Paul Prather: There's more than one right way to live a life

I'm sure this hypothesis wouldn't hold up to a rudimentary social-science research experiment, because I can think of too many exceptions.

Still, it seems to me that whatever we were brought up with too much of, or too little of, we later as adults tend to choose its opposite.

For instance, I crave stability above almost all else.

My dad was a restless man who, wherever he landed, soon convinced himself he would've been happier elsewhere.

If he was serving as pastor of a church, he'd fret that he should have devoted himself to teaching school. He'd resign and get a teaching job.

Soon he'd decide he never should have left the ministry after all, and he'd take a position at another church.

Or he'd hold both jobs at once, as if hedging his bets. Then he'd quit one.

If he was employed by a church in Kentucky, he'd hear Jesus calling him to the mission fields of Ohio.

For Baptist preachers back then, the Buckeye State was as heathen a land as darkest Borneo, a netherworld where liquor sales were legal and so, naturally, all devily vices lurked in the neon-tinged shadows.

Off we'd go north to save lost Yankees and comfort transplanted Kentuckians.

Soon Dad would be fed up with Yankees and transplants alike.

The Buckeyes talked funny, and many of the Southerners had lost their zeal for the Lord when they found union jobs, bought big Buicks and discovered they could drink beer openly, without having to skulk around.

We'd return to Kentucky.

That's not all. Within each town where we moved, in either state, we changed residences every six months or year.

We lived in humble parsonages, smelly apartments with bulky gas heaters, a trailer park and a succession of college dormitories where my mother worked as a dorm director. Also, my parents bought and sold a modest house of their own.

All before I got out of grade school.

Dad used to joke we moved so often he didn't have to pack our furniture; he'd just say, "Jump!" and the couch, beds and tables would march to the rental van.

My mother was one of those rare people who could be content anywhere. Move or remain, it didn't matter to her.

But my dad was, to use an old expression, fidgety as a worm on a hot rock.

To the contrary, for me every switch proved traumatic. I was ever the new kid.

I vowed that someday I'd plant myself somewhere and stay forever.

That's what I did.

Today, my wife, Liz, likes to joke that I'm just like the Lord God himself: The Lord changeth not, says the Bible—and neither do I.

I've lived in the same town since 1973. I've attended the same church, basically (long story), since 1977. I've written for this newspaper, with only a single break, since taking an internship here in 1986. I've occupied the same house since 1991, through two marriages.

I'm snug and warm in my routines.

Here's another example.

My first wife had been raised as one of five kids in a boisterous working-class household. She made it clear she wouldn't be reproducing a large, rowdy brood.

"I will not do that to my child," she told me flatly.

Case closed. We had one son.

Every year of his boyhood, when we'd ask John what he wanted for Christmas, he'd give the same reply: "A little baby brother or sister."

Pick something else, his mom would say.

Now, John's an adult, and he and his wife are expecting their fifth child in six years. John craved what he didn't have — a big roiling household — as deeply as his mom craved what she didn't have — solitude.

Liz, my present wife, grew up in circumstances similar to my first wife's, five kids in a crowded house, all contending for a single bathroom. Liz has no children.

I predict, then, that John's many children, when they reach adulthood, will opt for a kid or two apiece. Or maybe none.

Again, this principle doesn't hold fast for all people, or in every area of an individual's life.

People also repeat certain patterns they learned in childhood.

I became a minister like my father, not an atheist. My son's remained in the same town he was raised in, where I live, too.

Sad to say, I've even seen people recreate their parents' abuses or addictions.

My hypothesis has holes, then. I realize that.

Still, it's true much of the time.

For years I nursed a low-grade grudge against Dad for having uprooted me so often. As I've aged, I've realized if he'd been as settled and predictable as I am, I might easily have become the rambling man myself.

And there's something to be said for moving a lot, meeting new people and embarking on fresh adventures. Dad wasn't all wrong.

There's something to be said, too, for choosing a place, planting roots there and forging long-term relationships with its people.

I guess the takeaway is, there's not one right way to live a life.

Generation after generation the pendulum swings, from stability to exploration, from small households to large. We shouldn't judge our forebears' choices too harshly, given that our children might similarly judge us.