Guardians are responsible adults who make sure that children have a good upbringing. To the best of their ability, they provide answers when mistakes are made. Punishment for wrong action is fair, but it ought to be accompanied by constructive explanation of why a thing is wrong and alternatives to consider when faced again with a similar decision.
While in the process of revising the first draft of my book-length memoir Security Bound, I have stuck to the themes that occur throughout the story of my childhood and youth (ages 4-19). By the time I completed the first draft, I had identified ten themes: self-doubt, abandonment, abuse, rescue, trust, shame, alcoholism, love, confidence, and self-realization. (As I think about this, something like A Child’s Journey from self-doubt to self-realization might be a good subtitle.)
The book covers about sixteen years. The turning point that I’d say is half-way through my upbringing happened in the summer of 1959, when my brother Richard became my legal guardian. He was in the final quarter of a four-year hitch in the Air Force, I was about to enter seventh grade. He was twenty, I was eleven and transitioning from childhood into “youthhood.”
As both child and youth, I made plenty of poor decisions. I thought everyone but me inherently knew the rules of life, and I was blind to lots of things concerning myself. In many ways, Richard became the mirror in which I began to see who I was. For example, he noted that my left foot pointed inside when I walked and helped me to habituate a conscious effort of pointing it straight. When he asked if Dad had taught me about “the birds and the bees,” I knew I’d be too embarrassed to hear all that stuff from my big brother, so I lied and said ‘yes.’ In truth, such knowledge had been acquired through public school programs (vaguely, at that). The point is that Richard cared enough to ask.
But even Richard, with his keener sense of what I should know about certain things and situations, couldn’t provide the guardian-child structure I might have had, for he, too, was sometimes at a loss, although through no fault of his own; after all, we both had the same father. Perhaps Air Force training had given him a heightened awareness of propriety. Wherever he gained his wisdom from, he had somehow learned what it meant to be a guardian. He tried to do the right thing and acted more like a dad toward me than our father had. When I did something wrong, Richard never meted out punishment and then walked away. He understood that a guardian didn’t simply occupy legal space in one’s life; he did his best to impart the importance of making good decisions and the awareness of consequences.