“You have a choice.” Anyone who knew my parents when we were kids most certainly heard at least one of them utter this phrase. My brother and I certainly did. Almost daily in fact. These four words seemed to be their mantra to us growing up. For some time, I seem to remember every conversation either starting or finishing with, “You have a choice.”
Now that I am a bit older, I feel comfortable in admitting that there was a period in which this phrase annoyed the hell out of me. Honestly. Okay, going to Dairy Queen and deciding between a chocolate or strawberry sundae – that was a choice. Getting to stay up late on a Friday night to watch TV and choosing between Wonder Woman or The Muppets – that was a choice. Cleaning up my Star Wars action figures and putting them away or having them thrown out – what the heck. I’m sorry, but that was NOT a choice. Sure, my parents said the words, but in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy whose whole life revolved around Luke, Han and Leah, there was no choice. How could there be a choice?
As I grew up, I began to understand more deeply the meaning behind those words. “You have a choice.” As annoying as the phrase may have been, it still empowered that eight-year-old boy and allowed him to save the universe, or at the very least Luke, Han and Leah from being demolished in the abyss of a real-life trash compactor. Those four words had tangible meaning even if I wasn’t fond of the choice.
And now, as a parent, I have come to understand that the sense of control I got came not from those words, but from something else. “You have a choice” would have been meaningless had it not been for one key ingredient. An intangible act that put tangibility into the phrase – follow through.
As an eight-year-old boy, I knew that if I hadn’t picked up my action figures, they would have been tossed out with the rest of the trash. No hesitation. No second chances. They would have been lost. Both Scott and I knew that my parents said what they meant and meant what they said. About this, there was never a question. We knew that with every choice we made, we would be held accountable. We knew that our parents would follow through on what they said.
And how did they become so committed to follow through? So tenacious when it came to providing us with the rewards and consequences of our choices. One might assume that it started from countless hours spent studying the works of Freud, Skinner and Adler. Through years of working with children and adults in various school-boards, halfway homes and developmental centers. Through continued education and professional development. One would assume that all of this helped them understand how important it is to follow through. One would assume. And one would be wrong.
I believe that their understanding of choices and follow through had little to do with their schooling, training or counselling. Their commitment to follow through came from something much more significant than all of that. Something so surprisingly simple that most people seem to overlook it. It evolved from the first, most important choice that they ever made together. A choice that they have followed through on and lived every day since. Their choice to say, ‘I do.’
When one looks at the two of them and who they have become together, it becomes glaringly clear that they are and always have been true to their words. They ‘did’ and they continue to ‘do’. This is a truth that will exist until death do they part, of that I am sure. Our parents have lived a life of nearly fifty years together. They have shared more good times than most could ever imagine, weathered enough bad times to keep their bond strong, suffered through sickness and flourished in health. And all of that, they have done together, thus following through on a promise they made so many years ago. The promise to be one.
While perusing my parents’ photo albums in preparation for their 50th anniversary party, I came across an old newspaper clipping entitled “Kaufmans Cook up a Storm.” It was an interview done by a reporter working for the Standard Freeholder, celebrating my parents and their 25th wedding anniversary. In the reporter’s words, their relationship was an accomplishment to be admired. However, in my parents’ opinion, it had been easy. They were both quoted as having married their best friends. The longevity and follow through on their promise to be together was simple they said. “Cook together, walk together and talk together.” And this is what they have done over the years. Although their cookbooks have been replaced with take-out pamphlets, and walking has evolved into cruising, their conversation has never stopped. It continues to keep their relationship alive and well. Twenty-five years later, they remain the same best friends that they have always been.
In these twenty-five years, Scott and I have grown up and started families of our own. Respectively, we and our loves have learned our parents’ lessons well. To be together, to grow together, and most importantly to stay together ‘til death do we part. I remember, 16 years ago, when Rachel and I got married standing before our wedding party and thanking my parents for teaching us the meaning of truth, love and commitment. For giving us choices and most importantly for following through. Their example was an inspiration that helped us build relationships with our brides. I promised them that we would work to build relationships that would at the very least match the beauty of theirs. I was right. And I know that as the years continue, the vows that we made, the same as those that were made by them, will be honored. For, as my parents always said, “We made a choice.”
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for being the couple that you have always been. For teaching us, guiding us and most importantly for giving us the choice. We promise to follow in the loving footprints that you have left in the wake of your fifty years together. We promise that we will be part of the legacy that you leave. For as you have always done, we will continue to do. Cook together. Walk together. Talk together. Love each other. And as always, we will continue to follow through.
Guilty is one of my parents’ many anthems. It brings me back to my youth. To them getting ready for their weekend get-togethers. To the many Friday nights we all spent curled up on beanbags in front of the fireplace. To the Saturday night dinner marathons. To them dancing in the living room. To them and the love they have always exuded. To them.
Guilty Youtube link