"Family Life in the 21st Century"

By Darol Wagstaff
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The English word family is derived from the Latin word familia, meaning "household," and ultimately from the Latin famulus, "servant."

Family life and the organization of the household has varied from place to place and through history.  From the time of the Homeric poems (before 700 BC) as implied in the Iliad and Odyssey,  to the relatives of a king and by descriptions of  large extended families as those of Zeus on Mount Olympus and of Priam, king of Troy, the primary unit of residence and domestic economy was the nuclear family (husband, wife, and children).

During medieval times (900-1500 AD) the family was a product of diverse origins and influences. This diversity includes several often interrelated aspects, including geographic, region, occupation, social class, and whether the family in question was rural or urban.  The family and kinship customs of the Germanic tribesmen, the legal system inherited to a large extent from the Romans, the ideals of Christianity and dominance of the church, and the emergence of feudalism all played a part in shaping the European family of the medieval and post medieval periods.

Changes in the family that were set in motion in medieval times continued through the Renaissance and Reformation.

Before the Industrial Revolution the most common type of family organization in European society was that of the large extended family, with as many as three generations sharing a common household.

In 19th century Europe, North America, and other parts of the industrialized world, family organization was based on a wider range of social interaction than was usual by the late 20th century. Since marriage was relatively late and life expectancy relatively short, children often remained at home throughout the lifetimes of their parents. Families were large, and older children took part in raising and teaching their younger brothers and sisters.

During the 20th century it became common for parents to be left alone in the household in middle age. Geographic, region, occupation, social class, and rural and urban diversity continued to influence the families customs, values and ideals.  Exponential advances in education, science, medicine, industry, and technology resulted in an explosion of input demanding that individuals and family members become skilled to deal with dramatic changes.

Days, years, decades, centuries and millenniums,  have ticked away and life in the family remains relatively constant.  Parents protect, provide for, and preside over their families; children evolve through stages of dependency, independency and interdependency; communication with and appreciation for each other is essential for family unity; common interests and goals keep family members focused on meaningful and productive purposes, and generations pass on character traits, traditions, skills, and values so that each day will have meaning.  But with all of the enduring constants, the 21st century brings with it unpredictable challenges. 


Simplicity, common sense and respect, and obeying the laws of nature are keys to meeting these challenges and insuring successful Family Life in the 21st century.


Simplicity- live each day one-day-at-a-time.

An unknown author once wrote:

“Look to this day for it is the very life of life.

In its brief course lie all of the verities and realities of your existence -

the glory of action, the bliss of growth, the splendor of beauty.

Yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow only a vision;

but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore to this day.”


My father was born in 1910, and my mother in 1914.  During their lifetime they have personally witnessed the advent of motorized ground and air transportation, the development of television, telephones, modern plumbing, electricity, computers, and global communication through written and electronic mediums. 

In 1924 when my Grandfather Wagstaff  got his first Model-T Ford he was living on a little farm in Carey Idaho.  One day while he was driving toward the bridge over a canal, he was going too fast and miss judged getting on to the bridge.  Instead of stepping on the brake pedal, he pulled back vigorously on the steering wheel (like he would on the reins of a horse) hoping to “woah” the car to a stop.  He flew off the bank into the canal.  Then he went to the barn for a team of horses to pull the car out of the water. 

Stepping on that brake pedal was a simple task, but doing it in the midst of his confusion was hard for him to do. It was quite a while before he attempted to drive that car again.  

Family life can be like driving that model-T Ford.  On the surface It may seem simple,  but when distractions and confusion set in it becomes more difficult to succeed.  Grandmother Wagstaff’s favorite saying used to be: “Keep your heart free from hate, your mind free from worry, accept little,  give much, scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others.”

My mother remembers the joy of the simple life as she was growing up in a little town in Northern Utah called,  “Riverside.” One snowy Saturday afternoon in 1920, her father made skis for all the children from barrel staves.  He fastened their feet on to the skis with straps of leather and she and her brothers and sisters scurried all over the snow covered hills.

My mother’s home was one where she never once saw an instance of discord between her father and mother. 

Harmony, good will, mutual understanding and appreciation are virtues to be fostered in every home. 

Many of us are like the Scotchman who lost his wife.  While he was mourning her death, his neighbor came in and praised the virtues of the deceased wife - a beautiful woman, a noble character, a good wife and neighbor, etc.  The grieving husband listened, and finally said, “Aye, Tammas, she was a noble woman.  Janet was a guid neebar.  She was aye a guid, true, wifey tae me, and I cam’ near tellin’ her sae aince or twice.”

We need to slow down from the fast pace of daily life and take time to express appreciation for our family members.  Love, like the body must have nourishment or it will starve.


Common Sense and Respect

 A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston.  They walked timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President’s outer office.  The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge.  She frowned. 

“We want to see the President,” the man said softly.  “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.  “We’ll wait,” the lady replied.

For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away.  They didn’t and the secretary grew frustrated and decided to disturb the President, even though it was a chore she always regretted.  “Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she told him.  He sighed in exasperation and nodded.  Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.

The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple.  The lady told him, “We had a son who attended Harvard for one year.  He loved Harvard.  He was happy here.  But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed and my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”

The president wasn’t touched, he was shocked.  “Madam,” he said gruffly.  “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died.  If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.”  “Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don’t want to erect a statue.  We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.”

The president rolled his eyes.  He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, “A building!  Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs?  We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard.”

For a moment the lady was silent.  The president was pleased.  He could get rid of them now.  And the lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a University?  Why don’t we just start our own?”  Her husband nodded.  The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment.  And Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.

Common sense and respect would have dramatically changed the outcome of that story. 

Malcom Forbes once said, “You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.” As I mentioned earlier, the ultimate definition of the word family comes from the Latin famulus, “servant.” 


Obey The Laws of Nature

When I was a junior in high school, I joined the Professional Freestyle Skiing Circuit. 

From the first time I mounted a pair of skis to ride the hill in my back yard, until I was competing in three World Championships, I had a love for flying through the air on my skis.  During my years as a professional skier, I gained an appreciation for nature and the lessons that we can learn from her.

Greylag Geese are champion flyers.  They exhibit a family life existence that is in many ways similar to human family life.

Milton Olson conducted research on geese and identified five facts and lessons from geese and their flight patterns.  These behavioral lessons are learned and passed along from generation to generation.

Fact #1.  As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow.  By flying in a “V” formation the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson:  People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact #2.  When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone.  It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Lesson:  If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go.  We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

Fact #3.  When the lead goose tires it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.  As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Fact #4.  The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging.  In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater.  The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.


Fact #5.  When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it to help and protect it.  They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again.  Then, they take off with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese,  we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.


Remember that living simply one day at a time, applying common sense and respect for others,  learning the laws of nature and teaching them to family members, helps to insure a happy and successful family life.


Daniel Burnham  (1846-1912) , an architect and city planner responsible for many of the features of the city of Chicago extended this challenge to future generations:


“Make no little plans; they have no magic [there] to stir men’s


and probably themselves will not be realized.

Make big plans; aim high and hope and work.

Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded

will never die.

But long after we are gone.

Will be a living thing.

Asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.

Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things

That would stagger us.

Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.


By accepting this challenge, we can build upon the accomplishments of the past and make every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. 

Look well, therefore and FLY2K!!


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