Providing ‘Thou Shalls’ ... and maybe a bean recipe

Providing ‘Thou Shalls’ ... and maybe a bean recipe

COVID-19 is turning me into my father, and I am not quite sure how I should feel about it. This realization came to me the other night as I sat down in our reading chair, iridescent light shining from above, eyeglasses on, kids being ignored, and reached for a copy of … Midwest Living?

The magazine, purchased in support of one of my child’s insufferable school fundraisers, is filled with exactly what you think it would be: one-tank road trips, touring covered bridges and Great Lakes lighthouses, and perfect fall recipes using beans. Had “Cheers” been on the television and/or some Ray Charles playing on the record player, relatives would have mistaken me for my dad, sitting in his green vinyl easy chair in the 1980s.

Maybe most disturbing is that I made, of the hundreds of options available to me, the conscious decision to purchase this particular magazine; my wife chose Vanity Fair, which just sounds more chic, does it not?

As these realizations often do, it got me to thinking a little bit about what my childhood perception of “things old people do” was. Buying Buicks, using stadium seats at high school football games, wearing dress socks with tennis shoes, playing Parcheesi and reading Midwest Living were all toward the top of my “You Have Reached Old Age” playlist. I currently do two of these five things. I am 40% there.

Ah, how our perspectives change.

At the other end of the spectrum and, to my parents’ credit, their perception of what childhood should be was never forced upon us. Naturally, there was guidance and wisdom, discipline and laughter, stability and chaos, but never absolute demands, other than “it is too nice of a day to be spent inside watching television … Get out!”

For the most part, I recollect choices made regarding activities and athletics and interests being solely our own.

One would have to ask them now, but I am sure there was some passing disappointment somewhere along the line that we did not fulfill a vision of youthful activities leading to eventual local Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Being in attendance as an “extra” at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh during the filming of “The Dark Knight Rises” is about as close to fame as I have gotten.

But, as a parent, I have felt faint degrees of this disappointment, albeit in purely innocent ways.

For quite some time there was nothing I looked more forward to than ripping open a pack of baseball cards and hoping for the most recent George Brett card, my childhood idol, or any rookie card that would fund my naïve belief that one day I might own a Major League ballclub.

Today, while I know “Topps” Baseball Cards still exist, I do not know a soul, child or adult who collects them, at least not as passionately as me and my neighborhood friends did in our youth. As much as I tried to get my children into baseball-card collecting years ago, it never really took off. The same can be said for comic-book reading. And while all three are somewhat musically inclined, not one of them has chosen to pick up a pair of my drumsticks (unless they are mocking me). These days kids find different ways to entertain themselves, and maybe that is not a bad thing.

In his most recent sermon, the Rev. David Rice of First Presbyterian Church spent some time discussing how convenient it is for some, in order to help keep people in line and place judgement on others, to get wrapped up in the “Thou Shalt Nots” of the 10 Commandments.

“To reduce the 10 Commandments to the 10 ‘Thou Shall Nots’ is to miss the point,” Rice said.

Christ’s love can be better found in the “Thou Shalls.” It is a perspective I had not considered prior to hearing his intimation.

Applying his profound and important message to the simplicity of this writing, Rice is absolutely right. I am sure, in my youth, I had the inclination to think I will not do these things because it is what old people do, but imagine if roles were reversed and parents imposed their own childhoods on that of their children. “Thou shalt not play the flute because I demand you play the drums” is not the parenting style by which I want my children to remember me.

Any parent who has ever experienced the joy (and misery) of watching their children perform on a field, court, stage or even these days over a computer knows part of the joy is solidified in the notion these are independent beings making independent choices as their identities develop. It is our job to provide the “Thou Shalls.”

And if some day that parenting style leads one of my children to purchase a subscription to Midwest Living, then they will be all the better for it, and maybe we can perfect our soon-to-be-famous fall “bean” recipes together.

Brett Hiner is in his 24th year of teaching English/language arts at Wooster High School, where he also serves as the yearbook advisor and Drama Club advisor/director. He can be emailed at

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