It was a classic joke. A graduate told a friend “When I was seventeen I was appalled by my father’s ignorance. It’s amazing what he’s learned in the last four years.”
I think most people will sympathise with the Royal family, as Prince Harry earns a fortune criticising them on American television. Few people attend lessons telling them how to be a parent. It’s also difficult to judge if you did a good job or not. Should you judge your performance by the number of degrees the children got or by the number of silver weddings they achieved.
How much blame or credit should you give the effect of the upbringing of their spouse? Or were you a success if they run their homes and families like you did? Was my mother right to tell me I didn’t like spinach or marrow without trying them? In later life I found I did like spinach but I still reject marrow.
There is also the fact that the world changes. My parents were Victorians and the Victorians lived in a class ridden society. They wanted racial tolerance for themselves, but they looked down on most people of colour. Yet my father played competitive tennis with an Indian doctor who was definitely one of the family.
The fact is that a case can be made for almost any judgement of the quality of parentage a child receives. Certainly it doesn’t help their confidence if their parents are having affairs outside marriage. It doesn’t help if they get into bad company, and it is part of growing up to reject some of the shibboleths beloved of parents.
Jews are admired for their strong families, but this involves a considerable degree of discipline. You don’t go out on Friday night; that’s reserved for when the family gathers. The youngest child is taught Manish Tanah, because the youngest has said it on Seder night for 3,000 years. There is security in tradition and while we, personally, don’t empty ash trays the second they are used, as my mother did, we still fry fish the way she taught my wife. No Jew ever considers it odd that we eat cold fried fish.
To an extent every baby is moulded by its family. You can’t choose your parents. Eventually you copy them when you approve of their actions as parents, and you reject their standards when you disapprove of them. Harry has decided that there is a lot to reject, but in the years to come, his alternative approach will also be found wanting, as society changes.
The country has become multi-racialist – and a good thing too. I don’t know if my parents would have approved though. The community today is not going to dislike Spaniards because of the Inquisition. The survivors of the Holocaust, though, are going to have to pass away before was can accept that the Germans today had nothing to do with the Nazis.
Where Harry is surely wrong is to judge the past by the standards of the present. Most people conform, but what they are conforming to changes. As each generation is going to face the same problems of adjustment and judgement, the most important quality you can bring to the argument is generosity.
Nobody is going to be perfect, and that includes each of us. Looking back, there will always be instances where we would like to have the chance to do something differently. You don’t get second chances though; grievances can sour your thinking for years on end unless you decide positively to let the past fade quietly away.