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The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child (or anyone)

By Joseph Cherian


It’s something that goes far beyond quality time, quality education or character development. Probably you are already giving it without realizing it.

Perhaps you have already made your own confident assertion about it. But like many young and educated parents, if you said ‘quality time’ with your kids, you have named only one vital component, and not the whole element of the greatest gift you can give your child.
For 25 years, until my own children outgrew their father’s quality time around them, I too assumed that paternal closeness was indeed the greatest gift I could bestow upon them, apart from unconditional love, which I am not discussing here at all, and which I do not deem as a gift to be discovered and given; it is obvious that we parents do not have to strive to have such love for our offspring - it’s an instinctive thing. As for values and character development, these are naturally imbibed from the parents when the greatest gift is given to the children. What has to be learned from the experiences of wizened and oftentimes remorseful older folks, however, is something that young parents do have to discover, for it rarely comes through their own enlightenment until it’s too late and the nest is already empty.
It is my earnest hope that you as a young parent still have your kids whizzing past you, squeaking in delight on imaginary chases and bringing the usual disquietude to your newspaper reading or to some other area of your tranquility. Perhaps you are on an earnest quest to find the elusive golden keys to bringing up your kids with a trifle less commotion, safely, wisely and above all, successfully - which is probably why you are reading this article. I seldom see a 70 year old father reading a magazine on parenting or a grandma earnestly referring Dr. Spock’s revered advice.

A Gift for Timothy

16 year old Timothy was one of the many undernourished children that the love union of his parents inadvertently brought forth into an underdeveloped world. Laborers by profession, Timothy’s parents’ greatest goal on waking up each morning was to be able to feed their eight children at least two meals that day. The struggle for daily sustenance was eased a bit when Timothy was old enough to help his parents in their quarrying work.
Quarrying, if you know how it’s done in some developing countries, is more than just pickaxing away chunks off the solid rock face. It literally involves a dynamite of a risk. A hole about a foot deep is made on the rock face, raw gunpowder is poured into it, and one end of a gunpowder-laced cord inserted into the hole. The other end, a couple of meters away, is set sparkling with the glowing end of a beedi (the local cigarillo), upon which act the igniter shouts in the native language, ‘explosiooonnnn’, raising and extending his pitch on the final syllable. Anyone thereabouts then has around seven to ten seconds to duck for cover against the meteorlike shower of huge boulders descending on the rock face. Timothy wasn’t nimble enough on one of those occasions.
As he lay in the government hospital, one arm almost severed and hanging on a tendon and his body a bloody mess of flesh, his father and mother rushed to his bedside. As narrated to me by a witness, there wasn’t the usual laborers’ wail of distress from the parents on their sighting their crumbled up child. Instead, the father quietly took hold of his son’s hand of the remaining arm, while the mother seated herself at the foot of the bed, and began to gently stroke her son’s feet. This they continued to do until, after the usual long delay of public servants in such places, a surgeon was finally available to amputate the boy’s arm.
As he was trolleyed into the operation theatre, the father kept holding his son’s hand, all the while showering him with that reassuring look he had been silently effusing since he arrived at his son’s bedside. After the operation, and through the days of recuperation, the father’s and the mother’s mode of reaction to their son’s tragedy remained unchanged and unabated. The father held his son’s hand as often as he could, and the mother kept stroking her child’s feet until the day they were able to limp him back home.

I have gone to some descriptive length in narrating this incident, but have done so with the intention of conveying an experience for which I still couldn’t figure a one-word expression. The Greek language, it seems, has a word that comes close to it. It’s usually spelt in English agape, pronounced ‘agaapay’. Where it appears in ancient Greek manuscripts, the English translators, for want of a better expression, settled for the incomplete sense in the word ‘charity’. Some translators have used the English word ‘love’ for it, while acknowledging that it doesn’t convey the full intent of the Greek terminology.
The greatest gift you can give your child, after your unconditional love, is the abiding assurance deep within your child’s heart of your faithfulness and unfailing presence at absolutely any situation in which your child might find himself. The nearest I could manage to label this gift is the compounded term ‘I-not-only-love-you-forever-but-I-am-there-always-for-you-where-you-need-me-and-when-you-need-me---over-and-beyond-any-other-need-or-desire-in-my-life’.
Perhaps the shorter phrase ‘continuous lifelong bonding’ might suffice for the present purpose. It’s a bonding that never loses a shade of its warmth when a child is weaned off its mother’s breast milk. It’s a bonding that never loses its intimacy when a child grows too big to be kissed in front of his friends. And this bonding of his parents with him, which the child instinctively feels, abides constant without a trace of diminution whether he is rebellious or his behavior repugnant.
This was the gift that Timothy knew his parents had been lavishing on him all along. Timothy’s parents never had read a book on child rearing. Yet they were gifted with the most important truth in child rearing, something which eludes the expressive capability of many a PhD in child psychology. This is a gift most parents naturally have, but the tragedy is that their children don’t always discern it, because the parents do not realize they aren’t expressing it. On the contrary, their children almost always discern the very opposite expression in the parents - a basic cause for the growing number of runaway teenagers each year in the materially developed, but emotionally deprived, regions. It’s a basic cause for the growing number of children turning to drugs for a substitute assurance or for a temporary obliteration of the gnawing awareness within them of being deprived of their greatest need.
As modern civilization keeps moving forward to its unknown destination at a human relations warping pace, and as men and women get caught in the vortex of career advancement or job survival, the biggest sacrifice that parents make on the altar of family sustenance is their continuous bonding with their children. And being subconsciously aware of something amiss in their relationship with their offspring, they come up with measured amounts of ‘quality time’ at predetermined hours of the day, or they seek to compensate for the shortage of this greatest of gifts with excessive demonstrations of affection and profuse verbal assurances. But effusions of love can never be a substitute for continuous bonding.
In my many years as a teacher, I observed children as young as three and a half years old being virtually abandoned by their parents to the care of strangers in boarding schools in their native country, while they returned to the Gulf or to the US so they could better lay up provisions for the future of these very children they left behind. Today, I see or hear of many of these same children, now grown up and parents themselves. The lack of bonding did cause severe psychological disorders in a very few of these former inmates of boarding homes. But the vast majority did not turn out to be violence-prone adults or introverts or social misfits. On the contrary they proved to be reliable, hardy and successful citizens. But one ingredient was discerned to be missing. Their concept of parenting, their attitude towards their now old parents, their attitude towards their spouses, and to people in general, lacked a certain dimension and depth of bonding that was, on the other hand, easily found amongst adults that had a history of unbroken bonding with their parents.
Bonding is impossible without the actual presence of the parents. But it is not the kind of presence so demanded by quality time advocates. A parent can spend all the quality time with his or her child and still find ten or fifteen years later that they have lost forever something of incalculable preciousness in the hearts of their little loved ones. The ‘I-am-there-always-for-you-no-matter-what’ is a gift given through the spontaneous vibes of the heart more than through the deliberate tender touches of affection.

This greatest of all gifts that parents can give their child is a treasure that passes on from generation to generation. The inadequately bonded child, for all the emotional lavishness and time bestowed upon him by his concerned parents, is not likely to bond with his own offspring, and thus passes on a legacy of tragic family relations.
The greatest of gifts that parents can give their child is also the greatest gift that a husband can render his wife, and that which shoots a wave of thrill down the spine of a woman when she is with her man. It is also the gift which binds two young children with a friendship that remains intact as ever even after a separation of decades.

As I write this, I remember that I promised my old chum I will be meeting him two days from now in his hometown about 100 kilometers from my place. It was only a few days ago that I heard his voice on the phone, after having lost track of him for thirty seven years. The last time I saw him was when we were both discovering, somewhat mischievously, the magic of the first year of our teen lives…and I just can’t wait to see how he looks now and to give him a bear hug…
[Copyright 2005: Joseph Cherian]

About the author:
Joseph Cherian is a marriage and family counselor. He also serves as the chief editorial advisor to Emirates Parent magazine. He may be contacted for free counseling at josephcherian@hotmail.com More of his messages can be accessed at www.comingworldevents.net

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