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Opinion: What's Your Legacy?

9/26/2012

By Michael D. Rader, DDS
Contributing Author

Grandchildren are one of the great pleasures of reaching senior status. I particularly love to arrive at my daughter’s house early, quietly steal into my two grandsons’ bedroom and watch them awake. There are no adequate words to describe the scene of a grandchild as he slowly wakes up and becomes aware of his surroundings, recognizing that Grandpa is there. His smile and excitement are pure joy.
 
I then like to make my little guys breakfast. My specialty, and one of their favorites, is sausage and pancakes. My daughter doesn’t even mind if I sprinkle chocolate chips into the pancakes as they cook. Believe me: Little boys think anyone who can make pancakes that good is an amazing grandpa.
 
Recently I was told by a friend that the average American cannot name his great grandparents. Great grandparents sound like people from the distant past, but they were the parents of our grandparents. You know, Grandpa’s mom and dad. That’s only eight people. What were the great grandparents like? What were their life struggles and triumphs? What were their dreams and aspirations for themselves and their children? That family history for the most part is gone. It also made me wonder: Should we realistically expect to be remembered by our children’s grandchildren? Or, stated another way, what legacy, if any, will we leave future generations?
 
When I think of a lasting legacy, I picture an important person. To me that would be a transformative figure in history, such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. – people whose lives redefined what American is, and what we as a people believe. I picture someone who, by the strength of his or her convictions, altered the course of the river of history. Obviously a Jefferson, Lincoln or King only comes around once a century, if that frequently, but even in our small world of dentistry the truly remarkable figures such as G. V. Black, L. D. Pankey and Maynard Hine who have left a lasting imprint on our profession are still quite rare. Where does that leave the rest of us?
 
If Jefferson, Lincoln or King altered the course of the American river, where will the average Joe’s mark be seen? For many of you, your legacy may lie in your personal, religious or community life. Some have given generously as a member of the Lion’s Club or other civic organization, while others have made their legacy secure through service on the school board or through their church. A few have touched the lives of third-world children by traveling on foreign dental missions. The legacy you leave is yours to determine. I wish you the best. 
 
For me that was answered long ago. As I struggled to keep up with my dental school classmates I became aware that I would never be a slick operator. There would be no dinners given in my honor by an exclusive gold foil society. In that great river, my mark would only occur as the smallest ripple in a very remote backwater. Fifty years from now no one will be talking about my exquisite porcelain or gorgeous crown margins. I haven’t developed any innovative technique or breakthrough dental material, and there is no dental lesion named after me as its discoverer. But that’s alright.
 
If some day in the future there are two middle aged brothers who fondly remember their Grandpa making his special chocolate chip pancakes for them, and took great delight in watching them rub the sleep out of their eyes in the morning and loved them very much, that will be enough. Yes, that will be enough. 
 
Dr. Michael Rader welcomes reader comments via email at drrader@sbcglobal.net.

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