A work associate of mine lost his mother to an age-related illness last week and the obituary was unlike any I’ve seen before. It was more like a written eulogy. Each of her three children (now adults) contributed their memories about her and each of them noted how vital she had been up to the day she died, all of them noting that it was 90 years of a very rich, full life with not a moment wasted. The children have all done well for themselves; one is a lawyer, one is a doctor and one is a successful businessperson. After reading the obit you could tell each child attributed some of that personal success to the gentle nudging and maintenance that came from mom.

I was struck by it because I find it funny sometimes how we all try to act so mature and strong but it still seems we are all performing for mom’s approval and the satisfaction of seeing her nod and smile. It means a lot to everyone, and clearly you could read in these words how much it meant for them to know mom was in their corner.

I sat down with this guy at lunch a few days later and I was not really surprised to hear some of the common habits his mother had akin to mine. We laughed out loud at the fact that we had both been Captain of the Safety Patrol in 6th grade. Neither of us knew why we had run for such a position but we both recall it was a position of some respect and separation from the rest of the herd and that made mom proud. Our moms had both encouraged our “candidacy.”  We agreed that it certainly enforced the notion that young people are indeed groomed to be the way they are from a very young age. I know it's been debated for years as far as the nature vs. nurture theories run but I simply believe that as the tree is bent, so shall it grow.

I recall this girl that I knew in high school. She was a pep club member and a cheerleader and very popular gal. She wasn’t the stereotypical conceited type usually affiliated with the popular kids though and I was always curious why she was so much more approachable than the other girls in that group. Then one night after a high school basketball game, I was walking home in a steady rain and I felt the shadow of a car pull up beside me. It was her and her parents were driving her and a few friends home. She asked if I needed a ride and I accepted it. Inside the car, her parents were warm and friendly. They asked about my parents and things happening at the school that I was involved in. Clearly her manner and disposition was a direct reflection of these awesome parents. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I stored away the thought that I hoped my marital life one day looked like that; two simply nice people behaving naturally and you could see they had total respect and love for one another. Funny when I ran into this gal at our 30th high school reunion she was still the same sweet, caring person she always was. I met her husband and he was so like her father it was scary. He was a strong, confident guy with a gentle way and a listening ear. You could just tell he’d been filtered through the sieve of “balance” she’d been raised with. I can’t imagine her mom had to “tell” her about the way to find a good life mate, rather she lived a certain way that this girl watched her whole life.  Copying her mom’s style was just a matter of keeping to the good habits her parents exemplified every single day.

To the same end, I recall my son being involved in a “bullying incident” when he was in fifth grade. When I requested a meeting at the school with the other family, I was not surprised when I came face to face with the bully’s parents. I did my best not to judge by the tattooed tears on his cheek or the unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth but when he began the session by cursing at the vice-principal it didn’t take me real long to conclude where the young son had developed his rebellious habits. Sadly, that boy has been in and out of the juvenile correction home up to and including today; their senior year of high school. You know you can only get “so” mad at the kid in situations like this. At the ripe old age of 16, he’s probably seen things I have never seen myself at 54.

So my point is herein quite simple but three-fold. Simply:

  1. You are a composite of all of the influences and models that were along for the ride of your life from the very beginning of it.
  2. You are also a model for your kids and other people's kids who may observe you going about your daily business. Whether you are a teacher, doctor, grocery clerk, or toll taker, you have direct impact on other people and younger (especially little) people are watching and forming their own patterns based on people like you.
  3. So then the last point, which may be the biggest is: YOU have control over all of this. How you act, what you show the person you strut out there for everyone else to see can only be controlled and tempered by you.

Are you easily prodded into road rage? Are you patient with bank tellers and store clerks when there is a problem that really is not their fault? Do you applaud your children’s accomplishments no matter how minute? Do you take a breath and find patience with the elderly that might not catch onto things as quickly? Do your co-workers confide in you and exhibit habits that indicate they trust you and your judgment or do they avoid you at all costs?  Have you become a person that the young version of you would have respected and looked up to? 

So let me ask you--would your mother be proud?

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a BS in Business from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace University and has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990.