“I need your top 5 values.” This was a text from my daughter last week.
Well, now what? And why did that one come so fast? Wait, is loyalty even a value? Maybe it’s just a command, something that doesn’t require thinking, but blind acceptance. Values should be carefully considered, as they are basically rules to live by. Then maybe values should be something that doesn’t necessarily require thinking and consideration at every turn.
Loyalty as a value was becoming more questionable to me the more I thought about it. I mean, are we supposed to be blindly loyal to people whom we don’t even respect or with whom we don’t fundamentally agree? Sounds a little like what Hitler demanded of the Germans during his reign of terror. Where was this coming from?
It didn’t take long for me to connect the source of this line of thinking to my father. I had rebelled against this blind loyalty that my dad demanded when I was young. My father had a few sayings that I still can only hear in his voice. “Blood is thicker than water.” He wanted unconditional loyalty in spite of his actions, which if you asked any of his five (likely six, really) children, seven stepchildren and four wives, might be considered more than just a little hypocritical. In fact, he exhibited no characteristic that fostered loyalty in any of his family. He lived a life for himself alone and at his own whim. In the end, I can say with confidence that only his last wife remained truly “loyal” in any real sense of the word. His ashes still sit in a closet in a trailer 13 years after his death. No funeral, no acknowledgement that he’s even gone.
Was I now telling my daughter that something forced upon me as a child was something I was expecting from her? No. What I intended to come across, hidden in that visceral response to her question, was the unconditional support she would always have from me. THIS is a value I live by, cultivated from a childhood to which my children will never have exposure (thank God). It’s not something I will ask of my children, but something I will give to them.
No, I didn’t have a support network I could trust as a kid, nor well into adulthood for that matter, so it’s obvious why this is such a sensitive topic for me. I remember so few times as a child feeling supported or protected, but there is one time that stood out, and to this day I can still feel my body’s reaction from 36 years ago.
It wasn’t often that my stepsister and I got along. She was two years older and all I wanted to do was hang out with her and her friends and for her to like me. Of course she had every reason not to. I’m sure I was annoying and whiney and just kept getting in her way. Plus, she was the baby in a peaceful family when a strange man and his two little girls invaded her steady life. Anyway, the summer I was 12 I had met a boy while at our summer cabin (oh boy does that sound so much more glamorous than it really was!)--my first real crush who actually liked me back. He assured me he’d be in touch when the summer ended, and I had planned to see him that fall when we’d return for the county’s fall festival. Well, he wasn’t in touch and when we returned I quickly heard that there was another girl in the picture.
We were in town during the festival and I saw him across the street. He started walking over and of course I excitedly started walking towards him. Elizabeth immediately jumped in front of me and try as Kevin might, she would not even let him make eye contact with me. Elizabeth immediately took him down. “Turn around right now. You think you can just treat my sister like a piece of garbage? You say you’ll be in touch and then nothing?! Nope, you go on. You had your chance. She’s too good for you.” Yes, part of me was sad, but that was completely trumped by this amazing feeling of support that I’d never felt before. She called me sister, she stood up for me, even though she probably hated me 23 hours of the day, that fourteen-year-old girl finally taught me the meaning of loyalty, and I don’t think I had ever felt so good in all my twelve years.
Years before I had kids, I worked with a woman who had a sixteen-year-old daughter. They got along so well; I’d never seen anything like it. When I asked how she did it, her immediate answer was, “We all need a cheerleader and she has me.” That’s it in a nutshell.
I choose to call this loyalty. To me it’s support without question and definitely blind when it comes to my kids. And maybe blind loyalty is not a value I necessarily want to teach my kids, but it is something I must give them. Loyalty to others is also high on my list, as well as something I deeply respect in friends, colleagues, and certainly my family. Maybe it’s not something you should demand of others, but something that is quite a special gift when received.
(There may be one or two of you still stuck back on that initial request from my daughter. Just so you can sleep tonight, I will let you know that my list of top values also included compassion, gratitude and appreciation, courtesy and respect, and integrity. All are equally important to me, but far less questionable as a value than loyalty, and as far as my children are concerned, they get my loyalty right up there with the others.)