Parents pass on their fund of wisdom not for the sake of preserving the wisdom itself, but to help the child flourish. Above all, parental empowerment consists of providing a child with a history, a story, an identity.
Most parents I know want their children to be believers, to have faith, to live by a set of values, or to know who they are. In part this knowing who you are comes from knowing one's unique family history--where your people come from, what they did, what they stood for.
Whether your ancestors were Irish immigrants who worked as laborers when they came to the New World or they were from the literati of Latin America, whether your grandmother had a deep devotion to the rosary or worked so that women might have the vote, whether your uncle was a Jesuit priest or your nephew was healed of cancer through charismatic prayer--all of this is part of your story, part of knowing who you are.
Parents also pass on a deeper identity, too: a knowledge of themselves as beloved children of God. This they do by immersion in a community of faith that continues to tell the great, primal stories of our creation and redemption by God. They impart this identity by living faithfully themselves, witnessing to the depth of the faith they embrace, unleashing its truths in their lives.
February 1985. My husband shows up with a letter our daughter has given him to address and send. This is during a time when, as part of our faith witness to social justice, we are observing a boycott of Campbell's Soup because of a strike levied by workers in the tomato fields. The letter reads:Dear President of Campbell's Soup,
I like your soup, but my daddy refuses to buy me it because you do not pay your workers enough to eat. Please pay your workers enough so I can eat it. And so they can eat too.
P.S. In the long run you will be paying yourself.
It's not the particulars of the letter or the cause that touches me but the fact that somewhere in my daughter's vision of what the world can be is a sense that there are alternatives to the way things are done. In some way she knows that her world embraces the marginalized and the forgotten. And it gives me pride as a parent to know that we've given her this.