Legacy—like the right font in the script of our daily lives—is intrinsic in the way a father guides his children.
It was early morning. Faint twilight filtered down through the trees, illuminating a path that was steep and full of large rocks. Near silence surrounded us, broken only by a few birds, the buzzing of insects, and occasional exchanges between the men hiking the mountain with me. We reached a clearing with a tall wooden cross set up in it, and rested. From there, we had a stunning view of lakes and valleys below, a forested landscape stretching to the horizon, and mountains in the distance.
The sun rose, the men sat in quiet contemplation, and I thought about typography.
I love typography. It is the art of laying out text, and it is one of my favorite parts of graphic design. As a designer, I’ve worked on all kinds of materials: if you can print it, read it, or click on it, I’ve probably worked on something like it.
To balance readability with style, the typeface (or font) is important, as is the size, spacing, and particular arrangements of the text. I get picky about the details: serif or sans serif, kerning, tracking, leading, and so on.
For those who don’t know: serifs are the tiny marks at the end of lines in letter. A font with them is called a serif font, of course, while a font without them is “sans serif,” or “without serif”:
(Design enthusiasts will note that I am leaving out many details, on purpose. For the curious, Monotype has a good summary.)
If you own a computer, you deal with fonts and typography, even if you’re not a professional designer. We can’t always choose our typography, such as when writing a post on Twitter or Facebook. There, the software’s designers have picked the fonts and styles that everyone must use. But, in word processors and many other programs, we have choices. And when there are choices, people can be divided into three groups:
First, everybody who types is doing typography. They can’t avoid it. They may not know how to use the options at hand. They may not care. But they can’t avoid typography. It is an intrinsic quality of text.
Second, some people do typography with intent. They consider their options, choosing fonts and arrangements that most please their sense of design. The result may appeal to other people, thus improving communication; or it may only appeal to themselves, and irritate everyone else. Perhaps the presets offered by the software’s designers would have given better results. Nonetheless, the typographic choices have been intentional.
Third, a few people do typography well. Intent does not guarantee quality, but it usually helps. Someone with a good sense of design will create an aesthetically pleasing layout, even when options are limited.
In other words, when composing text within a system of choices, people can be grouped as follows:
- Everybody does typography.
- Some people do typography intentionally.
- A few people do typography well.
This was on my mind as I watched the sun come up.
Hiking was one of several outdoor activities at a men’s conference I was attending with fifty guys from my church. There, we listened to speakers talk about what it means for a man to be a friend, a husband, a father.
One topic was a father’s legacy: the impact of our ethics and actions on the future lives of our children.
During the conference, I was struck with how the three groups still applied:
- Every father is leaving a legacy.
- Some fathers are leaving a legacy intentionally.
- A few fathers are leaving a good legacy.
As fathers, we start leaving a legacy the day our kids are born. Whether we planned the kids, or adopted them, or abandoned them, the legacy begins. It is rooted in character: the person we are to our children, and the person they see that we are to everyone else. Are we kind, or cruel? Are we generous enough, or too much? How do we treat our spouse, family, friends, and enemies? The kids themselves are part of the legacy and begin reflecting it long before they have any idea what a legacy is.
No matter what, legacy cannot be avoided. It is an intrinsic quality of children, just like typography is an intrinsic quality of text.
“Lead your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it,” says Solomon’s oft-quoted maxim about the legacy of parenting (Proverbs 22:6).
The truth is, no matter what path you lead your children to—or what legacy you leave them—they are unlikely to leave it. The goal is to leave them the right legacy.
Solomon is not the only Old Testament character to talk about parenting. After giving the Israelites their commands from God, Moses exhorted them to pass it on: “Repeat these again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
I wonder if the Israelite kids got sick of hearing about it. Regardless, the message is clear: if it’s an important part of your legacy, keep doing it. You can’t get more intentional than that.
Much later, the Apostle Paul emphasized living with intentionality: “Be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity…. Don’t act thoughtlessly” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
The choices we make today will echo through the lives of our kids, long after we are gone. Are we acting thoughtlessly? Or like those who are wise?
So, as I approach Father’s Day, I am not asking, “Am I leaving a legacy?” The answer to that is always yes. The real questions are: “How am I leaving my legacy? Am I leaving it intentionally? Am I leaving a good one?”
That’s a mountain I will be hiking up for the rest of my life. If I do it right, the view will be stunning.
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