Disney has come up with a very nice film, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
The story begins with a couple, played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, who are unable to have children of their own. Before they move on, they create the child of their dreams on notes of paper. “Our kid would never give up. (He would be) Picasso with a pencil; honest to a fault. Our kid would rock. He will kick the winning goal.”
They then stuff the scraps of paper into a small, wooden box and bury them in their backyard. That night a miracle happens. Timothy appears covered in planting soil. He has sprung from the garden. He is everything they had hoped.
Go see the movie. Reward Hollywood for something good for once. Nothing blows up, and you will love CJ Adams, who plays Timothy.
Watching the fictional parents get all excited and write down the desired traits of their child made me wonder how many of us before the fact sat down with pencil and paper and enumerated the desired traits we wanted to have as parents.
It may be too late for me. But for the rest, take the time, grab a pencil and a small notebook with plenty of pages, and start writing.
At first you may begin by naming the things you would do with or for your kids, but remember to record the personal attributes you want to possess on behalf of your children. Your dreams as parents need to include what you are, not just what you do.
It is the character that directs the actions. Camping or biking are activities you can do with children, but is the person taking them selfish or caring? So with every event there is a human trait that accompanies the action.
Motion does not cover up neglect.
Your scraps of paper could contain a collection of opportunities you would create for your kids. Other parents may jot down moments they never had in their own childhood or attributes they failed to see in their own parents. It may be a missing dad or an angry mom.
If you were wise, you wouldn’t scribble a virtue like “helpful” if it meant absorbing all pain. Instead, “empathy” could allow a parent to emotionally share the hurt that will surely come. Put on your paper that you will know the difference.
Moms want to be patient, loving or hard working for their families. Dads will more likely pen words like “strong” or “brave.” However, for children, “supportive” or “involved” would be more powerful of a model than muscle.
If you list noble parental qualities, it would be especially important that you don’t bury the box in the garden. These promises to your children need to be on display as reminders.
Many may say they have all the qualities they strive for as a parent. Great! Keep up your good work, but expand your list. As mentioned, some of the lists may include what people didn’t feel from their own parents. For those who lack a mental model of what to do right, words will not be enough. They will have to practice.
Timothy Green became everything his parents had wished for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful — and not just a made-up story put to the screen — to have all of us become the parents our children and we would wish for?
One could call these lists living wills. Instead of the traditional uses, these living wills would be written documents of qualities we will give to our children before we head out. They would not contain possessions or provisions about disability or whether we want heroic medical intervention, but a catalog of qualities. It would be the character we will model for them.
Our scribbled lists would not count the objects of life, but the virtues of living.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.