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Family•Parenting • 5 minutes to read
I’m a dad. I’ve been a dad for a quarter of a century and I’m not sure I’ve ever satisfactorily concluded what I’m supposed to do as one.
There are more than a few books on it with even more ideas. I’ve seen books on what to expect as a new dad—the ones many men are reading at the hospital, waiting for their children to be born. There are books telling us how to raise our son or daughter; and how and why we should handle them differently. Troubled teens? There’s probably a book titled, “I fixed my kid and SO CAN YOU!”
I didn’t read any books on being a dad, even though I’m pretty sure someone gave me one. The fact is, I became a father and decided to just let my brilliant fatherhooding evolve. I expected to sit back and enjoy my grand plan as it unfolded along the way. Solid plan.
I think a lot of men do this. Some with great success and some with less. We are told what to do in all sorts of circumstances and there are some really important truths in parenting young kids.
- Keep them alive.
- Teach them to be kind to their mom and others.
- Explain that stealing is wrong.
- Train them to not talk badly about others.
- Try harder to keep them alive.
- Be kind to them and love them unconditionally.
- Let them experience life just as much as warning them about it.
This last one was hard for me. And to be clear, I’m not talking about letting them ride their bike off the roof because there’s a fluffy bush in the yard they are convinced they can land on if they just get enough speed. I’m talking about the non-lethal stuff.
I wish I’d have been the dad who told my three boys to go ahead and see what it’s like to put an entire bag of Pop Rocks in their mouth and then down a warm Coke. I literally cannot accurately explain the results of doing it. But, when you do, just make sure to do it outside.
Warning my kids about life seemed to be better than doing life with them. It seemed responsible and, if I’m honest, it was easier.
But there was this one time that I remember being all in. We bought something big, I can’t even remember what it was anymore, but it came in a huge box with Styrofoam padding. You know, the white blocks, shaped just right to keep your TV from breaking when you drop it trying to get it upstairs. The kids knew that when you kind of crushed it, you made snow. So they asked if they could take it all and make snow inside the house. Which was even more enticing since it was mid summer.
I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too. Static electricity. But we were committed to doing it and for the next 45 minutes, every last bead of Styrofoam was released into the air and found its place to stubbornly cling to. Faces, shorts, lamps, dogs, faux plants; all had a layer of white and the kids were the creators of an impossible winter season.
So after the fun was had, it was time to start cleaning up; something we’d agreed on before we started. It took way longer to clean it up than anyone expected and we found beads of Styrofoam in that house every day until the day we moved out. It was one of the few times I actually encouraged them to do something I knew would create a mess.
And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t have the best attitude about it either. I was ready to make passive-aggressive comments about how I had to clean it up after they got tired of it. I was sure my wife and I would be the ones to do the bulk of the work; but they did a great job! I didn’t take away the magic of the day by muttering something under my breath that would indicate this moment was anything less than wonderful.
I remember that day. I’m not sure the kids do. They probably do, but even if they didn’t, I’m okay with it. I will remember that day and the look of innocence and kid-joy as they played. I’ll remember them shaking their hands and laughing as the Styrofoam beads fell off for a moment then snapped back with the crackle of static electricity! Oh yes, and the frustration of trying to get the black, now Styrofoam spotted, dog clean.
I’m grateful for my wife who essentially talked me into this shenanigan with a sideways look, saying, “This will be a good thing, just watch.” But it was one of the few times that I just went with it. I spent a lot of those years watching from the side-lines and not participating. I got into the habit of not getting in the way, but not engaging either. I regret this because I missed out on a lot of fun and memories.
I went to a friend’s house recently for a get together. He had prepared a Tri Tip which had spent hours on the grill. As he took it off the grill and put it on the plate, he asked his son, who looked a lot like mine from those years, to take it in the house and put foil on it until we were ready to eat. Good job, Dad.
My wife and I went to another friend’s house who had their first child less than two weeks before. As we were getting ready to leave, I happened to be holding their newborn. I asked who was next to hold him and his father’s hand shot up instantly, eager to stay involved and present. Good job, Dad.
I have amazing kids. I got my life in order and started engaging with them in a more genuine way. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of time and years wasted. They are adults now. How I wish I had done my personal work sooner.
I now pursue them with intentionality and share my own life with transparency. They get the real me. They hear my experiences; my success and failures. I have stopped passing along warnings and have committed myself to joining them in the life experience.
I think this is the way you earn trust with your kids. I am no longer afraid to crush the Styrofoam.