Dad asked me to help put up the flags last weekend.
He flies an American flag and four signal flags that spell out our last name.
As we were attaching the flags to the rope, he says: “Hand me the M.”
I look at the four flags blankly.
I realize he sees letters where I see only colors.
“It’s the blue one with the white X,” he says helpfully.
Dad learned the letters for each flag more than 75 years ago while he was in the Navy.
The things you learn when you are young stay with you. They often define you and create the opportunities you need to succeed personally and professionally.
Things you know. Places you’ve traveled. Food you’ve eaten. Languages you speak.
These are what help you understand the world and connect with people.
I’m grateful for all the things my parents taught me, but also aware of all the things they didn’t.
My dad never taught me about the flags or how to dive or do taxes or use power tools.
It wasn’t his fault. I never showed any interest in those things.
Now that I have kids of my own I understand that it’s asking a lot. It’s very hard to teach them things they don’t want to know. (I’m reminded that the daughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, arguably America’s greatest novelist, was too busy to read his letters when she was in college.)
One of the strangest things in life is how hard it is to bridge the generational gap.
When you are young you aren’t interested in things your parents can teach you. By the time you are old enough to value them, they are less inclined to teach you. The moment has passed.
I’ve been trying to make up for some of that missed opportunity by asking my parents why they do the things they do. Often the questions are basic. Why are you doing that and why now?
It’s something I’d recommend. It often leads to insightful revelations.
“Dad, why are we putting up the flags now?” I asked.
“Because it rained the other day,” he said.
“You took the flags down because it was going to rain?” I asked.
So it turns out he takes down the flags so they don’t wear out as quickly.
It’s not the kind of thing my generation would do. We would replace the flag.
(Part of a series based on conversations with my parents about how to manage life.)