Like Jethro Gibbs, I believe that there are certain rules that one needs to follow to make it through life and that includes fatherhood. One of the first articles that I wrote pertained to PracticalDad’s First Rule of Fatherhood and given some situations I’ve encountered in the past several weeks, I’d like to revisit that rule again. Until your child is grown, your life is no longer your own. Now repeat that three times and please do so loud enough for everyone else to hear.
Women really do civilize men and perhaps the final part of the civilizing process is getting men to stand and be responsible for their families. This bundle presently sleeping/suckling/resting in your arms is now wholly and fully your responsibility and will be so until they are old enough to make their own way in the world. That phrase – make their own way in the world – is incredibly vague and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as circumstances and offspring abilities vary from one family to another. But there are some things that don’t vary. Your child needs and desperately wants your support as they grow – in school, in sports, in activities, in whatever is happening. There are moments when you might not be able to make an event and kids are both smart and forgiving enough to deal with that. But if your child is going to really thrive and prosper, then she needs to know that Dad is fully behind her in her efforts. For the purposes of what I’ve been witnessing, it’s not just Dads but Moms who are also screwing the pooch on this rule.
What does that mean? Do I have to become a soccer dad or someone who only finds fulfillment living vicariously through my child? No, but it does mean that you have specific basic responsibilities such as providing food and shelter, and assuring that the child is educated. Those are simply the bare-bones rudiments as kids, in order to really flourish and grow, require constant interaction. The more that they’re around you and really interacting with you, the more that they’ll start to blossom. With work and any other responsibilities that you have, you will wonder when you get time to yourself and there’s nothing wrong with a little "you" time, but that time is – and has to be – drastically scaled back from when you were single or didn’t yet have children.
The reason for reviewing this first rule of fatherhood – even parenthood, actually – is because of multiple situations that I’ve seen in which the kids are being simply ignored. Some parents are thinking that since the kids are now teens, they ought to be able to fend for themselves as the folks head out. My wife recently forwarded me an email with a Facebook posting for a teen whose parents were taking a January cruise and had told the teen to find herself a place to live for the week that they’d be gone. Staying at home was out of the question since the house was heated by woodstove and they didn’t trust her to not set an accidental fire, yet they were perfectly happy to let the kid find herself a place to stay. So let me get this straight: you haven’t taught the teen the rudiments of how to keep the house warm with a wood stove and don’t trust her to not set the house ablaze but you’re alright with leaving for a week and telling the teen to find another place to live for that week.
Another teen has no parental support and attendance for something like National Honor Society Inductions and Regional Science Competitions. There’s a recent razor commercial in which boys look into the stands and audiences full of people and the only person that they note is Dad; these kids want their fathers – and mothers – there and they want them there desperately. If you’re going to have a kid, bloody well make sure that you understand that your evenings and weekends are going to be spent on the basics with the kids, even if there are no sports or activities.
The responsibility continues even as they age. Teens are not adults despite their quaint notion that they are and leaving them without any supervision is simply asking for a disaster. It’s at this point that a father has to pick and choose the battles and stand the ground against the some of the utterly insane ideas that these cranially challenged teens have. There are days that I live in a state of perpetual annoyance and there are moments when I’ll decide that the kid has to learn a lesson the hard way. But there are also days that I have to bear down and stick to the rules despite the commentary, arguments and actions of the teens. I don’t look forward to it but that’s simply part of my job and whether they’re too damned dumb to realize it or not, my contrariness really is about them and not my desire to force someone to stick to rules for the rules’ sake.
Fatherhood – parenthood – is the endurance race and to make it, you have to look to the goal ahead and ignore the various complaints that you have because it’s not about you.