When I think about the legacy I received from my parents…

I received many things from my parents. Several genes have been passed on me. I have absorbed and retain a lot of their values. I think about my parents’ hospitality, inclusivity, and concern for others.

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In one house, we had a dining room table and family gatherings that rivaled the “family meal” seen each week on the TV show Blue Bloods. Holiday meals always included guests. As children, we saw the guests as strangers. My parents saw them as people apart from their own families and welcomed them with open arms.

Thanksgiving, New Year’s, summer holidays, or a family trip to the east coast were all likely to include extras. Sometimes they were my sibling’s friends, my parents’ friends, or distant relatives. When my father was a chaplain in the military, he regularly invited his staff or other soldiers who were far away from home. They came to watch the football games and eat the feast my mother had prepared.

I did not grow up in a multicultural community when I was young. It was a small Midwestern farm town. Ethnic differences in a “mixed marriage” were challenges that faced the man of Norwegian decent who married a woman with a grandmother born in Sweden.

I never met a black person before I was 10. As a child of the 60s I learned about racism at school. Watching the clash of white and black at school left a grave impression on me. While racial conflict filled the halls of the schools, it never came home with me. It was clear that my parents welcomed everyone. The woman from Ethiopia with whom we shared a soda in New York, my sister’s friend who spoke Spanish, corporals and privates (usually enlisted men in the military were not encouraged to fraternize with officers like my father), everyone was welcome at the table.

It is no wonder that at my 60th birthday party there were people from Bangladesh, Germany, Netherlands, England and the US. That legacy has made my world richer indeed.


Join the conversation — What have you inherited from your family? What values that shape who you are today feel similar to those of your parents?  And what’s different — maybe because of a different era, a different generation, or simply a different context?  

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