A few years ago, I was the speaker at Memphis University School’s weekly assembly. I am not an alum of MUS. I was asked to speak because I come cheap. Or something like that. Maybe because I am the father of three grown adults? Maybe because I was a high school coach? Maybe because I was not a felon? Whatever the reason, they asked, and I spoke.
During my talk, I told the story of marching my three kids (between the ages of 8 and 13 at the time) into our kitchen. In the sink, there were three “dirty” cereal bowls, three spoons that had been used for the Cap’n Crunch, and three cups with milk rings. On the counter, there was an open cereal box, an open loaf of bread, an open container of butter, a “used” butter knife, and enough bread crumbs to make a park pigeon happy. The three unsuspecting messy kids were happily watching a video before I pushed the pause button on the remote and escorted them into the kitchen.
“What do you see in the sink?” I asked.
The guilty looked but said nothing.
I asked the question again.
“Dishes,” said the oldest one.
Head nods in agreement from the other two culprits.
“Whose dishes?” I asked.
I asked the question again.
“’Our’ dishes,” answered the oldest offender.
Head nods in agreement from his co-accomplices.
“Tell me the name of the person you expected to clean up your mess and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?” I asked.
The three plaintiffs nervously shuffled their feet, looking down at the floor.
“C’mon, what’s that person’s name?” I said.
At last, the oldest conspirator got the point. He explained it to his fellow violators. They went to work cleaning up their messes. I never had that conversation with them again. All I had to do was ask, “What is the name …?”
To the young men at MUS, eager to be free and independent of their parent’s confinement, I explained how personal responsibility is an attribute of adult behavior learned early in life. When your parents see you being responsible for small things, I said, they will be eager to give you freedoms and responsibility in bigger things. Ultimately, they want you to leave their house and lead your own life, independent and responsible. They want to see you doing things for yourself.
(I wonder what kind of adults helicopter parents think their children—pampered, protected, problem free, and privileged—will be?)
Of course, the accumulation of years does not mean a person is responsible. I know a woman in her early 50s who is in between husbands #7 and #8. She cannot do anything for herself and she cannot be alone. She has to be taken care of.
There are plenty of men who are equally inept at managing their own lives. In fact, joking about men unable to get their s—t together is a thing in our culture. When I returned from 10 years in Japan, there were a number of television shows that were of the “Yes, Dear” variety. Shows where the hero, or in these cases the heroines, were the inept guys’ wives or girlfriends. The men were more like children than men. Big doofuses. “King of Queens,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Friends” had a cast of unremarkable men doing stupid stuff.
What happened to men while I was gone, I wondered.
It is not just on television. I met a lady at a faculty party when I was teaching and as we were chatting she learned that I was single. “Well, who takes care of you?” she asked. My answer, “I take care of me” seemed to confound and amuse her. “God doesn’t want you single,” she said, “you need a woman.” Then it was my turn to be confounded and amused.
That day in the kitchen with my children has played over and over in my mind since then when I have asked myself “What is the name of the person who must do this?” I am reminded in that moment that I am responsible for me. No one is coming over to make decisions for me, nor do I want them to. I broke up with a woman many years ago who turned out to be pretty bossy. After telling her repeatedly that, according to my resume, I had managed to accomplish things in my life without her and that I needed neither a mother nor a project manager, I broke up with her. Her response was classic: “Tony, you’re obviously making a huge mistake and you need to reconsider your actions.” “Nope. I’m good,” I said. These days, she is married to some poor schmuck. Every once in a while, I see her and her husband out and about … I always say a silent prayer for him. Then again … maybe he is the kind of man who needs a boss and a project manager.
I am responsible for me. I am responsible for my perspectives of the world. I am responsible for my attitude and my happiness. I am responsible for my failures and accomplishments. And whenever I am in doubt, or stuck, or procrastination is keeping me from progress, taking action, or making a decision, I ask myself, “What is the name of the person who is going to move you forward?” That person’s name is always my name.
And the same is true of you.
What is the name of the person who is going to change your life?
As the rabbinic sage, Hillel the Elder, famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” ~ Carol Burnett
This post was originally published on USMCFitnessBootcamp.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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