That was their father: Have we ever read a better op-ed column than Sheryl Sandberg's transplendent essay in today's New York Times?
With co-author Adam Grant, Sandebrg has written a book about resilience. In hard copy, her column appears beneath these headlines:
How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a LossWe think it's a stunning column.
I needed to find ways to help my children after their father's death
Two years go, Sandberg's husband unexpectedly died. Their children were seven and ten.
In her column, Sandberg describes the things she did, after seeking advice from Grant and others, to help her children cope. We were struck by this all the way down:
SANDBERG (4/24/17): One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day—with the rules written by my kids in colored markers—still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.Whenever we read an essay like this, we think of the millions of kids who don't get this kind of parenting. Sandberg reminds us of those kids too, early in her column.
Dave and I had a tradition at the dinner table with our kids in which each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day. Giving children undivided attention—something we all know is important but often fail to do—is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life.
Since my children were so young when they lost their father, I am afraid that their memories of him will fade, and this breaks my heart all over again. Adam and I also learned that talking about the past can build resilience. When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family’s history—where their grandparents grew up, what their parents’ childhoods were like—they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time.
To keep Dave’s memory alive, I asked dozens of his closest family members, friends and colleagues to capture their stories about him on video. I also taped my children sharing their own memories, so that as they grow up, they will know which are truly theirs. This past Thanksgiving my daughter was distraught, and when I got her to open up, she told me, “I’m forgetting Daddy because I haven’t seen him for so long.” We watched the video of her talking about him, and it gave her some comfort.
Talking openly about memories—not just positive ones, but difficult ones, too—can help kids make sense of their past and rise to future challenges.
Just yesterday, we were thinking about the way children (and adults) want to know the history of their family members, especially their parents. We were thinking about the emotional power of Big Fish, the Tim Burton film in which a young man tries to find his way through the persistent tall tales of his evasive father, who is dying.
Our own sainted mother was extremely reticent about discussing her personal history. On the rare occasion, she would let a random anecdote fly:
The time she skated so far up the Merrimack that she couldn't get home till long after dark. The time she was halfway down the ski jump and spotted her mother off to the right, glaring angrily at her.
The time she thought the ballplayer had stood her up on a date, until it turned out that he had just played in the longest game in major-league history! (We assumed this referred to the Red Sox.)
The time Casey Stengel told her he liked her because his wife was named Edna too! (We assumed this would have been in the 1950s, when Stengel was with the mighty Yanks, after our mother had married our father.)
How did our mother and father meet? We'd never heard the story until our older half-brother, now deceased, told us maybe fifteen years ago. The story he told us was very familiar to us and very believable. Almost surely, our mother would have been someone a gent would have noticed.
Children want to know about their family histories. About a year ago, we were lucky enough to be sitting at a dinner table when a relative of ours (by marriage) suddenly told everyone, including his then 9-year-old daughter, about the first time he saw her mother.
(It happened in the D.R. The 9-year-old's father was coaching the Dominican national track team, on loan from God in the form of Fidel. The 9-year-old's mother was in the D.R. working for UNICEF.)
His daughter, our great niece, is easily one of our all-time most favoritest people. We thought her eyes grew extremely wide as she listened, with great interest, to this sudden story about her mother and father in the years before she was here.
"That was your mother," Paul Simon said. In the case of Sandberg's column, that was their father. We don't know when we've encountered so much decency and so much wisdom on an op-ed page.
Two long stories short: A few years ago, we decided to fact-check our mother's story about that "longest game." Had there actually been an extremely long MLB game in Boston during the relevant years?
Sure enough! On June 27, 1939, the Boston Braves (then called the Boston Bees) and the Brooklyn Dodgers battled to a 23-inning tie at Braves Field. We'd always assumed that she meant the Red Sox. But if we might borrow from Don Corleone, it was the Braves all the time!
We checked to see who was on the Braves' roster. Manager of the 1939 Bees?
Who else? Casey Stengel!
(You can see him colorized here.)