Lessons From a Stranger Who Immediately Became Our Friend

We had a visitor in our home this weekend named Doug Stroud.  We had never met him before. He was in town to do a photo shoot of the national collegiate soccer games being held in our city not far from our house. At church several weeks ago, my husband heard about a guy—a photographer– from Washington DC, who had just finished cancer treatment coming for this weekend job.  He needed a place to stay.  We maintain a guest room.  We said yes.

Friday, upon meeting him, we learned that before delving into professional photography about five years ago, Doug owned and ran a surf shop in the DC area for some 20 years.  I thought I had heard him wrong and asked for clarification.  “A surf shop.  It’s a place where surfers buy stuff.”  So, Doug is a photographer AND a surfer.  He is also a remarkable person in whose presence one finds themselves being authentic which is one reason he is fantastic photographer. One peek at his photographs will show you what I mean. (Check out his blog too.  You won’t be able to stop clicking on “next”.)

The next morning I asked more about his family, how he came to find and join our church and about his cancer.  His open personality and intelligence made him fascinating to talk to.  “My family is me and my dog (a Labrador).  I broke off my last relationship with a girlfriend when I joined the church seven years ago.  My parents divorced when I was young and I didn’t get much guidance as a kid.  I’ve basically been on my own since I was ten.”  I envisioned Doug and an army of kids like him whose parents did not–were not able to– parent.  They had been born themselves to a generation of kids whose parents may not have taught them parenting skills etc.

Doug said something that hit me.  He was observing my kids, particularly twelve-year-old Travis.  “He is so smart.  He knows so much more than I did at that age.  All kids today are so far ahead in what they know because of technology.”

That idea sat down in my mind as we gathered at the kitchen table for morning scripture study with our combination of smart phones, tablets and paper scriptures to read from.  In the discussion (maybe it was a mom lecture) that followed our reading in the Psalms I heard myself say with passion, “Never disrespect older people that don’t “get” technology like you do.”

I pointed out to my children that they are standing on the shoulders of people who figured out the technology that makes today’s kids smarter than any previous generation in terms of information.  Any question they have, they can talk into a smart phone and a voice will bring them a sensible and even intelligent answer—so of course they know more!

But they have this kind of intelligence because they are standing on the shoulders of their grandfather who literally worked on early computers back when a computer took up the space of a small building yet had the computational power far below the phone (really an amazing computer) we hold in our hand.

This is the same man who, today, won’t use an ATM, let alone online banking.  He refuses to use smart phones and continues to use Juno email despite the frustration of not being able to open an email from his grandchildren if there are more than one or two photos attached.  We want to poke fun at him and many others of that generation who struggle to get a gmail address and use it.

But we are standing on their shoulders!  We would not have what we have without that generation.  They were not raised with the technology, so it is not native to them.  They simply did not have it available to them like my twelve-year-old who has no memory of ** REAL telephones with cords attached to the wall!

Then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I have had my own judgment of my parents’ generation when it comes to the way they interacted with children.  Open, emotionally honest communication was rarely modeled for them.  It is not native to them.

I remember my mom saying that when my oldest brother was little it hit her that she “didn’t have to do it the way her mom did it” which I understood to mean that she didn’t have to be as strict and unbending as her mom.  My guess is that there was a fair amount of “spanking” or “the belt” in her day.  Today we call it abuse and there is talk about how to avoid such “discipline”.  (Read this post for example.)

When my mom was raising kids, societal conversation about the virtues of vulnerability was not available to her any more than a smart phone was available to me when my first child came along. 

And yet, I stand on the shoulders of a mom who said, “I can do it differently—better—than what was done to me.”

Maybe my lecture to my kids came because I am now one of those “old people”.  But I heard my own words.

I have a new view and am determined to stop being disrespectful of previous generations who simply did not have available to them what I now take for granted. I humbly stand on their shoulders with newfound gratitude.

Thank you, Doug, for visiting and helping me open my eyes.   You have helped me to see what a human being can accomplish and be when willing to bravely face unfathomable challenges like the army of “latch key kids” of my day did and do.  We live in a take-for-granted world of amazing privilege.  And we do it on the shoulders of imperfect past generations who faced (and continue to face) their own challenges.


** Yesterday Travis saw a photo of his older sister at my mom’s house in 2002 when we stayed with her during the Winter Olympics so Eric could work that venue.  Fun memory!  He saw a phone on the wall with a curly cord in the background and asked me why it was so complicated.



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