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Jewish World Review July 22, 1999 /9 Av, 5759

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Tragedy tells us
what's important --
ONE DAY he's a wealthy, good-looking magazine publisher with a famous name, the next he's a tragedy, brought down in his prime. JFK Jr. is dead.

It could happen to anybody, and it does. Every day. But the famous compel us to take notice. We huddle around television sets, visit Internet chat rooms, devour newspapers. We grieve vicariously for strangers while reflecting inwardly that, yes, it could be us.

And make no mistake, it will be. Maybe not as dramatically as JFK Jr.'s plunge into the sea -- and certainly not accompanied by presidential statements -- but the big moment of reckoning is just on the other side of someday.

How, then, should we live? If today were your last, how would you spend it?

Most people, I suspect, would answer the same. They'd spend it with their loved ones. No one, as the saying goes, ever wishes on his deathbed that he'd spent more time at the office.

Yet you would think that working long hours -- abandoning our children in the process -- bestows permission to cut in heaven's line. Instead, it gets us children hungry for attention, lost in an ugly culture, bound to repeat the same, or worse, mistakes.

I know; I've done it too. I learned the hard way that you don't get second chances with your children. Like millions of other American women who came of age in the '60s, I gobbled up the myth that you can have it all. I imagined I'd fly through pregnancy, give a pain-free birth, find "quality day care" and head back to my wonderful job.

As soon as the nurse handed me that baby, I knew I was wrong. I'd been fooled. I was wrong about the fly-through pregnancy and pain-free birth too. But I had The American Dream: the car, the house and the debt. At 33 -- contrary to what my childless, feminist sisters had told me -- I had no choices. I had to work.

Through some difficult decisions, I managed over time to change my life so I could spend less time at work and more at home. That experience taught me the single most important lesson of my life: If you're true to your heart, if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded.

The Bible tells us that we reap what we sow. This past half-century, men and women have sacrificed their children for lifestyles they believe they need. Too late they realize their loss, which in human currency is unrecoverable.

Just ask Steve, who wrote me recently to urge parents to wake up.

At 53, Steve has been awakened rather unpleasantly with a life-threatening illness. A second-generation executive, he says he typically worked 70- to 80-hour weeks -- just like his own father did. He hadn't meant to. As a child painfully aware of his father's frequent absences, the missed ballgames, the broken promises, he'd sworn he would do things differently. He didn't.

Now, his disease has afforded Steve time to evaluate the landscape of his life.

"My illness has relieved me of all the usual rocks we hide behind," he wrote. "The next project deadline, sales quotas, next year's sales budget . . . none of these means much now. . . . Wake up, parents, they [children] are yours. You wanted them, you made them and in the end you are the only ones they really want to be there.

"Time may be short; spend it where it has the best chance for return on the investment, and it's not in the market."

As the saying goes, Amen.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
07/06/99: America is home, sweet home
07/01/99: Tales out of Yuppiedom
06/28/99: Men aren't the only abusers
06/23/99: Is the entire country guzzling LSD punch?
06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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