My delightful soon to be 5-year-old son is at that magical age where the answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” changes almost daily. It is very entertaining to hear his many responses and rationales.
We are past the phase of standard responses such as “a fireman, garbage truck driver and astronaut.” We have moved on to more serious contemplation, this summer it was all about being a Paleontologist. Then, a Paleontologist on another planet – one of my personal favorites. However for two years he has consistently had the desire to begin to learn robotics. As equally as he knows the scientific name of dinosaurs and bugs, he desires to know about robotics. My early response to him about robotics was that he could take a class on robotics as soon as he learned to read, because there are a lot of instructions to read in robotic design. He agreed, and this single thing has motivated him to improve his reading skills immensely. Every now and then he says to me, “see how good I’m reading – pretty soon I can learn robotics.”
Only a few days ago we had a conversation where Tino suddenly exclaimed that he could be the President. Surprised as I was, I fully agreed that it was possible, and asked him why he wanted to be President. He responded, “Well President Obama grew up in Hawaii, and I am growing up in Hawaii, President Obama went to Chicago and I went to Chicago to see Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex and President Obama is black and my new favorite color is black.” So there you have it.
I remember very well everything I thought I wanted to be when I grew up when I was Tino’s age. From early on, I remember wanting to be a large animal veterinarian; horses and elephants that sort of thing. In later years I wanted to be a performer, which became so strong that I became involved in dance classes, drama clubs, music classes, choir groups, performance choirs, piano lessons and on and on. This stayed with me into my college years and beyond. As a result, performing was always a part of my life. So I know too well that when a child has a dream, a vision or a desire, it should not be denied or discouraged. A child grows with his/her own passion to follow their dreams and interests.
My father tried to appear supportive, but looking back I think it was a personal struggle for him. He was an immigrant in the early 1900 from China and he struggled his whole life and most of mine to provide for me a life that he never had the opportunity to have. My success was a direct reflection on his honor and success as a father. So naturally he encouraged me to pursue medicine, to become a doctor, if not, then maybe a lawyer or an architect. His knowledge of what was available to me was reflected in these options. We had many, many exchanges of words over my pursuit of the arts as a career. But at the same time my father paved the way for me to follow my interests, from creating creative spaces in our home for me to create anything I wanted, to being my only audience for puppet shows and cabaret acts. He allowed me to go to early morning Chamber Choir practice, stay late for Drama Club and attend late night rehearsals. He let me design the menus for our Chinese Restaurant, and paint murals on the windows of the hospital for holidays. So my creative outlets were never discouraged in spite of the fact that it conflicted with what he believed I should be putting my time and resources towards.
I remember overhearing my father tell people in our restaurant that I would be a doctor. I would sit in a corner table in our restaurant and do my homework – the wait staff would check in on me and help me out from time to time because they knew my father could not help me in this area. Tutoring was like part of their job, which is why I think my father only hired college students.
My father had high expectations and as strict as he was, he never placed any limits on me except to say that he wanted the best for me and he wanted me to enjoy a life that he never had. This is after all, the universal desire of all fathers for their children.
I often overhear parents speaking down to their children, discouraging them, telling them that they are not capable of things or that it’s not in the cards for them. It’s very disheartening, because I know it comes from an inner belief in themselves that they are not good enough, smart or capable enough, so then how could their children be?
Recently I was asked to be a judge for the Miss Teen Maui Pageant and all the young girls were vying for a scholarship opportunity and chance to win the title and crown. The interview portion of the pageant was held prior to the event and was by far my favorite part of the process. We asked the young ladies a series of questions about who they were, their plans and their potential. I was shocked to hear that the majority of these young ladies had very little self-confidence, passion or faith that they would reach beyond a certain place for themselves. They each had a dream, but each had limits that they placed on themselves with the thought that they could only get so far. I left those interviews feeling saddened about what these girls believed about themselves and their future potential. These young ladies, as pretty as they were, certainly didn’t believe they could ever be the President, or a doctor or a well-received artist.
Hope brings dreams, passion brings opportunities, desire brings success, and self-confidence brings achievement – I truly believe this.
“I wanted to be different. I wanted to be somebody. You’re either hungry and determined to make it, or you’re not. I know a lot of people who, when they were rejected, they accepted what people said about them. I never did that.” – Madonna
And so my message to my son as he turns 5 this month, “You are smart, you are important, you are special and I believe you can become whatever you desire to be.” Paleontologist, robotics designer or Commander in Chief, he is only limited by his imagination. His dreams, passions and desire for success along with self-confidence will take him anywhere he wants to go in life. Whatever he chooses, I know he will bring me honor and I will be proud that he is my son.