I didn’t want my tombstone to say “He wrote a good merger agreement.” Someone was always buying someone, and I helped them. So what. Plenty of others could have done it. When I left my law firm it was like, as they say, pulling a finger out of a bucket of water.
I thought perhaps I wanted my epigraph to be “He brought new life to a tired old business and gave its employees new pride.” But it was I who needed new pride after that humbling effort.
More recently I’ve thought I’d like to be discovered a hundred years hence on some dusty bookshelf and taken down and read, perhaps cradled in a wing chair by someone who nods and smiles as she reads. Ah, sweet immortality.
I still hope for that, but in the meantime, and while I’m still alive to enjoy it, I’m seeing take shape a legacy I had not contemplated: the flowering of the children that, like some minor Johnny Appleseed, I planted across the land.
A relationship with adult children (my youngest is a senior in college) is a different thing than being a parent. I’ve gone from standing under them as they scrambled over the monkey bars, from making them waffles for breakfast and helping with the odd bit of homework (at least up until fourth grade, when my expertise ran out), to participating in seminars with them in which as often as not they, not I, are the professors.
In the university of Dad’s continuing education, I’m blessed with a rich and diverse curriculum: the arts, law, economics, technology, business. We talk about everything. They assign me course materials, which I read more carefully now than I did in my own college days, and with greater perspective if not wisdom.
There are things I think I know. Some I’m pretty sure of. But sometimes, when I’m forced to scratch the surface of my belief, I find there is less foundation for it than I assumed. It’s like the feeling of flimsiness I got the first time I broke open a stucco wall. It looked attractive, but there wasn’t much to it.
One of my children gave me Galbraith, and as soon as I was nodding “yes, yes” to Galbraith’s vision of socialist utopia, he gave me Hayek. Another taught me about machine learning and confirmation bias. A third about Commedia dell’arte. Another is patiently guiding me through the benefits of tax reform, not just to him, he swears, but to the economy as a whole. The fifth articulated so well this morning the uncertainty he feels over Syria and his disappointment that the president he so admires seems to have gone Rambo.
Despite my best efforts, my children do not agree with me on everything. And that is my good fortune. They are teaching me, as I tried to teach them when they were young, that I still have a lot to learn. What impresses me most is that they listen to me and to each other. They don’t just give due regard to other points of view, they seek them out. Their minds are never completely made up. They are in a long process of considering.
And so this is what I’d like on that granite slab o’er my bones: “His children gave him something to think about.”