(Parenting . . . )
My paternal grandfather wanted my father to follow in his professional footsteps as an engineer and a scientist, and in a running battle between them, he put various kinds of pressure on my dad to bring this about, with partial success. As a result, when I was growing up, my father always made clear to me that I was my own person, and he never pressured me in any way to be like him. He wanted me to be free to forge my own future, to draw my own unique destiny from the future’s edge. To the best of my ability, I have continued this position with my own sons and daughters.
Yet it is in the nature of the past to wish to conserve and replicate itself, and it is in the nature of fathers and mothers to see in their children, if only occasionally, a continuation of their own visions, dreams and identities. My oldest son, John-Michael, has said for many years that he wishes to become a commercial airline pilot. Recently on his sixteenth birthday, on his own initiative he gave a small talk and created a ritual of thanksgiving for a small gathering of those people who have been most important in his life. It was a powerful and moving occasion for all of us, and he handled it with poise and grace. When it was over and the guests had left, he said to me, “Dad, I really enjoyed that! Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a spiritual teacher like you!”
I have to admit, my heart swelled in that moment, and if his soul’s intent is to follow a calling like my own, I will be very happy. But my heart will swell just as happily if he finds joy in being a pilot or in being a professional dancer or in become a conflict mediator, all fields for which he has talent, skills, and interest. Whatever gifts he and his brother and sisters have brought into life, they are different from my own and from their mother’s, and it will be the expression and fulfillment of that difference that will bless the future, not simply trying to replicate what we have already done.
Attuning to and supporting the deep, unfolding passions in our children’s lives—the underlying seeds of identity and purpose that gestate in the ground of their being—is an important and challenging part of a parent’s role. But doing it requires more than just being open to a child following a different career. Being at the future’s edge is a true dance that takes us back and forth between tradition and change, boundaries and permissiveness, structure and openness. The future does not divorce itself from the past; it continually fulfills it even as it extends and possibly transforms it. The future is not newness for its own sake but an enlarging and unfolding continuity.
So a parent must enable a child to discover a dynamic balance and interaction between being and becoming, between the familiar and the novel, between yesterday and tomorrow, between holding and letting go. Parenting at the future’s edge is not only being open to the child’s unique destiny but teaching the child how to dance at that edge as well.
This means giving the child tools for self-knowledge, tools for appreciating what is and how to honor and maintain it, tools of imagination and vision to see what could be, and tools of courage and skill to be able to respond to the call of that which is not yet but which could be or should be in spite of the inertia of the past.
And this, in turn, means honoring and expressing our own capabilities for transformation and growth. We teach by the example of our own dynamic relationship to an unfolding future, as well as by the skills, lessons, and tools we pass on.
We cannot escape the future. Both as people and as parents, we encounter it everyday. But we can, like mystics, welcome it as an expression of the growth of life in which we can participate and from which we can benefit. And as parents with our children we have a special opportunity to do so. The future’s edge is present for us all, but for parents it weaves through all we do and gives our tasks a special promise.
David Spangler is a philosopher, writer and educator whose work deals with the development and integration of spiritual awareness within the context of ordinary, everyday life. From 1970 to 1973, he served as a Co-Director of the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland. His most recent books are “Everyday Miracles,” “A Pilgrim In Aquarius,” “The Call,” and “Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent.” David will teach the “Parenting At The Future’s Edge” workshop at Breitenbush Hot Springs, July 22-25. For info, call 1-503-854-3314. David lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, Julie, their four children, and a rabbit.