    Reply
  2. Craig Hiatt

    As already noted I always read your blog, this one struck a chord with me on several levels. I appreciate your way of leading into the important lesson of continuing to learn. There are many things I enjoy doing and many things that at which I am getting better, but it always amazes me what I learn in a lesson. Thanks for your insight and for reminding us to always keep learning

    Reply
  3. Rob Peck

    I left a long post a while back and didn’t note any reply (not that one’s required, just worried I didn’t pass the “captcha code”, and don’t want to spend the time if doesn’t get seen)

    Bottom line, I think you write lucidly, incisively and with values I strongly second- to the point that I forwarded Lessons to over 30 fellow fathers. (and expect no commission!)

    Keep up the GREAT work!

    Reply

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