Miller: Parents’ lessons stick for life

May 18, 2020 by

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Complying with a stay-at-home order has given me lots of time to catch up on projects around the house — cleaning out landscape beds, reorganizing the garage, decluttering the office. The list is long. I hope we return to our new normal before I get through the project list.

JB Miller


Staying at home has also given me more time to think. I’ve thought a lot about what my parents taught me. I remember much more how they lived than what they said. They passed away 42 years ago, in their mid-60s. I’m still grateful for the following lessons:

— Be generous. My parents had a cash box in the bottom drawer of their bedroom dresser. It was their ATM before there were ATMs. When they saw a financial need they wanted to respond to, they would take cash from the box and give. They were faithful tithers, but being generous beyond tithing brought them a great deal of happiness. I learned generous people are happy people.

— Judge accomplishments, not gender. When I was 10, my parents bought a restaurant that my mother ran. It was unusual in the 1950s and ’60s for a conservative Mennonite woman to work full time outside the home, much less manage a business. But Mom blossomed as a business manager, doing the hiring and purchasing while also serving as the primary cook. Her success instilled in me the understanding that being a woman is not an impediment to running a successful business.

— Tell the truth. Dad was a stickler for telling the truth. When I was 5, he told us at the dinner table that he might be fired from his job. At work that day, he answered the phone. The caller asked to speak to Dad’s boss. When Dad told his boss the call was for him, his boss said, “Tell him I’m not here.” Dad told him, “I can’t tell him that,” and handed him the phone. Dad wasn’t fired and he and his boss enjoyed a lifelong friendship. When I started my banking career, he said, “Tell the truth, and don’t do anything that you ­wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.” I haven’t always lived up to that, but it remains a guidepost today.

— Don’t be afraid to change. Although my parents grew up in Amish homes, they were not rigid in their beliefs. Many of their religious practices and beliefs moderated over the years, from wearing distinctive garb to how they saw issues like divorce and remarriage. Change was OK. It was underscored when, as a college student, Dad told me I didn’t need to attend the conservative Mennonite church that we were attending. He told me, “Your mother and I left the Amish church, so we understand if you want to attend another church.”

— Practice hospitality. I gained my love of food and cooking from my mother. For most of my elementary and high school years, our restaurant was my home before and after school, because that’s where Mom was. When the kitchen was busy, I learned to prepare my own food. As an adult, I’ve found that food is a great way to welcome friends to our home and around our table. My cooking has moved beyond the meat and potatoes that were our staples then, but the pleasure of extending hospitality remains.

What lessons or values did you learn from your parents? If you are a parent, what are the values you hope you passed, or are passing, on to your children? While my parents have been gone for many years, the values they taught me remain.

JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.

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