In 1929, William Alexander Percy’s favorite cousin died. Then just a few years later, he lost his mother. Then his cousin’s wife died and he lost his own father. He had wanted to be a poet. He had hoped to spend his days traveling the world, practicing law, enjoying his family’s wealth. Yet the confirmed bachelor found himself compelled by circumstances to adopt his cousin’s three boys: Walker (14), LeRoy (13) and Phin (9).
“Suddenly,” he would write in his beautiful memoirs Lanterns on the Levee, “my household was filled with youth, and suddenly I found myself, unprepared, with the responsibility of directing young lives in a world that was changing and that seemed to me to be on the threshold of chaos.” Of course, we’re all unprepared to be parents, but this was the 1930s. The Great Depression was ravaging the United States. War was breaking out in Europe.
So what did Percy do? He did exactly what we talk about here at the Daily Dad.
He took it one day at a time. He learned, he changed, he grew. He opened his doors and his heart. He let himself be changed. He tried to be a good example. He tried to do better than his own parents, tried to learn from the painful relationship he’d had with his own father. He tuned out the world events he could not control, doing his best to shield the boys from what they could not understand. He embraced the noise, the chaos of a home filled with youth. He showed them how to love knowledge and art, told them they had an obligation to be useful and of service to society due to their privileges and talents.
He did his best. He made a difference. One of those boys went on to be a brilliant writer. Another was a war hero. Another was a lawyer.
Who knows what your children will be–other than who they are meant to be. Just know that the work you’re doing matters, and that everyone is unprepared. But if we do our best…it makes a difference.