E is for Example



When I was a kid my parents would often tell me that, as the elder child, I was supposed to set an example for my younger brother.

Initially I took this to mean that I was to share with him the wisdom of my extra four years, and encourage him to enjoy all the, shall we say, ‘creative‘ activities for which I was famous .  I was all for the idea. It was useful to have a test subject for my theories and constructions.

As I grew older, however, it became apparent that what my parents meant was that I was to work really hard at school, miss out on a social life because I was studying, get the great grades, be awarded scholarships etc.  That, in itself, I could have accepted, if my brother had been held to similar standards.  I learnt quickly that there existed a very different set of rules for boys.

The first instance of this that I can remember was when I was about eight years old.  I had developed a fascination for fire engines and fire fighters.  Every time we drove over to visit Nanna, we passed the central fire station in our city. Dad would have to stop at the traffic lights outside and I would be able to enjoy a minute or two of pure delight looking in at the shining vehicles and equipment. When I announced that I would be a firefighter when I grew up, I was told that only boys could be firefighters.  I was crushed.  It seemed that no matter how good your grades were, your choice of job depended upon your gender.


During my teens, whilst I was studying and setting the example, my brother was out and about with his mates.  He was allowed to go to the city with his friends when he was 12.  I had had to wait until I was 16.  The only social occasions I was allowed to attend were school dances….no dates until I had completed high school.

Deep down I knew that there was method in my father’s madness, that I was his ‘Best and Brightest‘.  He didn’t actually use those words until he was over eighty years old. He didn’t actually use the words ‘I’m proud of you‘ either, but I knew he was. He would tell everyone about his daughter, the teacher, his daughter who was overseas, his daughter and his gorgeous grandkids, his daughter who could work one of those infernal computer gadgets.  He would tell people he knew and, increasingly as he aged, people he didn’t know. So even though he never told me he was proud of my achievements, he told everyone else.

He expected a lot from me and I delivered on his expectations to the best of my abilities. The incident at the fire station was the one and only time that he told me that I could not achieve something that I had set my sights on. He encouraged me to dream big dreams, to make detailed plans and to work hard to execute those plans.  And, I think most importantly, he encouraged me to take care of myself first, then worry about others later.

‘Take care of Number One,’ he would say, pointing at me. ‘You’re no good to anyone else, if you don’t look after yourself.’  I have taught my children that too.  Be kind to yourself. Nurture yourself physically, mentally and spiritually.  Set this example…that you are the best version of you that you can be.

The very best explanation of this that I have ever seen written down is in Max Ehrmann’s  ‘Desiderata’.  Read it.  It is food for thought….a fine example for you to set for yourself.


29 thoughts on “E is for Example

  1. Parents from that era were like that — as was my dad. He didn’t tell me how proud he was of me – but my step mom made sure I knew how he talked about me to his peers – shouting my praises. I guess they didn’t want us to get too proud of ourselves! On the other hand, he taught me so much and if you have time – here is my blogpost about it — I hope you like it. http://batteredhope.blogspot.ca/2014/01/pay-tribute-to-special-father.html#.Uz89hvldWao

  2. Yes I totally get that…my mom never said she was proud of me or anything near that…I on the other hand thought lowly of myself…took a long time to realize I was worthy of a lot of things.
    Great post.
    Happy A-Z April!

    1. I think it is something too remember as parents too. We need to tell our kids that we are proud of their efforts, whether exceptional or just a good try. On the other side of that coin, however, there is a tendency today to praise children for little or no effort whatsoever so I think there has to be a happy medium.
      I am glad you know now how special you are.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Isn’t it interesting how we can look back and remember certain events with such clarity? It sounds like you know your father respected you for who you were – even if he didn’t say it directly to you. That’s a gift in itself – and that you’re passing that on to your children is wonderful.

    The Road We’ve Shared A to Z

    1. One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a sense of self. They let me make a lot of my own decisions and they let me make a lot of my own mistakes. I learned from both.

  4. I guess, by being strict and by not really saying those appreciative words was our parents’ way of keeping us grounded!! It is wonderful that the things you learnt from your father, you have successfully shared with your children. 🙂

  5. I have been enjoying your posts (found them today). As the 4th of 5 kids, I heard a lot about individuals setting the example. The problem for me came when I was the one setting the example for the others. That being said, All ended up well. Great glimpses into your life!

    1. Thanks, Melanie. I understand that perfectly. many of early examples for my brother were not entirely exemplars of behaviour but things turned out okay in the end.

  6. ‘Take care of Number One,’ he would say, pointing at me. ‘You’re no good to anyone else, if you don’t look after yourself.’

    Brilliant. Something that I wish I had been taught as a child; I just learned this recently and it changed my life.

    1. It took me a while to learn this one. It hit home when I was gradually becoming a shadow of myself whilst trying to stick with a marriage “for the sake of the kids”.

  7. Parents will be parents like you now practicing what your parent taught you. Soon that example will passed on my your children as well. That’s a legacy you can’t get in schools.

    1. It isn’t really until you become a parent yourself that you begin to see the method in your parents’ madness. Every so often words come out of my mouth and I stop and think,
      “Good Heavens, I sound like Mum. Where did that come from?”

  8. “Take care of Number One”: very practical advice. In pre-flight instructions, passengers are told that, if they’re travelling with a child, they should first put on their own oxygen mask, then the child’s.

    1. Yes, you are right, they do say that, don’t they. It is a reminder for us to stay at our best for the benefit of ourselves and those we care about.

  9. Two thoughts come to me from your lovely words. First my dad was not overly affectionate either but he was the one who told me when I was 10 years old that I could be anything I wanted to be. I had come home in tears when a boy at school had told me I couldn’t be a detective. Only boys could be detectives. I knew my whole life that he was proud of me. What a blessing! Second I LOVE the desiderata! I memorized it when I was about 15. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hmmm…bitter…I guess that’s one word for it. I was downright annoyed.
      Ballarat..we love Ballarat. We visited in 2010 and happened to arrive on Heritage Weekend when people were dressed up in period costume and there were coaches running in
      the main street. It was wonderful. What a rich (no pun intended) history the city has.

  10. what a lovely story of your life. How fortunate to have a father who loved and cared for you in such a way, in spite of the gender issue over firetrucks. I too was expected to ‘set an example’ for my younger siblings. It is a tough gig.

    1. I was lucky in that dad had very few gender issues having been brought up by a strong mother and grandmother. His father had died when Dad was very young so Dad’s youth was coloured by images of women coping with many of the traditional male roles.

  11. As an Only I never understood why I had to “set the example” but I had to be quiet and good at all time, on my best behaviour…because I grew up in the company of adults mostly. The double standard has always been a problem, and unfortunately even though we’ve come so far we still fight this demon, don’t we?! 😀

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z Challenge
    Caring for My Veteran

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