Here’s an interesting idea, perhaps not totally supported by science, but true enough to jibe with experience: We contain within us, at birth or by an early age, all the virtues and vices we will have in our lives. All our strengths and weaknesses are there, more or less, from the beginning. The question for a father then, and for educators and mentors, is which of those strengths and virtues will you nourish? Which vices will you allow to fester?
In her beautiful novel Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar has Hadrian pour his heart out to young Marcus Aurelius, his adopted grandson. He explains, “I was at 20 much what I am today, but not consistently so. Not everything in me was bad, but it could have been: the good or the better parts also lent strength to the worse.”
What matters then, what your job is as a parent, is to help them become who they can be. To help them consistently be what they have already been in glimpses (and conversely, to also stop them from being who they have been in glimpses). We all have bad habits, bad traits. For some of us that’s anger, for some of us that’s a mean or a jealous streak. Maybe we’re lazy or we’re overly ambitious. We also have good traits: generosity, kindness, purpose, a desire for impact. Which of these traits won out in us might have been an accident, as it was, in a way, for Hadrian.
We can’t let that happen for our kids. We need to help them nurture the good parts and give them the strength to challenge the bad parts. We need to help them be consistent—consistently the best version of themselves. That’s our job.