Growing closer to my parents while away at school

How distance and experience has helped me understand my parents and myself better

Image by: Jodie Grieve
Benjamin has discovered more about his parents' influence on him at Queen's.

University usually marks the first time that teens move away from their home and their parents, and when they really start developing into independent young adults. This might especially be true at Queen’s, with 95 per cent of its student population originating outside Kingston and from over 100 countries.

It’s during this time that we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. In my case, I’ve also been fortunate enough to discover more about my parents and their influence on me.

Before coming to university, I knew numerous facts about my parents. My father graduated from Queen’s in 1983 with an electrical engineering degree, and my mother finished university the same year with a dietetics degree from McGill. My maternal grandmother insisted that my mother and aunt have a formal, post-secondary education, while my father was the first Beggs family member to graduate university.

On my father’s side is a lineage of farmers, while my maternal grandmother went to university at a time when far fewer women did than do today. Both my parents obtained their master’s degrees from the University of British Columbia and pursued professional industry careers afterwards.

We all know these kinds of things about our parents, but my knowledge of my parents has specifically evolved as I gain more life experience as an undergraduate. By living away from home to study engineering physics, I’ve developed my identity and independence in a way I wouldn’t have back home.

I’ve developed my identity and independence in a way I wouldn’t have back home.

My academic life has ended up looking similar to my father’s. Last year, in my general first year of engineering, I had lectures in many of the same rooms as he did, took similar courses to his, and experienced the engineering student culture that prides itself on students’ passion throughout all of these years.

Recently at a local Kingston restaurant, my father and I chatted for most of our meal about electric circuits. In 1980, he would have taken ELEC221, a course I took in 2019, serving as an introduction to the specialized study of circuit theory. Because of our shared experience taking this course, which hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, my father and I were able to have a unique and meaningful technical conversation. I think it’s a luxury to be able to talk with a parent about these kinds of things, especially when not everyone has taken these courses.

On the other hand, my exploration of my Catholic faith on campus has helped me better understand my mother’s influence on me. As I’ve matured and learned more about my faith through involvement with other Catholic students and groups on campus, I’ve come to see how my mother gave me a basis for the beliefs I have about human value and ways to lead a meaningful life.

These similarities I share with my parents have led me to identify with some things about them that I hadn’t previously, and have helped me understand their influence on me. I’ve also grown more aware of some of the exciting ways in which I’m a unique individual with undiscovered potential.

For example, last semester, I was personally motivated to teach a three-hour programming workshop for the Engineering Society’s EngLinks tutoring service to about 100 first-year students. I was busy with course work at the time, and it would’ve been easy not to take on that responsibility, but it was important to me to gain some teaching practice. The workshop was a great experience for me, which helped confirm some of my natural interest in teaching.

It was important for me to do this because it was something that I, without inspiration from my parents’ histories, wanted to explore. Since coming to Queen’s, it has been a principle of mine to make the most of the opportunities that exist only on a university campus, to discover more about myself. I’ve competed in numerous engineering competitions, joined faculty organizations and clubs, written for The Journal, and tried my best to use the educational resources of my instructors and peers to expedite my growth as a student.

My friends know, as I’ve said many times, that I’ve had a splendid, rich experience during my time so far as a Queen’s student. There is no place I would rather study, and I’m getting a wide-ranging education. During this period of growing maturity and perspective, I’ve come to empathize with and understand my parents in a new way.

It means more to me now than ever before that my father is an engineer and worked away at an Engineering degree here in the 1980s, now that I find myself pursuing similar studies and considering a similar career. It means more to me now to know that my parents were academically studious at university, now that I realize the sacrifices and hard work required to accomplish that. I’ve learned to more deeply appreciate some of the hard-earned values my parents have developed, and to better understand how difficult and demanding regular life can be.

I’ve learned to more deeply appreciate some of the hard-earned values my parents have developed, and to better understand how difficult and demanding regular life can be.

One of the reasons I push myself to work hard and succeed at school is because I believe doing so will help me to develop some of the virtues I appreciate most in my parents. I’m often motivated to become more fluent in mathematics and physical system modeling to develop the disciplined technical skills my father has. I am similarly motivated to always try and treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity like my mother does.

Though my beliefs and values are reflective of those of my parents, my ownership over these ideas is my own, as I’m the one who develops them. My way of life was set in motion by my family, but left to unfold in the world at large by me.

My way of life was set in motion by my family, but left to unfold in the world at large by me.

In this strange way, living far away from my parents has made me closer to them. It’s interesting how distance works that way. By understanding myself better, I’ve come to understand them better, and understand the world around me better. I think this kind of experience is actually quite common, and one of the reasons why undergraduate years are considered so formative.

Family is important to me, as it is to many of us. I will spend most of my life living apart from my parents and siblings, and university marked the beginning of that period in my life.

My life now is largely my own to hold and shape, and though I’m developing into an independent member of society, I will always carry a debt to my parents for their raising me.

That’s why I believe that we would all benefit from reflecting more on the influence of our parents and how they’ve affected our identities, regardless of our age or where we are in life.


Engineering, family, Postscript

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