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Memphis Daily News
Leaving Footsteps For Others
June 9, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

There is a passage from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” that reads, “A child goes forth each day, and the first object that the child sees, that object he becomes, for a day, or part of a day, or for days stretching into years.” For me, that “object” was my parents. What I saw in them, I have become. The older I get, the more it surprises me how of much of me is them.

A parent’s influence never really stops. It’s an influence that internalizes attitudes and beliefs. It’s an influence that has a sense of the spiritual, of following in one’s footsteps, and a willingness to learn. It is not just knowledge, but wisdom that is transmitted from person to person. Even if there are differences and rough roads and strains in the relationship along the way, for the most part, the influence outlasts any denial of it.

In my life, my parents’ influence shaped my character, my values and my faith. For them, it was not about settling for “as good as it gets.” If was about continuous improvement. The only person you have to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

When my father, Joe Crowley, turned 95 we celebrated by having a book-signing party for him. His first book, “Tales of a Landlocked Sailor,” had just been published. He started it two years before when he was hospitalized. He said, “When an old person dies, a little bit of history dies with him.” He wanted to share this little bit of history that he experienced with his family. It is not the story of his life, but rather remembrances of things that he has done or seen or heard over a long and eventful life. They are the kind of things we just knew about each other in the days when people sat on front porches and talked.

His experiences span a time when more changes occurred than any other period in history. He never meant the stories to be read by anyone other than his family, but then they were published. After it was read by others, he learned that the book encouraged them to share their little piece of history, to sit on the front porch of the 21st century with their families and share their stories.

The book ends with a paragraph written to his grandchildren about the challenges they will face in their lifetime: “challenges to your values; challenges to your virtues; challenges to your way of life; challenges to your principles; challenges to your faith.” But he is sure that “with your background and upbringing you will resist the temptations and overcome the challenges.”

In his own way, he left footprints to follow. Leaving work unfinished, but so much more completed, my father died six months later.

In your life, there is a child, a friend, a spouse, a co-worker or a relative who goes forth each day and the first “object” they encounter is you. What will they become because of you, for a day, or part of a day, or for days stretching into years?

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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