HumankindNESS: Dare to be Different

By Jennifer Richardson
My parents have always seemed to have the guts to be different.

In some ways their bravery made my life very unlike the lives of my peers, and dating was one example of this. Those of you who know my family know that we were not encouraged to casually date. My parents believed in courtship that would lead to a real commitment. Anything else was just non-essential.

We told them things had changed, it was a new world now. We consistently reminded our father of how he met our lovely mother and then dated her for five years before marrying her at the tender age of 19.

He reported that he knew he would marry his Nancy Anne the first day he saw her descending the church steps on the day of a big church picnic, so it was meant to be. That kind of lightning only strikes once apparently. But everyone else gets to, we said. My parents hoped we would use our time for things that had eternal significance—and they reminded us that it was ok to be different.

Naturally, this did not stop any of the children in my house from having as many crushes as the next kid, but we knew that open resistance was futile. This was when the world still believed that parents were truly in charge of their children’s lives.

There were a few brave crusaders who were confident they could storm the Smith castle and ride off into the sunset with one of the girls. We begged and pleaded for them not to make a fuss, but there were just some boys that had to try.

I can clearly remember a very determined out-of-town boy who, despite the fact that he had been warned, called the house wanting to talk to me. I answered the phone very nervously. My father promptly got on the other extension and joined our conversation, and asked the young man what was the purpose of his call?

The boy stammered something about wanting to talk with me, and my father graciously assured him that, while his daughters would not be available for talks on the phone, he was certainly available should the young man need to speak with someone.

They did have a strained chat for a few minutes while I wrung my hands in worry and embarrassment. Apparently the prospect of a chat with my parent wasn’t as appealing as my father thought it might be; the young man never called back.

There were some upsides. For instance my three sisters and I had a cottage industry of babysitting jobs. Everyone knew they could call the Smith house any weekend and find someone who could offer childcare—who was sure to be available because they had no weekend plans.

In this current age of dating anyone at basically any age, I know this sounds challenging, and it was. But my parents were kind people, and they made it clear they wanted only the best for our lives. They tempered their rules with an on-going conversation about “someone special” and over the years we comically called it the “saving someone special for you speech.”

Both their lives and their words said we should wait for greatness, and not jump into every possible relationship. They encouraged us to look for specific traits in a person, and then when we were courted someday, to hold those suitors up to the standards we set. And only spend our precious time with those people who displayed the qualities of someone that could help build a life. For me, this turned out to be great advice.

In retrospect, I learned many things during my teen years, such as patience, wisdom, and the power of hope. I made multitudes of mistakes, but I also learned it was not only ok to be different; it was preferable to being someone who just went with the crowd. Being different was survivable, and admirable, you came out on the other side a much stronger person.

Also, I learned that any man who isn’t capable of talking with my father is probably not worth marrying. No doubt the best outcome of having your first date when you are 19, and getting married when you are 23, is that you can end up married to the only man you have ever loved. I know because I did.

Dating was only one of the ways in which my parents were not afraid to ask us to be different than the world around us. This courage is a trait I now admire in them, and I strive to show that quality to my own children. Dare to be different, world-changers always are.

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