One Times One Is One

“Orchid” by Andrey Grinkevich on Unsplash.

Sometimes I become so focussed on achieving a particular goal that I miss the significance and beauty of other things, of other people, even the reason I had the goal in the first place. When my son was in elementary school, learning the multiplication tables, he found them challenging. When you think about it, why not? I decided to work with him on the tables. I remember his standing beside me while I attempted to impart my learning to him. “One times one is one,” I said; “One times two is two.” Then I looked at him and said: “One times three is…?” I waited, expectantly. He stood patiently, looking back at me, but said nothing. “Three,” I said. “Let’s try that again.”

We did this several times, but he never responded. He looked at me blankly. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I dismissed him and went to speak with my wife. I told her what had happened. She didn’t say anything. I felt like such a failure. My teaching my son had turned into something about me—not him.

A couple of days later, I was in my son’s bedroom and happened to notice a marble notebook. I picked it up and opened it. It was filled with numbers from the first page to the last one. I couldn’t figure out what it was, what all these numbers meant. I asked my son to explain it to me. He looked at me with his beautiful face and said, “Daddy, I’m so sorry that I couldn’t do what you wanted me to do. I’m trying to figure out another way to do it.” I was crushed and realized that when teaching my son, I had not seen him standing before me, confused, but wanting only to please me; I saw only myself, failing. I hugged him, kissed him, and told him I loved him—all the things I should have done when I was first trying to teach him.

I grew up in Mississippi, listening to country music. It was all around me. I remember a country song that captured what I had done wrong. It’s not entirely clear who wrote the song, “I Overlooked an Orchid,” though Carl Smith is credited with it along with several other people. The recording I remember was done by Mickey Gilley in 1974, thirteen years before my son was born. The part of the song that struck home with me in my failed attempt to teach the multiplication tables to my son was this: “I overlooked an orchid while searching for a rose / The orchid that I overlooked was you.” Here’s Gilley’s version of the song.

I overlooked my son while trying to teach him something. I missed his beauty, his desire to please me, to make me happy, while I focussed only on me.

Not everyone enjoys country music. I understand that. But I’m glad I heard it growing up. If you write poetry or raise children, I recommend you give it a listen.

There are a lot of good things to say about roses. I don’t want to miss them. But I also don’t want to overlook the orchids.

All the best!

One thought on “One Times One Is One

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