I've spent a lot of time thinking about legacies. The stories and narratives that we create about ourselves that remain once we die. The traditions and history that binds us to our past and to the future. The legacy that I'm leaving for my kids and grandkids.
What am I creating or building that I can give to them and that they can give to their kids? What traditions do I observe and teach my children? How can I inspire a sense of belonging and pride in my family?
Seeing the pride and identity that came from wearing a patch inspired me and I wanted to find a way to create those same conditions in my family. I needed to find a symbol to represent my family that I could turn into a patch.
I figured that a family crest or coat of arms was the right place to start so I began looking for something that might point me in the right direction. A bit of research revealed that there was a great deal of uncertainty regarding my family's coat of arms. I'm actually not even sure that my family had a coat of arms.
At first I was disappointed at the lack of tradition. Then the thought occurred to me, "These things have to start somewhere. Why not make one now?"
My research into coats of arms and unit insignia taught me that the imagery used reflects the values and heritage of the people that it represents. Ok, cool, what are the values that I would want to represent on my family insignia?
There's a lot of talk about "family values", but it's all done in general terms and usually as a code word for traditional conservative values. If you set that discussion aside and ask yourself the question, "What are my family values?" I suspect you'll find that you'll take longer than you might expect to write them all down. I certainly did.
Think about it. What are the values that are truly important to your family? What is so critical to your family identity that you'd want it represented on a symbol for you and yours?
It took me a long time and many, many re-writes, but I finally settled on four family's values. I chose these values because I felt that if my kids held these close to their hearts and let them guide their thoughts, they're much more likely to end up happy, successful, and balanced people.
I'm working on planning a rite of passage for my boys that they can use as a marker in their lives to identify their transition into manhood. Part of that plan includes presenting them with several significant gifts that bear the family coat of arms. Things that they can carry with them to remind them of their connection to their family.
There's a lot around the rite of passage that I want to dig in to, but that's outside the scope of this article. For now, I want to challenge you to sit down and spend some time thinking about what your family values are and to do some research into your family history to see if there's already a family coat of arms that you can carry forward.
If, like me, you can't find one, make one.
Think back to when you were a kid. Did your family have any traditions? Was there something that you did together predictably and regularly as a family? Something that you looked forward to eagerly or think back on fondly? What were your family traditions?
One of the traditions that my family observed was Friday night pizza and bad movies. My mom would cook up a few pizzas (pepperoni, olive, and mushrooms), and we'd watch whatever bad movie was showing. There was a series on the USA channel called "Up All Night" that would play terrible shows like Revenge of the Toxic Avenger and Nuke 'Em High. We'd camp out in the living room and eat pizza and watch bad TV until late into the night.
It wasn't something that we did to create a tradition, but it became one anyway.
When I first began thinking about family traditions, I didn't even consider Friday Night Pizza to be one. At the time, I thought that traditions required ceremonies and ritual, perhaps some robes and chanting or a speech. I had it in my head that there was a pattern to follow.
I've since come to think of it much more fluidly and I've found that it's actually really simple to start a family tradition. Maintaining a tradition is another matter, but starting one is pretty straight forward.
The simple definition that I've come to understand regarding family tradition is contained in the question I asked in the first paragraph: it's something that you do together predictably and regularly with your family.
To be predictable, there has to be some kind of recurring schedule that your tradition follows. It could be nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly or any thing in between. Sticking with the schedule is important so that your family can plan around and look forward to the tradition. If everyone knows that Tuesday is board game night, then they'll know to check in before planning something over the top of it.
Following the schedule takes work and effort, but you should also stay flexible. As your kids grow up, they'll start getting engaged in other activities at school or on their sports team or at church and these will compete for the same time as your traditions. Make sure that you're balancing "the way it's always been" with trying new things.
Talking theoretically about family traditions is great, but let's try actually putting some action to the talk. Below is a list of some of the traditions that have developed in my family: