Then, in a prophetic paragraph that would be quoted for generations within the Adams family and beyond, he wrote: I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.
My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.John Adams by David McCullough
John Adams, one of our most important yet least heralded founding fathers, had three things that set him apart from all the others.
First, his wife Abigail was without question the foremost of the founding wives, and had times been different, there is no doubt she would have been with her husband in the Continental Congress.
Second, the legacy of the Adams family extended far beyond the life of this founding couple. Not only was John Adams the second president of the United States, but his son John Quincy Adams became the sixth, which was an extraordinary first of sons following in their fathers’ footsteps for our young nation. Additionally, Henry Adams, the paternal grandson of John Quincy, became one of our nation’s greatest academics, historians, journalists, and novelists.
Third, the Adams family was unique because of their vehement opposition to slavery, as exemplified by these words written by Abigail to John in the midst of the Revolutionary War:
Heartsick, searching for an answer to why such evil should “befall a city and a people,” Abigail had pondered whether it could be God’s punishment for the sin of slavery.John Adams by David McCullough
Few individuals, couples, or families make the parent and leadership connection more apparent. Amidst terrible military and political misery, the Adams occupied themselves with what they perceived to be the purpose of their lives: to create a nation where all people could be free, and build a family that would stand the test of time
Their example is an answer to how each one of us must deal with our miserable circumstances during a pandemic. We must understand unhappiness is rarely an issue of circumstance, as much as it is a question of whether the core meaning of our lives is derived from the pursuit of comfort and leisure or from purpose and meaning.
“The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation, because occupation means pre-occupation; and the pre-occupied person is neither happy nor unhappy, but simply alive and active. That is why it is necessary to happiness that one should be tired.George Bernard Shaw, Treatise on Parents and Children
Where am I going with all of this?
I have been thinking about an irony, a fact contrary to logical expectation, which is less amusing than it is frightening. It is easier to become a parent or leader than to obtain a license to drive. Fear not, this is not my foray into public policymaking, the creation of more mandates for human behavior.
What I am trying to do is understand how a couple like the Adams left an imprint on society far beyond any other founding couple, at least in my opinion, but they thus far have no monument in Washington D.C.?
Adams himself predicted this omission. “Monuments will never be erected to me. . . romances will never be written, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors,” he wrote in 1819, nearly two decades after his single term in office.
At his farm in Quincy, Mass., Adams worried that he would be forgotten by history, and for good reason: The temperamental Yankee could never outshine Washington and Jefferson, Virginia’s two-term presidential all-stars — one a brilliant general unanimously chosen to lead the nation, the other the eloquent author of the Declaration of Independence.Why Doesn’t John Adams have a memorial in Washington?, Alexander Heffner
My takeaway: work on your parenting as you work on your leadership, become the best parent you can be in order to be the best leader you can be. Lead the way you parent and parent the way you lead, because as history travels forward, it will be your influence on people not stone which holds the greatest sway over the future.
My leadership notebook
The following are my handwritten notes illustrating my thoughts and ideas still in development. I’d like to give you a window into my thought process each week, in hopes that it will inspire you to unleash your own creativity and embrace imperfection.