They Don’t Need To Know You Know

As a young boxer trying to make it on his own for the first time, Floyd Patterson ran out of food. He and another boxer found themselves so hungry that they had no choice but to head over to his mother’s house late one night to try to get something to eat.  

“This is an emergency,” he explained to his friend, “but don’t let’s tell Mom we’re hungry. I don’t want her to know I haven’t been able to manage on what I’ve been making.” The whole family was getting ready for bed, but no sooner than Floyd had said hello, his mother was making him a snack.  

“Don’t bother, Mom,” he tried to claim, playing it cool. “We had a big meal tonight at a restaurant and couldn’t take another bite.” Just a snack, his mother insisted, as she made him and his friend an enormous meal for the whole family. “I kept wondering if my mother knew that this wasn’t a social call,” Floyd would reflect years later in his memoirs, that “I wasn’t eating just to be polite.” 

Of course she knew! A parent always does! But she didn’t say a word. She just did what she needed to do, caring not only about her son’s well-being but also caring for his feelings and his pride. And so must we with our kids…no matter how old they are, or how right we’ve been all along.

Our kids are going to screw up. They’re going to fall short. Or like Floyd, they’re going to take on too much too soon and they’re going to need help. It’s our job to provide it. To help, not lecture. To be of service, and never humiliate. 

If they get too far out over their skis, help them up when they land with a crash. If they try to eat the elephant in one bite, give them the knife and fork to help them cut it into manageable pieces. If they are in over their heads, throw them the rope. There are numerous proverbs and metaphors like these because this is a universal truth about parents and kids.

Indeed, Floyd’s mother deserves double credit, not just because she handled that situation with such grace, but she also created the kind of relationship where her son knew he could always come home for help. That late night get-together wasn’t just a much needed fuel-up for her son on his path to greatness, it was also a wonderful family moment–the kind of eulogy over a crowded table that the poet William Stafford talked about. 

And why was it possible? Because she made it possible, like great parents must.

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