Saying “Yes” to New Situations

Yes, I know that as children grow and age, they become more argumentative and willing to push boundaries.  Some – hell, most – start to envision themselves as equals and thus disdainful.

The trap is that if you spend enough time around them, you begin to think that they are, indeed, equals.  Why should they give up something so that you can have a turn?  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to do as they please, with whom they wish, when they wish and where they wish? 

You understand in your gut that even teenagers are still children, but the constant pushing against the boundaries – especially by more than one in a household – will shift those boundaries.  I have a mantra that the older kids are learning:  "details, details, details."  And even with the details, without which nothing will ever be approved, I have to ask myself specific questions as I consider the request.

  • Can I depend on this kid, and his/her friends, to know how to behave in this particular venue?
  • Is there going to be an adult there to maintain safety and order?  Trust me, you have to be very specific when you ask if the parent is going to be there at that particular time and at that particular place.
  • Is the event appropriate for the age? 
  • Is there a precedent being set if you agree and will you regret it later?
  • What are the risks if something goes wrong?  Whether to let a kid see a particular movie is in a different category from attending a coed sleepover.
  • What’s the kid’s attitude and demeanor when they ask?  Cockiness is more apt to get a negative than a straightforward request since the cockiness implies a lack of thought before acting in a new situation.

The truth is that while I have agreed to their requests, there have been moments when the answer is no because of a simple gut feel that something’s not right.  And that’s actually okay regardless of what they say in response. 

Because the final responsibility for whatever happens in those new situations will rest with the adult and not the child.

What Do I Really Have to Teach Them?  (Part Two)

30.  Awaiting turn at a buffet.

31.  That Mac/Cheese, Rice and Fries are not an acceptable table combination at said buffet.

32.  How to use a fork, and in combination with a knife.

33.  That dress shoes are just uncomfortable since they’re not worn often.

34.  How to behave in social functions such as weddings and funerals.

35.  That the body in a coffin isn’t going to suddenly jump up or in any way move.

36.  How to properly put on shoes.



What Do I Really Have to Teach Them?

So, just what do I have to be responsible for teaching them?  What can’t they figure out on their own?  Try these for size…

1.  How to grasp a spoon and fork.

2.  Where the spoon and fork they hold really goes.

3.  What goes on the spoon and fork.

4.  The "Clark Bar" in the bathtub isn’t for eating.

5.  The bathtub "Clark Bar" isn’t an art supply for the wall.

6.  How to walk.

7.  How to go down the steps.

8.  How to tell Mom that you’ve taught them to go down the steps.

9.  How to say "please" and "thank you".

10.  When to say "please" and "thank you".

11.  When not to repeat what Daddy said about the clothing of the woman who sits two pews over in church.

12.  The clothing in the darkened closet isn’t the Boogey Man.

13.  How – and when – to spit.

14.  Why we don’t repeat the hand signals that people use when driving.

15.  How to dress themselves.

16.  When to wear coats versus short pants.

17.  What clothing matches and what doesn’t.

18.  How to ride a bike and put on a helmet.

19.  What can happen when you don’t wear a helmet.

20.  For sons, how to treat girls and women.

21.  For daughters, how to be properly treated by a man.

22.  The difference between fantasy and reality, i.e. why hitting in a movie isn’t like real life.

23.  How to handle a bully.

24.  How to do long division.

25.  How to set a table.

26.  How to pack a suitcase and know what to pack.

27.  How to wait without poking the neighbor and annoying everyone else.

28.  How to tie your shoes and buckle your belt.

29.  And the list will go on…

 If you have anything else that you’ve had to teach your kids, contact me and let me know.



PracticalDad and the Miley Cyrus Photos

"I didn’t know they were going to strip her down and wrap her up in a blanket.  I was surprised when I saw it…but hey, that’s life.  Stuff happens."

– Billy Ray Cyrus on his daughter’s cheesecake shot, the Today Show, June 17, 2008

Help me understand this.  You’re there on a photo shoot when they strip your teenage daughter for a cheesecake shot and you’re surprised.  I understand that since I’d be surprised, too.  But hey, that’s life?!?!  Stuff happens?!?!?!

Dude, strange men will be ogling this shot of your teenage daughter.  What are you thinking?

I know a bunch of fathers – me included – who’d be out of there in a heartbeat.  Even if there’s a contract for the shoot, I doubt that such a shot would be enforceable in court.  And if there is a contract, tough.  It’s simply wrong to permit such a shot to occur.  Either he knew that such a shot would be controversial and hence, great for business, or else he’s negligent as a father.  Either way, he should be ashamed for what he permitted to happen.  She’s a 15 year-old girl.

There are moments when the pressure to go along can be overwhelming.  And it’s those moments that the parent has to be willing to be "the bad guy" in order to protect the kid.  It’s neither the manager’s nor the photographer’s job since they have a financial interest in letting this occur.  Whether it’s another parent, an employer or even a school system that’s trying to jam your kid, you have to be willing to enter unpleasant situations and stand for the best interests of your child.  Voices might be raised and threats rendered, but it’s your job to stand your ground.

When I was in middle school, I was badgered by other kids and several music faculty to take up the string bass.  I repeatedly said "no" to both groups and spoke to my father about it.  His response?  You have to learn to deal with the kids yourself, but the teachers should leave you alone when you refuse.  After a teacher called my father directly to enlist his support, I never heard of the issue again.  When I later asked what had happened, he simply said that it was part of his job as a father to stand up for his child.  As he also said, "a kid can’t be an SOB with an adult.  I can."  It was a relief to know that I was supported and it taught me a great deal about standing up to my peers when the need arose.

Yes, there’s a different world out there as mothers take to the workplace and fathers take to the home.  But that doesn’t mean that fathers are emasculated and can’t do right by their children.  You have to protect your young.

And as I learned, being an SOB can be a noble thing.

View From the Ridge

Parenting is truly a "forest for the trees" experience, especially when you have more than one child.  You are so caught up with the everyday minutiae of schoolwork, errands, activities – and squabbling – that you don’t always see that longer view.  And suddenly, it’s as though there’s a break in the tree-line and you realize that you’re on a ridge affording you a view of miles.

Tonight was that realization.  Youngest’s Tee-ball team met at a minor-league game to close out their season and the boys spent seven of nine innings tossing toy balls, wrestling, chasing and begging food.  They were typical early elementary boys:  wired and spastic.  Along for the ride was eldest, a daughter with a foot in the teen years and an ear in the iPod.  Middle was absent on his first non-family trip to go white-water rafting with his scout troop. 

So down below was the route of childhood as I’ve known it thus far.  Gradually starting to recede in the distance is the monitored playground romping and chase-tag of early childhood.  Adjacent to me are the first experiences of breaking away as the kids begin to expand and explore.  And ahead is the hilly and twisting passage into adulthood as they develop into the people that they’ll become.

As breathtaking a view as any overlook, whether in rural Virginia or British Columbia.

And suddenly, you’re again enveloped in trees as the next round of stuff happens.  And you keep that moment as long as possible until the next one arrives.


I’d Like to Help Out

I’d like to help out more around the house while I’m here, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.

                                    –   Father of three who works night shift while wife works days

Throw me a frickin’ bone here, people!

                                    –    Doctor Evil

Women and society say that families need engaged fathers who actively participate in their family life.  But men are apparently caught in the trap of  trying to make that happen with few, if any, guides on how to how to pull it off. 

A recent study released by the Council on Contemporary Families finds that the amount of family-oriented work (housework/childcare) performed by men increased significantly over the past 40 years.  Men doubled their housework contribution from 15 to 30% – not where most wives want it, but a significant change – and tripled their time spent on actual childcare. 

Despite the positive results shown in the study, fathers are hamstrung by a public perception as a borderline idiot.  This is even demonstrated in the AP article about the study:

            “The average dad has gradually been getting better about picking himself up off the sofa and pitching in, according to a new report in which a psychologist suggests the payoff for doing more chores could be more sex.”

And nowhere in the AP article is sex even mentioned.

Granted, most guys don’t frequent the family section of your neighborhood bookstore, but there is a huge imbalance between resources available for mothers and those available for fathers.  A brief review of the Barnes/Noble magazine rack showed     magazines for mothers with none for fathers.  And a like inspection of the family section shows an imbalance as well.

The public image of the father has also taken a drastic hit in the preceding 30 years.   Starting with Archie Bunker, the typical media father is a loudmouthed, (c)rude, boor who doesn’t know how to relate to his family, even if he is a closet sentimentalist.  There is the occasional Reverend Camden from 7th Heaven, but he’s offset by Al Bundy, Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin.

If you want men to take an even greater role in their family’s life, try giving them the resources and public support that they need.  Please, throw them a frickin’ bone, huh?