One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is the lifelong love of learning. This insatiable curiosity will take them much further than any physical ability or appearance. Their knowledge will expand and grow. They will ask better questions and think more deeply. They will be more open to the experiences of others and will cherish true diversity. They will develop empathy; a trait often overlooked and devalued in our world.
My parents gave me such a gift. From my mother, I received a love of reading. If I didn’t know something, I was encouraged to research and discover the answer for myself. If I needed to escape, a book provided a retreat. If I needed expression and anchor points for an imagination bigger than what I perceived, I was encouraged to find people I could relate to in pages of books we owned or checked out from the library.
From my father, I was tasked with learning about the outside world. Having served in the Vietnam War, my dad was a kid from the impossibly small town of Manitou, Oklahoma. Joining the Navy afforded him an opportunity to see ports of call in countries throughout the Pacific. In distant lands, he experienced cultures, customs, and people foreign to those of his home town. This experience would shape and mold him into the man he is today. Debates with my dad at the kitchen table are fun because there has always been a push to understand the bigger picture.
With these gifts, I’ve set out in the world wanting to know everything I possibly can. Knowing that I cannot learn it all in this lifetime only motivates me more. Coupled with my parents’ encouragement that I could be anything I set my mind to, I find myself on a path chasing curiosities. First, this meant I wanted to be a scientist, then a biologist, then a meteorologist, then a stage actor, then a broadcaster, and now a nonprofit chief executive officer. From the sciences to the arts and now the independent sector, my life has always been a journey about learning and doing more. I’ve settled on the nonprofit sector now because I am fascinated by people and the challenges facing the human condition. The answers to homelessness, mental health care, substance use, etc. are out there. Solving these complex problems takes someone with a curious mind and a willingness to ask tough questions. I, among others, want to be the person asking these questions.
Yet, this love of learning isn’t just professional. My personal life is filled with one-on-one interactions meant to accomplish nothing more than learning from someone I find fascinating, Travel takes me to new places. Landscapes, city centers, museums, food, and culture all provide new chances to learn. Out on a hiking trail, walking down a city sidewalk, alone on the open road, or intently staring at a beautiful piece of art in a new place fill me up and successfully connect me to the bigger world.
I am who I am today, because of a lifelong love of learning. It has shaped and evolved me overtime. It has forced me to ask tough questions about political affiliations, sexual identity, and religion. The answers I found in these questions have not always been easy. Some were downright scary and intimidating, but by independently thinking through each one I was able to shape a life of my choosing. Still, I am settled on none of these answers. Life is too fluid and the world too expansive for these debates to be settled. Instead, the search continues.
I thank my parents for these gifts. They have positively shaped my life for the better. I cannot imagine a life where satisfaction reigns supreme. I cannot vividly picture a world where the goal is to be comfortable. I don’t know where inner-peace about the world lies, but I know I never want to achieve it. Some may look on this statement as frustrating, but I see just the opposite. I see a chance to explore. I see a chance to find my place in the world. I can grasp at the unachievable idea of perfection and relish in the pursuit.
My life would be so void and empty without these things. I would be a shell of the man you know today. Hell, this very website wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t interested in learning everything I can from books, movies, poetry, quotes, photography, food, and more.
So, if you are a new parent standing over the crib of a newborn child, I can only imagine the anxiety you are feeling about the life and world you want to give your kid. The anticipation of what lies ahead for your little one must be bewildering. As a man in a relationship without any kids and if I can be so brash to offer some advice, I would say let your kids see you learning. Let them see your nose in a book. Let them see you writing and expressing yourself. Let them see your imagination at work and in play. Invite them into your world. Let them ask questions. Never ever stifle their curiosity. Water it with whatever you have. If what you have isn’t enough, seek resources to fill the gap. Have them fail and learn. Praise them, but always encourage them to be better in every pursuit.
As one of your fellow inhabitants on this tiny blue marble floating through space, I thank you for the effort. Your work will produce better leaders, community members, and human beings. I don’t think it is a stretch to say the world will be a better place for your investment. I know my world is and if it isn’t, I will learn my way into a better one. For that, all I can do is thank my mom and dad for the greatest gift they could ever give a kid from a tiny town in Southwest Oklahoma.
Be good to each other,
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