Perhaps because I am entering middle age — in between my parents starting their 3rd act and very young boys starting their 1st act — I think a lot these days about what children do or don’t owe their parents. (And whether we should use debt as a metaphor at all.)
In Oliver Sacks’ memoir, On The Move, he quotes from a letter he sent his parents when he decided to stay overseas:
As for the other intangible and incalculable things you have given me, I can only repay these by leading a fairly happy and useful life, keeping in touch with you, and seeing you when I can.
I thought that was lovely, so I reversed it, and made it my request for my boys.
I’m reminded of Ursula Franklin, who quoted Pauline Laing as saying, “When parents send their children to school, they hope that, in the end, the young people will be personally happy and publicly useful.”
Personally happy and publicly useful. I love that.