As-Dad-Sees-It-WenzlerOne summer when my wife was pregnant with our first child we went to Summerfest. We were walking when we were almost rolled over by a “gaggle” of teenage girls. They were underdressed in their best Fest outfits that could escape their parents’ discerning radar. They were gossiping happily and loudly, unaware of a seven month pregnant woman.

My wife watched them while unconsciously rubbing her belly that housed our daughter. She turned to me and said, “How about I take the first decade and you take the second” referring to which parent would get the awkward, high-energy adolescent years.

I laughed and quickly agreed, first because I was a bit nervous of the unknown early childhood years, and second because I had quite a bit of experience working professionally with teens. Of course, very quickly I realized it would require a team effort. Soon two on one defense (one child), to borrow a sports strategy, went to man-to-man defense (two children), and then on to using a zone defense (three children).

The deeper we get into parenting, the more essential it seems to model better behavior. In fact, as I compare and contrast teens that I work with in my business and the habits, attitudes and behaviors of my own young children (and their friends), I realize that kids become products of their environment. More specifically, they imitate their environment.

My 5-year-old son jumps on the couch. Two minutes later, my 4-year-old son jumps on the couch. In comparison, a new song comes out on iTunes, one teen downloads it and their friends download it. Doesn’t a baby imitate their first smile from their parent? By human nature we model behavior.

How, then, can we positively influence our children to have strong character and model the best that we have to offer? God only knows that we all have poor habits that we would prefer not to be our legacy we leave behind. How can we instead pass along a lifetime of smiles?

“As this dad sees it,” gratitude and reverence are fundamental keys to a parent passing along the ability for their child to have a joy-filled life.

During this quickly approaching Thanksgiving season, what a great time to inject something more than the turkey. We all have much for which to be grateful. More than 3 billion people on this planet live on less than $2.50 a day, yet the poor I have met many times are rich in their spirit of reverence and abundance of gratitude. How can this be?

Ask anyone who has been on an international mission experience. The faith, hope and gratitude they witness in those living in poverty come from the Christmas promise – that God is with us. It is a humbling experience to witness such strength rising out of material poverty.

“The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life through Grateful Living,” a book by a friend of mine, Jesuit Fr. Charlie Shelton, explores the subject of Gratitude. Fr. Shelton lists the positive effects of gratitude on people who practice it: maturity, inspiration, insight, positive behaviors, positive emotions, connections, greater awareness, appreciation that they have more than enough, and an open mind.

Fr. Shelton notes, “Millions of Americans log on to the Internet and use cell phones daily. Many of us have for screen savers or as pictures on our cell phones images of family, friends, or enjoyable moments we have experienced. Develop a habit several times during any ordinary day, of not only viewing these pictures, but focusing on them. Spend a few moments being grateful for the person or scene depicted on the screen.”

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that gratitude is closely connected to the cardinal virtue of justice, by which we give what is due to others. With the spirit of gratitude we believe, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

The fruits of this are summed up by the English poet, John Milton, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

German philosopher, physician, medical missionary, and Noble Peace Prize laureate, Albert Schweitzer, coined the phrase “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” – German for “Reverence for Life” or more accurately, “to be in awe of the mystery of life.”

What a gift it would be to model to our children this awe, or reverence for life! We need only to dust off the teachings of our ancestors to see that some things last the test of time. Plato said, “Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.”

You never hear of too much respect (reverence) do you? It always seems that the root of conflict is too little respect.

This Thanksgiving season, model your gratefulness every day to your children. If you are not eating together as a family regularly, START! Ask each person at the dinner table for what are they grateful that day.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, English poet and wit of King Charles II’s court so humorously summed up the parenting experience when he said, “Before I got married I had six theories of raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”

(Jeff and Jennifer are running a zone defense with their three wonderfully active children! Jeff is the founder and executive director of Pivotal Directions, a servant-leadership program for youth. Jennifer works for a biotech company that provides Multiple Sclerosis therapies. They are parishioners at Lumen Christi Parish, Mequon.)