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Life's basic values are taught by example

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Week before last, I shared with you my father’s unwavering position on responsibility. To this day, more than 18 years since his passing, I find myself measuring my decisions as if I were still required to report in and be evaluated. Sometimes, my mouth almost forms the words, “Oh dear, what would Dad think?”

He was a powerful presence and from where we stood not always a pleasant one. In our enclaves of sibling collusion he was depicted as a heartless tyrant.

He selfishly required that we save our own nickels and dimes for that first car and pay the traffic fines for whatever misdemeanor incurred. To add insult to injury, if the boys had not earned enough money for a movie date, they did not go. Can you imagine that?

You may be thinking he was a skinflint, tightwad or miserly person, but that was far from reality. He was simply a benevolent dictator wisely assuming he knew better than we did about what should receive funding.

We never lacked for the security of a roof over our heads, ample clothing on our backs, the best medical care when needed and as much education as we could consume.

Oh, but I was jealous of all the kids who got cars on their 16th birthdays, had record players and phones in their rooms and were under no restrictions as to how much TV they could watch.

What did I know about the really important stuff?

Kids today are not so different, they want what they want and they want it now. My Dad simply said no. Grumble, yes we did, but accepted the ruling nonetheless. The family was the rule: not our neighbors, schoolmates or the community at large.

Easier said than done today, but is the world-at-large accessed through techno gadgets qualified to raise our children?

Life’s basic values are taught best through consistency, conviction and personal example. Have you ever known a child to “go bad” because of TV or junk food deprivation?

Abigail Van Buren wrote, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”

Following last week’s column, I heard from several readers who wondered if possibly we had the same father. Thousands of us were raised by parents who were products of the Depression Era.

Waste not want not became a household philosophy. This generation was keenly, perhaps painfully aware that to make the best of a situation we must first hold ourselves to the highest degree of accountability.

We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until... we have stopped saying "It got lost," and say "I lost it." ~Sidney J. Harris, Journalist for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times

I am ever so thankful that I was raised by this tyrant of a man who with conviction held me to a higher standard than I would have chosen for myself.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Until next week, be well.

 Zann Nelson is the former executive director of the Museum of Culpeper History. She can be reached at


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