Growing up, I lacked, in a certain sense, roots. Most children get to experience what I like to call the "Tree House Childhood." They grow and live, for the most part, in 1 or 2 homes. There are growth charts on a door frame, a tree house in the backyard, and stories of the same teacher instructing all of the siblings.
My childhood was a bit of a different adventure. I literally traveled the world. My playground was whatever town, state, or country I was in at the time. I experienced a vast cross-section of cultures and peoples. I'm certainly not complaining about my life, it's been amazing! How many 4th graders have climbed the Great Wall of China, celebrated Christmas Day in Singapore, kayaked the waters of Hawaii, and seen the Grand Canyon? The military offered my family a rich blend of culture and history, but it wasn't able to offer me physical permanence.
Physical roots, though important, are not as important as familial roots. The bonds forged between family members is far more important that the memories created in a singular physical space. While I find it awesome that some "family homes" are passed down from generation to generation, I'm more impressed by longstanding family traditions passed down through the ages.
I'm about to embark on a family genealogy project, and as I prepare the tools and my plan of research, I'm reminded of the importance, as a parent, to preserve the legacy of my family (both my family of origin, and Alison's) and pass it on to Benedict. Right now, for Benedict, Alison and I are the keepers of those precious family traditions and it's up to us to safeguard them and hand them on to our new generation.
Family traditions are wide and varied. They surround seasons, holidays, and special occasions in our lives. In a sense, these traditions are how we mark our lives. The Christmas morning prayer before presents, for example, is a tradition that Alison's family has. The prayer reminds us of the true gift on Christmas morning and signals the welcoming of the Christ-child into the manger.
Traditions like this simple prayer reinforce family values. A daily tradition practiced in my family was family dinner. My dad would often work late (no such thing as 9-5 in the military!) so we'd often eat dinner at around 7pm. The time wasn't the important thing, but the fact that we did it together. I like to think that my brother and I made it a tradition to then fight about who loaded the dishwasher the last time we had to clean the kitchen together.
As keeper of the family traditions, you should also feel emboldened to forge some new ones with your wife. After all, you’re leading a completely new family. There might be opportunities that previous generations didn't have. For example, Alison and I have started the tradition of a Technology Bowl at dinner to give ourselves some peace and time away from incessant and intrusive communication and information.
Family traditions are both beautiful and deep. I'd encourage you to reflect on the traditions of your family and be vigilant to pass them on to your children. In that way, you connect your family of today with your family of yesterday.
What's your favorite family tradition?