Raising Kids with Character

A few months ago a new employee joined my team at work.  Fresh out of college, he stood out.  He didn’t stand out because of his physical stature, in fact he is quite slight.  He didn’t stand out because of his intelligence, although he is clearly bright.  He stood out because of his character – to everyone, not just me, across a diverse team.  There was nothing that he went out his way to do to demonstrate his character, beyond a general humility, politeness and willingness to work hard.  Whatever the combination of behaviors, character radiates from this person.  Call it an aura.  Today I found out why, at his father’s memorial service.

Other than knowing he had been battling cancer for years, I knew nothing about the man.  I barely know his son.  Yet the hour I spent at this memorial service left me feeling both inspired and burdened.  Inspired to be a better person and father, burdened at the prospect of what that likely entails if I want a similar outcome for my children.

As parents, could there be a better compliment than for someone to tell you that the child you raised is a “person of character”?

Speakers at the service included friends, coworkers and family.  They told a variety of stories, all of which pointed to three factors that made this person who he was in life, and in turn who his son has turned out to be.

Faith.  This man had a strong value system that guided everything he did, which was shaped by his faith.  His faith was not dogmatic, however it was consistent and he worked at it constantly.  He didn’t have to talk about his faith, although he may have, yet he clearly demonstrated it through his actions.  Everyone noticed.

The Challenge:  Find a faith that aligns with your value system, or align your value system with your faith.  Live those values every day, in every situation.

Work.  While his work had a service element to it, the impact he had was more about how he helped and engaged the people with whom he worked.  He sought out ways to assist when he wasn’t asked, was a trusted confidant, mentor and he made other people successful without seeking the credit.  He was considered an expert in his field, yet his other traits received far more mention.

The Challenge:  Make work less about what you accomplish, and more about how you accomplish.

Family.  The father to three children and a devoted husband for 30 years, this man always put his family first.  He sought out joy and fulfillment through them.  His role as a father supplanted everything else.  One of the speakers shared that his wife only learned of his love for golf after their children were much older.  Who amongst us is that selfless with our time, even for our children?

The Challenge:  Seriously consider the balance of time spent away from family, and whether that trade off is worthwhile.

There was a reception held after the service.  I could find nothing else to say to my coworker other than, “I now know why you are who you are.”  To which he responded without missing a beat, “My dad is only half the story.  You need to meet my mom.”  Touché.

Are there ways, other than the approach taken by this man and his wife, to raise children with character?  Of course there are.  That said, I bet if you peel away a layer or two of any equally successful parenting approach, anywhere in the world, you’ll find similar themes.

I’m into simple.  I plan to think more about how to apply the three principles of faith, work and family, as outlined above, to how I parent.  Will it be easy?  No, I have work to do in each area.  Is it worth the effort?  As parents, could there be a better compliment than for someone to tell you that the child you raised is a “person of character”?  I struggle to think of one.