Brian Underwood: Crazy about hearing voices

I have a confession to make. I hear voices.

They started many years ago with the transmission sounding much like the muffled undercurrent of Chili’s on Saturday night. But over the past couple of years, the voices have become more specific and almost discernable, and then recently it all became clear.

For the past 33 years, I have, in various capacities in education, been blessed to walk with families down the path of college and career planning to help students find the road they’re called to travel. Those conversations have been meaningful. The partnerships formed have created great memories for me, and these are the “voices” I continue to enjoy from time to time.

However, the epiphany I had a couple of weeks ago explained how the chatter I’ve heard all these years changed to become so focused and recognizable. You see, I realize the voices I now hear with the greatest clarity belong to my wife and me as we talk with our oldest daughter along the final bend to her college selection.

It’s surreal to take a significant part of one’s life work and apply it to the most important work of one’s life — his/her family.

This amazing fusion of two great passions of mine, assisting students to confidently move on to the next stage of their life, and sharing that with my oldest created the best memory of all recently when our mailbox handed her an oversized envelope that read “Welcome to the Herd” on the outside of it. Confirming the hope inspired from the outside was a letter inside that began, “We are pleased to inform you” signed by the Lipscomb University Admissions Department, Nashville, Tennessee.

The sheer and utter joy she exhibited was like no other my wife and I had ever seen in her 19 years. The broad smile, gleeful voice, and sweet vibrations that emanated from every fiber of her being were priceless. And opposite her on the couch were the same, though somewhat soggier, reactions. Our hearts danced together over the news, but the fount of our respective joy may, I suspect, flow from unique places.

For my daughter, the news represented redemption from a poor self image she once had of herself academically. With her full permission, I can share the circumstances that brought her into our life when she was just over 2 years old makes learning difficult to this day.

From the time she became a part of our family until her freshman year of high school, my wife and I spent countless nights reassuring her she wasn’t “dumb.” This was reinforced by too many wonderful school counselors, resource specialists, and teachers to mention. They joined our family in exhorting her to value her gifts, embrace her learning differences, and work diligently and resourcefully in recognition of it all.

Evidence in the value of a strong work ethic, while being supported in her unique gifts and learning style, inspired confidence in her during her freshman year of high school. By the time she graduated from our Lutheran high school, she walked tall as a cum laude student in front of her amazingly supportive teachers, and she confidently headed off to community college where she will earn her AA degree next month. Just where she’ll be next year still remains to be seen. She might join the Herd, but then again, she might be blessed by other envelopes that come her way. We’ll see.

For my wife and me, the source of our joy is, obviously, for our daughter’s happiness, but there’s more to it. We have profound gratitude for the voices (real ones!) who have encouraged us as parents. This parenting gig isn’t easy, so sticking together is important. And in light of the glad news we’ve recently received, I’d like to share three pearls that have been good to us.

First, our kids live in the world, but they don’t have to be of the world. Translation, teach, model, and reinforce traditional values that allow them to be comfortable and accountable in their own skin, not in what the media and society often peddle.

Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” For our oldest, that meant embracing her gifts and working to overcome some valleys. However, I believe that led to a mountain top experience when she received her recent college acceptance.

If you have a child who struggles academically, the best thing you can do is lift up and channel his/her strengths, while seeking school resources and solutions to help him/her. This may mean getting your student tested for learning differences to help level the academic playing field for him/her. There’s no shame, only honor, in giving your child every chance for success.

Secondly, it’s critical for young people to develop a strong work ethic. Not so coincidentally, the more advances in technology, creature comforts, etc. we welcome into the modern world, the more opportunity we have to take shortcuts to the finish line.

There’s no substitute for hard work. When it comes to students aspiring to college or career goals, the divider, studies show, is grit and perseverance. Parents give valuable gifts when values of sacrifice and self-discipline are fostered.

Finally, make it a point to pay close attention to your child’s interests and aptitudes early on and invest in them. Though the word invest conjures, and often does mean, monetary support, making a point to invest in conversation with your child about his/her future is perhaps the most instructive thing you can do, for both of you. As sincere interest manifests itself, supporting him/her with available financial resources will naturally begin to make sense.

We know the familiar adage loving what you do means you’ll never work a day in your life, and, yet, we all know too many folks who work every day. Accordingly, allow your children to dream and support them in their pursuits, even if the road winds a bit. However, with the freedom you give them to do this comes the responsibility they must have for a concurrent contingency plan. It’s up to you whether or not their old room is Plan B.

I must say I’m grateful for all the voices. Without them, I’d be crazy.

Brian Underwood is the Director of School Development at Sierra Lutheran High School.


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