What I learned from my parents

Dad was a preacher and Mom was a teacher, so many of life’s lessons were given to my brothers and me explicitly and directly.

They were not shy about telling us exactly what to do, both in the moment with an assigned task and in the future with big life decisions. I still remember the speeches on saving money, dressing well to earn respect, eating my vegetables, getting enough sleep and brushing my teeth. It was all helpful and sound advice.

Larry and Sharon Wallace
Dad and Mom have aged (only slightly) since this photo was taken, but their wisdom and advice has been timeless.

But what I remember most from my parents came from their example. Here are the most impactful lessons I learned from my parents that have stuck with me to this day:

Cleanliness. I’ve heard my dad tell the story so many times I can recite it from memory. When they brought me home from the hospital, my mom was overly concerned for my hygiene. She bathed me two or three times a day. She disinfected every implement or toy I could touch, and she worked diligently to ensure my environment was as germ free as possible. Throughout my youth, keeping my room clean and assisting with the household chores like emptying the trash, vacuuming the floors and doing the dishes, were all non-negotiable tasks on my agenda. To this day, I remain fastidious about my hygiene and keep a clean house. Carla often accuses me of being unable to sit still and relax because I’m always wiping a surface, sweeping up the crumbs or picking up fallen tree branches and leaves from the yard. I don’t know if it was instilled from infancy, but it’s a lesson I learned well from my parents.

Responsibility. Our first house in Bedford, Texas, had a two-car garage, and we kept at least one side cleaned out for parking. Automatic garage door openers were a luxury back in the 1970s, so when I got big enough to hoist the door open, that was my job. My dad would pull into the driveway, put the car in park and announce, “Garage door opener, ho!” I jumped out, ran to the door, heaved and tugged at the handle until it got to eye level and pushed it over my head in triumph. This was my job, and I learned to do it consistently and without complaint.

It was also an opportunity for a lesson in economics. A few months into the assignment of this new chore, my dad called “Garage door opener, ho!” and I paused.

“Dad, I think I should be paid to open the garage door,” I offered, a little hesitant.

“Sure! Glad to pay you!” was his surprisingly enthusiastic response. “How much do you want? A nickel? A quarter? How about a dollar every time you open the garage door?”

“Yeah, a dollar sounds good,” I replied, a huge grin emerging at my successful negotiation.

As I opened the car door to rush to earn my first dollar, my dad offered one more point.

“One thing, though. Dinner tonight will cost you $3.50.”

I paused, thought about it, and realized I would quickly be in the hole financially.

“I think I’ll just open the garage door for free,” I said and never again demanded higher wages.

In my lifetime I have earned promotions and pay raises, but I have always been more motivated by trust and a sense of responsibility than accolades or money.

Faithfulness. My parents brought me to church just a few weeks after I was born, and I have missed few Sundays since. We never questioned church attendance in my family, even before my dad went into the ministry. Before he joined the staff at our church, he did everything he possibly could as a volunteer – teaching Sunday School, visiting prospects and the sick, assisting with construction projects and cleaning the church. My mother was just as committed, singing in the choir, playing the piano, keeping the nursery, and teaching adult women’s Sunday School. They were unbendingly and unerringly faithful to the church. As my dad used to say, “Jesus loved us so much that he gave His life for us. The least we can do is show up at church a few times a week.”

I am just as serious about my church attendance and involvement today. My family has made it just as habitual as I did growing up. They have learned to expect worship to be a part of our Sundays even when we’re on vacation. That can mean an intimate service with just our family or at the church with the people we are visiting. Love of the church is hardwired into my who I am, and I can’t imagine life without it.

Hard work. From the time I was big enough to push a mower, yard work has been the instrument to teach me the value of hard work. I can still hear my dad’s voice, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Raking, pulling weeds, digging lines for a sprinkler system, push mowing, picking up tree limbs and Spanish moss, cutting back bushes, pruning trees, and weed whacking on a nearly three acres of Central Florida property taught me to be diligent in gathering facts, conducting interviews, making calls, writing, editing, re-writing, taking pictures, updating web pages, meeting deadlines, responding to emails, drafting speeches, hosting media, creating integrated marketing communications plans, posting to social media, compiling budgets, building presentations, speaking to groups, doing on-camera interviews, managing a staff and much, much more. A good work ethic has been universally helpful to me. Seeing both of my parents work hard taught me that it should not be dreaded or avoided. Hard work should be the norm and the fruits of that work should be enjoyed.

Unselfishness. Both of my parents in different contexts put others first. My dad had a congregation of people for whom he would drop everything and go to the hospital to visit, pray with or counsel. He would show up in suit and tie to my games and performances, never complaining that he was too busy or too tired to watch yet another basketball game. My mom worked all day and prepared us nutritious meals every night, rose early to fix our lunches, and went without a lot of sleep to take care of us. I can also safely say she cared nothing for the hours of sports she endured on television or the hundreds of arcane conversations on the nuances of “Star Wars.” As a result, I rarely think “What do I want to do?” but instead try to anticipate what my family needs or wants, and I work to make that happen. I have learned to give up food on my plate, take the broken chair, pass up the game on TV, and even, on occasion, shop for home furnishings on a fall Saturday. I strive to be unselfish in my decision making and focus on putting others first.

Don’t follow the crowd. I have been taught to “take the road less traveled” since I first heard “broad is the way that leadeth to destruction” from Matthew 7:13 as a child in church. It was always more important to my parents that we do what was right than what was popular. This was true for fashion, music, movies, going to prom or anything that could be detrimental to our Christian witness. It started out for me as avoiding “the appearance of evil,” but I have more universally applied this principle to life decisions requiring a moral choice. I learned to avoid situations where people are behaving inappropriately or illegally. I try to choose what’s right vs. what’s convenient. These lessons have given me a spirit of independence and the ability to think for myself.

Laugh. My dad remembers jokes even when he can’t remember the day of the week. He has always displayed a knack for humor. My mom’s sense of humor can be off beat, but I can still hear the sounds of her laughter when she got together with her sister, Wanda. When my brothers and I were old enough to get away with it, we worked at making my parents laugh when we were around the dinner table. We saw how much joy it gave them. These days I don’t laugh enough, but repeating that scene around my family’s dinner table with my boys is hopefully teaching them how life-giving joy and laughter is.

Have adventures. The year my parents packed our car in secret and took us to Houston and Galveston on Thanksgiving has been forever imprinted on my identity. They taught me that anything can happen when I least expect it and it can be amazing. Dad explained the trip as we got in the car as “We’re going on a drive.” For almost the entire three-and-a-half hour trip we asked “When are we turning around?” to which my father replied, “Do you want to turn around?” I learned that sometimes it’s better not to turn around. It’s better to discover the adventure around the next bend. Having adventures, not knowing what is coming next, building anticipation and injecting surprise into life adds depth and meaning to our existence. It’s essential when life gets too predictable and hum drum. I try to remember to give my family little adventures whenever possible, and I got that from Dad and Mom.

I’ll bet some of these on this list have already filtered their way down to my children. At least, I hope they have. And I hope my boys know where these qualities and habits come from. Their grandparents are remarkable in ways they may not have fully appreciated.

Who inspires me

I am blessed by a number of people in my life who inspire me.

Jesus inspires me to love. I start each day before everyone rises to spend time alone in prayer and with the scriptures. The words and example of Jesus comfort and challenge me. Jesus not only commanded me to love God and love my neighbor, he showed me how. When I read his story and pay close attention, I am inspired to love unconditionally and without expectation.

Lance and Carla hug in front of a sand dune at Grayton Beach under a blue sky with white, fluffy clouds.
See? Don’t I look inspired?

Carla inspires me to be my best. Feeling needed and appreciated is a feedback loop that has created a never-ending cycle in our marriage of wanting and trying to do better. She gives me honest feedback and helps me prioritize what is truly important. She helps me focus on elements of life beyond myself, helping me avoid a shallow and self-absorbed existence. Left to my own devices, I could become too insular and selfish. She engages me directly and pulls me out of my self-protecting habits to share my feelings, good and bad, and put effort into the best areas of my life.

Barron Wallace in his red University of Georgia polo shirt waves at the camera in the middle of the Redcoat band in the stands at Sanford Stadium in Athens during the spring game in April 2022.
Barron has loved Redcoats, and thoroughly enjoyed his opportunity to conduct the band in the stands last April as part of his audition for drum major. He was one of eight finalists, but he didn’t make the final cut. More persistence!

Barron inspires me to persist. As the oldest, Barron has had to endure a lot of parenting missteps. He has developed a thick skin and a tolerance for hard work that continues to pay dividends. When he didn’t get any leadership roles in marching band at the end of his freshman year, he didn’t complain, and he asked us not to go to the band directors and complain on his behalf. Instead, he put his head down, went to work and spent his sophomore year leading by example, without a title. His work ethic and positive attitude combined with his mastery of conducting set up him up to serve as a drum major for his junior and senior year of high school. After attending drum major camp at the University of Georgia for two years, his heart was set on attending the state’s flagship institution and march in and eventually conduct their renown Redcoat Marching Band. Despite repeated attempts to get his SAT score up in the mid-range for UGA admissions standards, the best he could muster was to get wait-listed. When he was ultimately denied admission for fall semester 2019, he gratefully accepted his place at Kennesaw State University, auditioned and played trumpet in the Marching Owls. He auditioned for drum major as a freshman after learning how to handle a mace and master the high-step stadium entrance required of the Owls’ drum major, and he won the position. He maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average through his first year, and within days of reporting to band camp for his second year at KSU, he received notification that he had been admitted to UGA for spring semester 2021. He is more than half way through his second season as a Redcoat trumpet player and was eyewitness to the national championship, had an opportunity to audition for drum major and is a rank leader in the trumpet section this year while the Dawgs pursue a repeat. That is persistence, and when I see how much effort Barron puts into reaching for his goals, I am inspired to do the same.

Harris Wallace holds his Gwinnett Student Leadership Team certificate in front of a screen with a project image that says "Thank you for attending the 2022 GSLT Graduation" at the Gwinnett County Board of Education offices.
This fella is going places, and he loves learning.

Harris inspires me to learn. As the middle son, Harris has carved his own niche, distinguishing himself from his older brother. He has his own personality, but he is continuing many of the positive habits of hard work and goal setting. Harris has an insatiable thirst for knowledge about history, public policy, leadership, government and the interplay among them. His ability to recall names, dates and events serves him well when making arguments, either in mock trial or negotiating an after-dinner trip to Bruster’s for ice cream. Even with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and his isolation in the basement for hours a day of online learning, Harris routinely put in five or six additional hours of study to complete assignments or go down rabbit holes to learn more about topics he wants to understand better. Whether it’s LEGO, Lord of the Rings, World War II or governors of Georgia, Harris’s obsessions are fed by an unquenchable desire to know things and understand how they work. Just half-way through his high school career, Harris has yet to make a “B” in a subject, and I have no doubt he will achieve his academic and professional goals, which are lofty. He has served as a band captain for three years for the Parkview Marching Band and led the Parkview Mock Trial team to the regional finals last year, the farthest the team had ever progressed. When I spend time with Harris and really listen to his verbal exploration of ideas, I am inspired to use my time and energy to be a life-long learner.

Carlton Wallace dressed in a purple and blue with a blue painted face portrays the genie in a scene with Aladdin on stage in front of a black curtain in a production of the musical Aladdin Jr. this fall.
I ain’t never had a son like Carlton, who sings “Ain’t never had a friend like me” from Aladdin with gusto during this fall’s performance at Smoke Rise Academy of Arts.

Carlton inspires me to create. As the youngest, he faces the greatest potential for becoming overwhelmed by his older brothers’ interests, achievements and pursuits, but his strong will and matching personality cause him to make his own way. When the omnipresent screens in his life are made to go dark, his mind reacts like flame to oxygen. His artistic instincts have found expression in drawing and painting, writing and storytelling, theater and the dramatic arts, singing, playing piano, and even baking and cooking dishes that please both his sweet tooth and his taste for the savory. He possesses a quick wit that can serve as his muse. When he exercises his creativity muscle, he becomes self-actualized in a profound way that he doesn’t fully understand or appreciate yet. When I have moments of clarity in my time with him, I am amazed at how his mind works and processes life around him. When I see him on stage belting out a ballad or pulling big laughs from the audience, I am inspired to make time for creative pursuits and recognize how much that contributes to my quality of life and feeds my need for creative expression.

Sharon and Larry Wallace stand with Barron Wallace, dressed in his blue high school graduation regalia, in the middle.
We haven’t been able to spend much time together physically in recent years, but my weekly phone conversations help me stay connected with Mom and Dad.

My parents inspire me to display integrity. I believe character is taught more than inherited, and I have been blessed to have been raised by parents who placed high value on honesty, fairness, hard work and trustworthiness. Throughout my youth while I was under their roof, these principles were reinforced. Now that I am a parent and our interactions are largely reduced to one or two visits a year and weekly phone calls, I hear in their conversations a desire not only for my happiness and for the fulfillment of my family but a hope that I am contributing and making a difference in the world by being a person of character. They have often said that my title and level in the organizational hierarchy doesn’t matter to them nearly as much as that I am honest and work hard. They inspire me to do things the right way.

Cynthia Barron wearing a white top and green sweater sits with her daughter, Carla Wallace in a blue dress and white cardigan, at a restaurant for Mother's Day lunch.
We love having Mama close by and are the beneficiaries of her kindness and her life lessons.

My mother-in-law inspires me to be kind. I’ve never heard her say anything bad about anyone, and whether she liked that person or not, she treats everyone she has dealings with kindly. I’m sure she has her moments, but she keeps them well hidden. I’m sure I have gotten on her nerves, too, but all I have ever received from her is generosity, affection, love and support. When I am in her presence, I am reminded that kindness is in short supply in this world and experiencing it from someone is a great gift. Cynthia inspires me to give people the benefit of the doubt and express genuine kindness rather than frustration or anger.

Bob Perkins and Lance Wallace make silly grins for a "selfie" in a waiting area at the Atlanta Airport.
If this isn’t the look of inspiration, I don’t know what it is.

Bob inspires me to laugh. Bob Perkins and I have been friends since 1987 when he showed up as the fresh-out-of-Baylor University sports editor of The Lake Wales Daily Highlander. His rambunctious energy and sometimes over-the-top sense of humor pulled me out of my shell and helped me embrace the absurd in some of life’s most difficult situations. Over the years we have maintained a friendship through sharing brief conversations and enjoying periods when we lived near enough to each other that visits and lunches and ballgames were treasured times of distraction and amusement. Bob knows me well, and he reminds me to laugh when circumstances can feel overwhelming.

Brian Greer and Lance Wallace stand in Lance's office at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship wearing tacky Christmas sweaters.
Great holiday fashion choices are just another of the wellness outcomes from Brian’s inspiration.

Brian inspires me to be healthy. It’s not just that Brian Greer is 15 years my junior and has not yet had to have any surgeries or prolonged layoffs from exercise because of injury. I respect his discipline in not eating a French fry in more than 20 years. He’s careful about what he puts in his body and how he takes care of himself. With a wife and four children, he understands that there are habits he can embrace now that will allow him to enjoy life longer as he ages. He also has wisdom beyond his years about the need for balance. He inspires me to embrace well-being in all the facets of life: spiritual, physical, mental and emotional.

Clyde Edgerton, wearing glasses and a dark sweater, sits on a porch with trees in the background.
If you’re not familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and go order “Walking Across Egypt” as soon as you finish reading this post.

Clyde Edgerton inspires me to write. There are many writers whose work I admire, but the author I consistently enjoy and relate to and derive inspiration from is North Carolina-born Clyde Edgerton. He so deftly weaves stories of family, faith, tradition, race, class, humor, and Southern identity, I marvel at his books and wish to find my own voice to reach others in a similar way. The opportunity I had back in 2011 to hear him speak at the Decatur Book Festival was a treat, and I reflect on it often when I’m stuck in the middle of the re-write of my book. I can’t imagine ever being mentioned in the same breath as Clyde Edgerton, but for now, it’s inspiring enough to know what I’m aiming for looks like.

Inspiration comes in many forms, and for me, these people all provide me with the fuel I need to make life fulfilling.

Mom and math

Throughout my formative school-age years, my mother was very engaged in my academic career.

She expected her three boys to make all A’s and excel in everything we put our minds to. A mathematician, she worked to ensure that we take the highest levels of math available to us, believing that the knowledge and the resilience built by those courses would make us better people.

When I transferred into Lake Wales High School at the beginning of 10th grade, she advised me to take the math I needed in order to complete Advanced Placement Calculus in high school. OK, it wasn’t really advice as much as it was a statement: you will take the math you need in order to take calculus your senior year. She made it her mission to see to it I would follow through. It wasn’t easy for her or for me.

Math teacher Sharon Wallace holds papers while standing in front of a chalkboard.
Mom’s favorite class to teach was Honors Geometry, but she really excelled as a math tutor to her math-challenged son. This was an action shot of her from the 1988 Lake Wales High School yearbook.

First, I was transferring in from a private school that lacked the resources or academic rigor in mathematics to give me a good foundation. I took Algebra I in 9th grade, while most of my peers in public schools who were aiming for Calculus their senior year took it in the 8th grade. I had a lackluster teacher who taught me very little of the algebraic foundational principles I would need to master in order to take advanced math courses.

Second, math was not my best subject. I made A’s in math. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do well, it just required effort. I still have vivid memories of workbook pages of repetitive math problems of long division, complex multiplication and even addition and subtraction with large numbers. It was tedious and boring and required focus I didn’t want to give to it. I can still hear Mom, in her frustration with my lack of progress on the homework in a very out-of-character outburst, “Ninny! Ninny! Ninny!” She was right. I was being a ninny. I needed to learn discipline to complete a task rather than whine about its tedium and difficulty.

Third, in order to catch up and get on track to take calculus, I would have to take both Algebra II and Geometry in 10th grade. Without the benefit of a strong foundation in algebra, this was a daunting task. Adding to the challenge was Mom’s insistence that I be in the honors sections of both courses. To her, I was an honors student and should be in honors classes. She made it her personal mission to battle the guidance counselors and administrators until they put me in those classes. To her credit, when school started and the homework piled up, she was with me every step of the way to help make up for my lack of algebra knowledge.

Fourth, I was transferring into the large public high school after spending eight of the previous 10 years in small, private schools. There was something about a big, public school that was intimidating. I had one friend who was in a similar boat who had gone to the same private schools I had from the time I moved to Florida at the start of 7th grade. I had one friend while most everyone else had long established relationships dating back to elementary and middle school. I wanted to play sports and take advantage of other extra-curricular activities, too, placing even more pressure on myself to excel in every area of teenage life.

The double math classes made socialization that much harder because I was with my on-track 10th grade peers in Algebra II and with the 9th grade honors math students in Geometry. It’s hard to say I felt like I was “left back” a year in school because, after all, it was an Honors Geometry class. The freshmen were bright and engaged students. They happened to be just as new to Lake Wales High School as I was. It was just a little socially awkward.

Fifth, although I was extremely goal-oriented, it was hard to keep my eyes on the prize when I understood the process as undergoing extreme math torture for the right to get more torture. Giving up was never an option, but my sophomore year of high school was not a cake walk. I learned in that year to trust Mom, not only for her understanding of mathematic principles, but also her wisdom in seeing this goal through to completion.

As it turned out, after earning A’s and B’s in both Algebra II and Geometry that year, it got easier my junior year. I got on track for Calculus, so I was with my grade-level honors student peers in Trigonometry first semester and Analytical Geometry second semester. With Mom’s help, I had learned the Algebra I had missed in 9th grade, and though I still had to work hard at it, my grades were consistently A’s throughout the year.

When I made it to AP Calculus, I knew I was biting off another big challenge, but I was buoyed by the knowledge I had already survived the worst. I focused on passing the AP exam, earning college credit and reducing or eliminating my need to take another math class ever again.

Mom knew I wasn’t headed to a career in math, but the wisdom of her insistence I get AP Calculus in high school cannot be disputed. I managed to pass the AP Calculus exam and earn a year’s worth of college math credit. I did not have to take another math class every again…  or, at least until I enrolled in the MBA program 10 years after I graduated college. When we derived formulas for calculating risk in investments in my Corporate Finance class, my calculus came back to me — not so much like riding a bike but more like a ghost haunting me from the pages of a textbook.

Even more valuable than the quadratic formula or Pythagorean theorem was the character-building that took place. I learned resilience. I learned perseverance. I learned how to push through mental blocks and cope with frustration. I matured. I experienced the joy and exhilaration of completing difficult tasks. I experienced one of the most powerful feelings a human being can have: accomplishment.

Thank you, Mom, for the advice/command/willing it to be. Math did not kill me. It made me stronger. You deserve all the credit.