There are so many cliché’s about how giving back, doing charitable works, and thinking and doing for others will bring you happiness, satisfaction, and maybe even bring you out of a depression. As with most cliché’s, this one is generally true and I wish more people would heed the wisdom of “repairing the world” as it is often expressed in my religion.
While my writing and focus tends to be gender-biased, from the man’s point-of-view, I will assert that in this regard, “giving” is something that is inherent in both men’s and women’s DNA. Men, as we well know, have the “fix-it” thing built into them while women have the “nurturing” one wired into their DNA. Before you yell at your computer, I am again making a generalization as, of course, this does not apply to every man or woman.
My stories about giving back to the world begin “back in the day” when I was single, working in showbiz, driving a sports car, and began to ask myself, “Is this all there is?” Thankfully, I was self-aware enough to know that my life was far too self-centered, I was far too lucky, and that I needed to do something outside of myself: something for my soul, as corny and “New Age” as that sounds.
I had wanted to get married younger, have children, build a family, but it wasn’t heading in that direction at that point in my life. Consequently, my days were filled with dating, playing tennis (“the” networking avenue for my generation in those days of showbiz), skiing, and plying my trade as a producer and executive in the television business. And, as unfair as it may seem compared to others who do so much more for the world (e.g. teacher, police, service men and women, doctors, etc.), I was getting paid a ton of money.
I did have the presence of mind to realize it could not last, so as self-indulgent as I may have been in those years, I always lived my life, financially, as if the knock on my office door was coming any minute. At that moment, some HR person would motion to me and figuratively say, “You! Outta here!” So, thankfully, I did save my earnings, invest them relatively wisely (except for that shopping center in Georgia where I lost it all), and otherwise live a slightly less extravagant life than my peers.
But, I knew I needed to do something “outside of myself.” What should I do? The conventional path among my showbiz friends was joining the “charity of the month” as I dubbed them. It would usually be a charity that was self-serving to the Industry, involved largely showbiz types, and while still doing something worthwhile, rarely involved any hands-on experiences. That was not going to be my path.
I loved children, desperately wanted some of my own, and had worked with kids in all my summer jobs in high school and college (tennis teacher, camp counselor, lifeguard, park director, etc.). I settled on the Big Brother program. The only downside, which I realized after-the-fact, was that I’d have minimal interaction with other adults which was a secondary goal I had in pursuing a charitable activity– to meet other “giving” people, outside of showbiz, that might become friends.
A rigorous screening and orientation followed, in which I was fingerprinted, interviewed repeatedly by a social worker, attended informational seminars, and then waited. Waited for the right “match” as they dub the pairing of a “Big” with “Little.” Finally, I got “the call” and was shocked that the “Little” they had chosen for me was a young girl. Call me sexist, but my immediate reaction was, “There goes playing ball in the park.” “Just meet her,” I was asked.
I met Jill (name changed) shortly thereafter, who was an eight-year-old girl who was the product of artificial insemination. Unlike most of the “littles,” she had no father–not a dead father, not a deadbeat father–no father.
My “match” with Jill was not easy, but we stayed “matched” until this day, when she is now in her early thirties. Of course, the time we spent together lessened over time, but she turned out to be my “prep course” for parenting in so many valuable ways, thus highlighting my theme that you get more whenever you give. She “taught” me how to relate to a child when that child didn’t share my same interests and desires.
Just as I had the expectation of playing ball with a “little brother” (rather than sister), I also had similar expectations for my own children if and when I finally had them. I think God knew what he was doing in guiding me, though I often question whether God does play a hand in our day-to-day lives. Nonetheless, when my wonderful two boys came along, I was prepared.
They may have shared my DNA, but neither shared most of my interests, hobbies, and even food loves. However, Jill prepared me for this and I didn’t push (too hard) those loves of mine on my boys. Instead of the jocks I had wished for, I ended up supporting one in his art passion and the other in his love of music. What a gift Jill had given me!
Moving ahead a couple of decades to my current career as a “layman” parenting expert, writer, and radio show host, I was presented with another charitable opportunity. Due to the reach of my columns, worldwide, I developed a relationship with a Pastor in Agona Swedu, Ghana. He runs a very small girl’s school there and, as you can anticipate and imagine, they are not overly endowed with money.
As there have been so many Internet scams, I was a bit concerned that he and his school might indeed be one of those, so I proceeded cautiously. One day, I’m on my “A Dad’s Point-of-View” Facebook page and a chat window comes up and it’s this Pastor’s two children reaching out to me. In the course of this first “chat” I asked them what they needed. Fearing I’d hear, “money,” I was so pleased to hear, “Books,” instead.
What followed was a relationship I developed with these kids, this Pastor, and their Alolites Unto Such School in Ghana, Africa. Since my family and I were moving, we were going through the usual accumulation of “stuff” that so many of us fortunate Americans develop over time.
After I’d put together and sent two boxes of books, including some old bibles, kid’s books we purchased at the used-book store of our local library, toys, crank flashlights, and more, my younger son wanted to get involved. He had accumulated his own, by now, large collection of both books and “Archie” comic books (the ones that are the size of the “Reader’s Digest”).
He brought me an overfull box, the International Flat Rate box from the USPO which we learned was the most practical and economical way to send things there, and we went through it and chose what we both felt the kids would appreciate and enjoy most. At one point, he looked up at me and said, “Dad, you really are doing something good.” My immediate reply was, “No, we are doing something good.
Since then, I’ve published several columns about the “Africa Zebras” as they call themselves in Agona Swedru, Ghana. Friends of my radio show, Facebook page, and columns have sent their own boxes. Each time, I hear from these friends, they express the immense positive feelings they felt, especially when they involved their children.
Bringing these stories full circle, I need to emphasize how these apparent acts of giving result in so much more than giving. As the “giver” you have the joy of knowing you are helping others. As the parent, you are modeling behavior that demonstrates to your children the morals and character you hope for them. By modeling versus talking, you are making it actually sink in with your family.
For me, as a writer, a parent, a human being, these acts of “giving back” or as I love to say, “repairing the world,” have completely enhanced my life. I suggest they will have the same effect for you.