Parents’ values, both good, bad, transfer to kids

I’ve been thinking for weeks about the Orlando massacre.
On the morning after, like so many of us, I was in synagogue to say Yizkor for my parents. But this time, while remembering them for giving me life, I also offered special prayers of thanksgiving for the values they gave me by which to live that life. I realized that values can be transmitted passively as well as actively, in silence as well as with words.
The recent carnage taught me to offer my mother and father new thanks for honoring me with the greatest gift of all: After modeling their own values to live by, they let me learn by myself whether or not to apply them in my own adult life. Their gift was trust.
All of us absorb our parents’ values, good or not, and at least in our childhoods, we live by them. But I learned from my parents that as I approached adulthood, I could be trusted to learn much on my own. So I gained sad understanding of the Orlando murderer when I read what his father had said after the fact. Certainly, the man was apologetic; he had never expected his son to do such a thing, he said. But then, he added this telling core value of his own: Gays and lesbians would be judged by God, after their deaths. This made me think less about the evils of ISIS per se than that singular evil of parents which has enabled the evils of ISIS to exist today: the passing on of prejudgments about people who are “different” from themselves. We Jews know by the terrorist actions of Muslims in Israel that such learning can kill. This father did not encourage his son to make important decisions on his own. He did not trust his son to learn more about life, and people, by himself. So I wonder now if he really feels his son has earned “sainthood” for hastening God’s judgment.
When I was 16, some older friends took me, with no prior preparation, to a show featuring female impersonators. My parents knew what I was going to see, and that what I saw would be new to me, but they did not explain anything beforehand. They trusted me to look, discover, and process by myself what I learned. I never needed to discuss this experience with them afterward.
And a recent article in the Dallas Morning News in which some prominent gays and lesbians told about their first visits to bars and nightclubs such as Orlando’s Pulse also took me back many years. When I was 20, I married a New Yorker, several years older and far more worldly than I. On my first visit with him to his home city, he took me — without preparation or explanation — to Greenwich Village, where I met his many gay and lesbian friends at Mona’s, the gathering place for the closeted in those olden days of silence. This was another experience that taught me much; it was also another one I never felt it necessary to share with my parents.
I consider that Orlando’s armed madman had fully absorbed his father’s attitude toward homosexuals, and may actually have picked these particular targets in order to hurry their way toward the celestial judgment that he was taught from a young age was awaiting them. And he did that for 49 at once. But I wonder: What might this young man have done differently in his own life if he had been given a different parental “gift,” one of trust in himself, to have his own experiences and then make his own decisions about what to do with them?
My prayers of thanks to my parents, on that morning after, were more fervent than they’d ever been in the many years since both had exited life themselves, as I blessed them for trusting me to think for myself.

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