Monday, April 11, 2011


For several months I've been working on this small essay about gifts, and as I moved further into the piece I found it was increasingly becoming a tribute to my parents. I've decided to keep it this way, at least for now, while I take some time away from it. In the meantime I will post the initial draft to the blog in 2 parts and welcome any feedback you have to offer.


a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present : a Christmas gift | [as adj. ] a gift shop. See note at present .
• an act of giving something as a present : his mother's gift of a pen.
• informal a very easy task or a can’t miss opportunity : that touchdown was an absolute gift


Good things have happened to me in my life; I have been blessed with gifts and opportunities for which I can take no credit. And in the rare dark days that I have experienced, there were dear friends who cared for me and supported me, helping me move beyond the sadness and pain to a place to heal.

I was blessed at birth.


Not the gifts that come wrapped in pretty paper and a colorful bow, and not the gifts we exchange on holidays or give to our loved ones on birthdays, but the gifts of the heart and spirit, of living, the gifts we give of ourselves to others that can make their lives better. These gifts of many names frequently overlap one another…the gift of love, the gift of self-respect and self-esteem, the gift of family, the gift of compassion and caring, and the gift of comfort and security.

Many of us have been fortunate to have received these gifts from our parents, families, and loved ones, often given silently, with the recipient unaware of his or her blessings until years later. It was not until well into adulthood that I became fully conscious of all that had been given to me, and the role those many gifts have played in my life.

My intent was simply to make us mindful of the gifts we have received and perhaps are now in a position to share with others, but as I progressed into the narrative I realized that this is really a testament to my parents. I feel comfortable and confident speaking of these gifts because I have been given each of them by two wonderful people. These words are a tribute to Josephine and Spartico Renzulli, my parents to whom I owe so much.

The gift of self-esteem

A sense of self esteem and self worth are necessary attributes to live a successful life, success being a life filled with meaning, purpose, and satisfaction and not one measured by financial or social achievements.
The greatest gift parents can give their children is a healthy sense of self-esteem. Healthy in that it is appropriate and not mindless praise, and that it is accompanied by instilling a respect for work and not a sense of entitlement. Excessive, unwarranted praise can be just as damaging as withholding of approval.

Although I was not conscious of it at the time, I grew up feeling good about myself. This did not prevent me from experiencing the usual adolescent crisis of self-confidence, especially where girls were involved, and later as an adult feeling somewhat uncomfortable in certain social settings. But even then, at a deeper, core level, I thought of myself as OK, and could not imagine anyone not liking me. As a parent, it important to me to do all I could to pass this gift on to my children; I wanted them to know that they were important individuals, and that they were loved. This meant showing them and telling them. Some parents have a problem with the “telling” part and offer their love from a distance.

The gifts of respect, trust, and acceptance

It was an ah ha moment that I still remember some 30 years later. My oldest daughter was 13 years old when it hit me like a slap on the head; my wife and I could do and say all the right things and still not have total control over our daughter’s destiny. I believe this is one of the most difficult aspect of parenting, understanding and accepting the fact that we never have complete control. There are many elements that are beyond our reach. Failing to acknowledge this, and the excessive imposition of parental will and control can be just as harmful as excessive neglect of parental responsibilities. Wise parents know when to step back and show trust in their child, when to allow them to make healthy mistakes, and when to accept their decisions, never easy calls to make.

My parents trusted me, they set boundaries and made it clear what was expected of me, but at the same time gave me room to make my own decision, both good and bad. They never discouraged me from pursuing some task or project or diminished my ideas. I was never expected to take over the family farm, it was an unspoken given that I would go to college to prepare for a career of my own choice. They did not push me into one direction or another. My first choice was pharmacy, no doubt influenced by my years of working in our local pharmacy. After one year in pharmacy school I decided my future was in medicine, and my parents accepted that, despite the hardships it would create for them. I knew they were proud of me. They had accomplished what so many of their generation tried to do, to see that their children had a better life than they did.

I can only imagine what they thought when I told them that I wanted to pursue art, not as a hobby, but as a career to be shared with medicine. The only thing they asked me was, “are you sure this is what you want to do”. When I said it was, any disappoint they may have felt was kept to themselves, and they offered me nothing but encouragement. My parents never failed to respect my decisions.

The gift of comfort and security

It has been easy for me to look back on my childhood as idyllic, thanks to this gift. Life on our small farm was a fun adventure shared with friends and family. Although an only child, there were neighbors, friends, and endless cousins for companionship. I enjoyed all of benefits of life on a farm in a small town. Like so many farmers of my father’s generation there was never much money, but I never felt poor or deprived. Years later I realized
That my childhood was wonderful because my parents protected me from the hardships they were experiencing. While life was good for me, they were dealing with the never-ending stress of making enough money to keep the farm operating and paying the ever-present debts. Like all farmers, my father worked long hours 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year, and my mother from time to time worked in one of the many small clothing factories that were located in town. She did this even as she cooked, made bread, pasteurized our milk and made butter, and did all the housework, plus feeding the endless stream of visitors every weekend. It would have been very easy for them to demonstrate bitterness, unhappiness, or even anger that I could have seen. But they did none of this, and whatever distress they might have felt was kept hidden from me, just one more of their many gifts to me.


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