Parenting Perspectives: Straight roads and rearing your children in a foreign landMy son, Will, was probably about 1-and-a-half or 2 years old when I snapped one of my favorite photos of him. There’s a sweet little smile on his face as he stands at the end of a farmstead driveway. The gravel road that runs perpendicular to that path stretches long and straight as an arrow into the distance behind him.
By: J. Shane Mercer, INFORUM
My son, Will, was probably about 1-and-a-half or 2 years old when I snapped one of my favorite photos of him. There’s a sweet little smile on his face as he stands at the end of a farmstead driveway. The gravel road that runs perpendicular to that path stretches long and straight as an arrow into the distance behind him.
That picture near the rural Gary, Minn., home where my wife grew up is so different from what I see in my mind as I think about my grandparents’ and parents’ homes in the eastern Tennessee hills near Chattanooga. The mere thought of the bending, curving, up-and-down roads that lead back to my roots bring up those happy butterflies of excitement that I feel when I’m close to home.
Will and my two daughters will also have memories connected to those roads and hills. We’re there each year at Christmas or Thanksgiving. And I hope that the future will find us heading that direction more frequently. But their attachment to my heritage will be different. Their deepest roots will be here in North Dakota and northeastern Minnesota.
There’s a certain sadness that comes with that reality for me. In all honesty, it does bug me a bit that my daughters don’t have a Tennessee drawl and that they call carbonated beverages “pop” instead of “Coke.” (For those unfamiliar with the Southern protocol for referring to bubbly, sugary drinks such as Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and even Pepsi, it’s all “Coke.” In the South, “Coke” is to “soft drink” as “Xerox” is to “photocopy” all over the nation.)
They won’t grow up with the gritty heat, the soulful Gospel music or the rich, decadent foods that blend together as part of the Southern experience. They will be children of the Red River Valley, not children of the South.
And, yet, in the end, I’m OK with it.
That long, straight road behind Will in the photo is, to me, a symbol. It’s a symbol of the people, families and communities of the region. And they are models and institutions that will help shape my children. I have developed a deep affection for the people here. The safe, well-kept communities here are a reflection of them. When leaders call out to the community to help in the face of a flood, droves show up in work clothes. It flows out of who they are.
That’s not to be Pollyanna about this place. There are problems, as is the case with any community or region. But, like that road, I find the people here to be steady, reliable and ready for the challenges at hand. The road in that photo may not offer the excitement of constant change and the intrigue of the unknown around every bend, but it provides dependability, direction, vision and a rugged persistence.
This is to say nothing against the South. The nostalgia with which I write about home – the mere fact that I still call it “home” – is a testament to my love for it.
Still, that road in front of my wife’s childhood home is so much of what I want that little boy in the picture to become: dependable, rugged of character and able to lead those who pass by safely in the direction they need to go. Such characteristics transcend culture.