As a father of 10 children ranging in age from 9 to 27 years of age, I have often pondered how to best help my children as they have grown and progressed through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and now young adulthood. Additionally, my wife Bonnie and I have had frequent conversations during our 29 years of marriage about how to nurture and provide for our children. These discussions have been important to us as we have strived to care for our family and to work with our children to help them accomplish their goals and solve their challenges.
As mothers and fathers, we naturally want what is best for our children so that they will mature into capable, responsible and resilient adults who have integrity, who are motivated to do their best and who have desires to serve others and make this world a better place. We hope that they will strive to develop the character traits that will be of most benefit to them throughout their lives.
During these times of reflection regarding my role as a father, my thoughts return to the training I received during my service as an officer and pediatrician in the United States Air Force. Towards the end of my career, I served as a commander for a squadron of about 110 dedicated medics, nurses, physicians, and ancillary medical staff. My responsibilities included assisting young men and young women, who had just graduated from basic training, to incorporate the mission and values of new Airmen in our United States Air Force. I came to appreciate those individuals who wanted to make a positive difference and who were dedicated to helping our squadron fulfill its part in the overall Air Force mission.
As such, the Air Force’s mission and core values were emphasized regularly during training exercises and “commander’s calls”. From Air Force Instructions (AFI) chapter 1: The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight, and win in air, space and cyberspace. In order to achieve this critical mission for our country, the Air Force emphasizes three core values: Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.
Air Force Instructions (AFI) chapter 1 states: “Integrity is a character trait. It is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking. It is the “moral compass” – the inner voice, the voice of self-control; the basis for the trust that is essential in today’s military. Service before Self tells us that professional duties take precedence over personal desires. Excellence in All We Do directs us to develop a sustained passion for the continuous improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward vector of accomplishment and performance. Our core values define our standards of conduct.
Integrity is also the basis for the trust that is essential for our families. I am grateful that my parents strived to set an example of integrity in our home and took the time to lovingly correct us when we needed it. When I worked for my mom and dad in their bicycle shop during my teenage years, there were times when meeting the expenses of the business was difficult. As employees, we would write our time down in a book that was used to process our payments. My parents taught us that we needed to be accurate and honest with our records so that the business could meet its obligations. Watching my parents work hard and sacrifice for our family helped me realize that integrity is very important and that I needed to work hard in order for the bicycle shop and our family to succeed. Bonnie and I have strived to follow their example by encouraging our children to consistently and persistently do what is right, even when no one is looking. Parents can help foster the value of integrity in their children with things like expecting them to be honest during an exam or insisting that they pay others back when they borrow money.
As for the value of Service before Self, I see parents on a daily basis place the needs of their children ahead of their own. Mothers and fathers willingly sacrifice sleep, energy, time and resources to serve their children. I stand in awe of mothers who sacrifice all they have to bring a newborn infant into this world and then constantly give of themselves to nurture their newborn. As our children grow, we need to help them give back to their family by regularly completing their chores, serving their siblings, and fulfilling additional projects or assignments in the home. This helps them learn to be accountable and to make good use of their time. As important as sports, dance, music, and other extracurricular activities may be, if children only live for themselves, they may not learn the important value of Service before Self. As a father, I have observed that teaching this value to our children while they are young sets the pattern later for their adolescent years when it is naturally easy for them to be more self-centered.
Children who learn to be responsible and accountable are laying the foundation in their lives to live the value of Excellence in All We Do. As children grow, parents can refrain from doing for their children what they can do for themselves. This can help them feel capable and responsible and also builds confidence and self-reliance. Children who are given the opportunity to contribute to the work in a home and family increase their sense of belonging. They feel as though they are needed, and that the work they do is part of making the home a more orderly place. When children complete their age appropriate chores and assignments, this gives them a sense of purpose, the knowledge that they are needed, and the confidence that what they have to contribute is important. Also, expecting and teaching our children to do their best at home, school, and other extracurricular activities, helps them incorporate the value of Excellence in All We Do in their daily lives.
As Americans, we fully expect our Air Force to accomplish its vital mission and live its core values. Likewise, we can strive to live the values of Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. If we help our children incorporate these same values in their lives, our families will be strengthened.
David Bush, MD
Canyon View Pediatrics