I learned to be generous from my grandfather. It’s not anything he said, at least not directly. Even if he would have insisted that I be generous, the term itself is so abstract that I could have taken it to mean one of a thousand different things. Unlike gender, generosity is a spectrum, so telling someone to be generous is as effective as telling someone to be smart.
I did not learn to be generous because someone told me to be, I learned to be generous by being surrounded by generous people, and watching their actions when they didn’t even know they were being watched.
Next to my grandfather, my mother was the most generous person I’ve ever known, and although we never got a chance to speak on the topic, I feel safe in assuming that she learned her generosity from him.
My grandfather was never generous from a position of excess. It’s not as though we were rich growing up. The seven of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Southern California, and my grandfather wore plaid shirts my grandmother bought on sale from the Montgomery Wards for five bucks and change. In the evenings, we’d walk the neighborhood and go dumpster diving collecting aluminum cans to take to the recycling center because a few bags of cans got you a few bucks that you could buy some bread and milk with.
Even when the ministry started gaining traction, ministry money was ministry money, and it went to minister to the needy. We still lived frugally, we still recycled aluminum, and we still wore clothes from the bargain bin, but through it all, the generosity exhibited was undeniable and profound.
It wasn’t the flashy kind of generosity that I see nowadays, wherein if you give someone five bucks, you need to make a show of it, film it, upload it to YouTube, and trumpet your good deed until enough people acknowledge how much of a saint you are. It was quiet, subtle, and you had to be watching to catch it in real-time.
The thing I spotted most often was what I came to coin the Romanian handshake. Every country has its version of it, predominantly the older generation, but it’s when you fold a bill twice over, grip it with your thumb, and pass it along when you’re shaking someone’s hand. It was my grandfather’s favorite form of tipping, and it was so quick, you’d miss it if you blinked.
There was always a meal to be had in our home no matter the time of day, there was always a couch someone could crash on if they needed a place to sleep, there was always a warm smile, and a few minutes to pray together even though everything was moving at the speed of life. True story, we once housed an elderly Romanian couple for over a year because they had no place to go. Nine people in an oversized cardboard box was snug, to say the least.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because my oldest daughter is now of the age when she has started to notice things and inquire about them. From asking me why I picked my nose, to why I didn’t pick up my socks when she has to, or why we always leave money on the table after having breakfast at the local greasy spoon, I realized that she is not only registering what I do but also modeling the behavior.
Children do what they see you doing when you don’t know you’re being watched. They model consistent patterns and behaviors, like grace before meals, or evening prayers, saying good morning, or I love you or showing affection like holding hands or hugging. Children see more than we realize, for better or worse, and how you are day to day, will determine how they will be.
If you’re a mom or a dad, take a moment today and ask yourself if you are the kind of person you would like your children to be. It is a question of paramount importance because whether you like it or not, one day, your children will be you.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.