There are men who are fathers, and then there are fathers who are men.
I write about 'fatherhood' in this blog as an overall topic. I write about 'dadhood' as a goal for all fathers.
I’m not your typical dad blogger--if there is such a thing. I haven’t had kids at home in 14 years. Neither am I a writer. In fact, I’m the opposite of a writer--I’m a retired engineer. Many dad bloggers are stay-at-home dads (SAHDs). There are dad bloggers that are gay dads, single dads, work-from-home dads and a few dads that fit all of these descriptions. These are wonderful dads by the way! You will find many jokes about dads doing stupid stuff with their kids, but not these guys! Fun stuff? Yes! Taping Bounty paper towels on for diapers? No!
The kind of dad blogger that works full time and blogs about fatherhood is rare because few have the time and/or inclination. I would guess if you asked ten dads if they read, or even know about, blogs written by fathers, eleven would say no! Sometimes I think the only men who read dad blogs are other dad bloggers. Mom bloggers outnumber dad bloggers about 17 to 1. I don’t have a reference handy, but you know its likely true. Women basically own the parenting blog universe. This is understandable and no surprise to anyone, I would guess--but 17 to 1? Many moms read and support blogs about parenting.
So why am I a dad blogger? Well, for one thing, I am concerned about the explosion of fatherless homes having been mostly brought up in one. In my upcoming book, I examine how society is impacted by children growing up without fathers. Another reason for my dad blog may be my narcissistic attitude of thinking I know more than the average male about raising kids. It’s really not that I know more about raising kids, but I did experience it as a father, lacked for it as a young boy, and see the differences. My real goal is to expand the conversation about the crisis regarding fatherless homes in the hope solutions will be found. For more on that topic, see some of my 100+ posts from the past year.
The "Other Dad Problem', a quieter problem, more difficult to see or measure, is ‘Dadless’ fathers. By ‘Dadless’ fathers, I mean men who do not interact with their children in a way that is loving and nurturing. Being a father is a biological act. Being a dad is a social and personal responsibility that should be one of the joys of your life.
In my book, “The Power of Dadhood, A Better Society One Child at a Time”, which is coming out in spring 2015, I discuss ‘The Pyramid of Dadhood’.
At the base of the pyramid is the father who is present in his children’s lives and provides for them--absent fathers don’t even rate placement in this pyramid. Being present is the most basic and critical step of fatherhood. Your presence alone, as a provider, prevents or minimizes many childhood issues, even if you aren't an active 'dad'. Of present fathers, a somewhat fewer number of men are also loving fathers. These fathers show their love, protect, provide necessary discipline, and are encouraging to their children. Fewer still, at the pinnacle of the pyramid, is the nurturing father. He is present, loving, and a teacher/mentor. The nurturing father is active in providing guidance, establishing goals, and preparing his children for adulthood.
Of course, I go into much more detail in my book, but fathers are not just figureheads. They need to be dads too--to be involved, to be loving and to prepare their children to be productive adults. It would be wonderful, indeed, if we as a society, could get more fathers into the ‘Pyramid of Dadhood’, and move those in the pyramid further up towards the pinnacle.
You can be part of the solution, one dad, one child at a time!
This is not about kids with guns. Simply, kids should not be around guns, except when expert adult supervision is available. The same could be said about social media.
A gun cannot kill anyone until it is loaded, a trigger is pulled, and someone is in the line of fire. Again, the same could be said about social media. Social media is loaded when it is on your computer or smart phone. The trigger is the send button. And whomever is named in the post or tweet, is in the line of fire.
My analogy may not be pleasant, but it does help to gain attention to a problem younger people have that my generation did not have. Like guns, social media is harmless until it is in the hands of the wrong person--or any person with no guidance. Unfortunately, the similarity continues because social media, like guns, can give leverage to bring much greater harm to those who would do harm.
What has Changed with Social Media?
Kids these days, as always, need social acceptance. Whereas this used to take place more intimately and privately, social media has made this quest quite public. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or the latest social media craze of which I have not yet heard, kids must have a certain number of comments or ‘likes’, or the kids shrink into a mild depression. “Don’t my friend’s like me?” “Should I be embarrassed--since no one commented?” “Am I losing popularity?” “Am I not funny or clever?” To them, a message with little or no response is missing the target and embarrassing!
Further, an immature or reckless person can ruin their reputation and future with just a push of a button. They will be quite aware of what they are doing, but unaware of the potential current or future consequences. I have relatives, under the age of twenty-five, that are not adverse to using the f-word on social media, and one that has even posted a pornographic drawing. Of course I objected, but it does little to stop them since I have no control over their behavior. Their parents failed, lost or ignored their opportunity to establish reasonable values and limits.
Getting back to the gun analogy, these ‘twenty-somethings’ have administered a self-inflicted wound to their lives. Amazingly, they think they are gaining popularity with this display of crassness! And they may be—but with a VERY impressionable, immature, and unimpressive crowd.
We’ve all seen the photos or 'selfies' of people who are drunk, misbehaving, being obscene, etc. Sometimes they are not objectionable in the right setting or context, but in the sterile setting of a Facebook page or Instagram photo, the context is left to the eyes of the beholder. If the beholder is a prospective employer or father-in-law, you’re done!
Unfortunately, basing your happiness, or revealing your crudeness on a public forum is not even close to the worse that can happen. Personal attacks occur that can be devastating. Too often we hear on the news that someone, usually someone young, has committed suicide based on a public attack on a social media format. When this occurs, the social media weapon is literally deadly! As deadly as being shot with a gun through the heart.
While you may think I am anti-social media, I am actually a big fan. I frequently post photos, brag about my grand kids, publicize my blog, keep up with relatives who live far away, and love to see the posts of my friends and most of my family. It’s not social media that is bad, it’s how social media is handled. That's not to say that social media companies shouldn't do their part to minimize misuse.
What Can Parents Do?
It is up to parents to take control of the misuse or abuse of social media! You shouldn’t leave a gun in reach of your children nor should you allow your children to use social media without your supervision. Be the responsible person you should be as a parent. Take a stand, have rules, don’t trust their judgment, have no-notice check-ups of their social media activity. Unattended, social media can ruin your children’s lives or the lives of others. No—wait! Those of us USING social media can ruin lives! Including our own.
Me (UL) with brother, sister, and cousins 1957
Photos are like wine and whiskey. The older they are, the more they are appreciated. This photo from 1957 reminds me that I was once a little boy with so much before me. As my friends and family will tell you, I am a fanatic photographer of my grandchildren. There are many reasons for this;
- I love them
- I love photography
- I love to brag about them
- I want to capture them as they grow
- I want to capture special moments
- I enjoy the process of being with them while I enjoy my hobby.
Below is a slideshow called “Thoughts on Photographing Your Children”. It’s not technical and only 1 minute and 36 seconds long. I don’t mention aperture, lighting, or shutter speed. I discuss the more practical and emotional side of photographing your children. Things you know but often let slide during a busy life. It’s different these days regarding photography. When I was a kid, long ago in the 1950s and 1960s, cameras were not near as common as today--when almost everyone has a smart phone with a camera function. Back then it was very difficult to take a good photo without 'auto' settings, and it was a much more expensive hobby where film and printing were vital. Neither was there the instant gratification we have today. I’m sure many rolls of film were left undeveloped, or photos were underexposed, out of focus, or just not composed correctly.
Most parents want photos of their children. I can’t imagine why anyone would not. And our children will want to see themselves in photos that anchor, or revisit, memories of their youth. Like many my age, I think I have less than 10 photos of myself at age 12 or younger of which I am aware-- and few are very good. But the memories and conversation they stir up are invaluable. When an old or previously unseen photo is discovered, it's like finding lost treasure.
I have three major suggestions that anyone can understand. My first suggestion would be to have a camera nearby at all times. For most of us, this is no longer a problem. However, you have to have an awareness about when a photo opportunity exists or could come about. The second suggestion is to take a lot of photos. I have hundreds of photos I love, but I took thousands of photos to get them. Had I only taken hundreds of photos, I would only a few. Bad pictures are so easy to delete. The third suggestion is to have a filing system or software program where you can keep and find your photos. Losing a special photo of an irreplaceable moment is sad indeed. I know from experience.
With that said, here in the following video, are my thoughts, with examples, of capturing your children in photos.
Awareness and timing are critical! Ridgewood, MO.
The health of a parent-child relationship is everything! A healthy relationship can overcome all obstacles, whereas a poor relationship rarely seizes on the good.
Relationships can live or die based on the timing of your actions and comments. A comment or observation stated at the wrong time can be devastating, often more so than an untruth. It is a wise person who can hold their thoughts until the time is right, and there may never be a time that is right. This is certainly true as a parent.
Your relationship with your children is critically tied to timing.
Parenting or Commanding
- You reward your child after a good deed, or goal, is accomplished--not prior.
- When your child misbehaves, you must attempt to correct that behavior in association with, and immediately after the behavior.
- When your child is too upset, lessons can wait for calmer times.
- You would never show a toddler their favorite treat before you introduce them to a new vegetable.
- Naps should be scheduled about the same time every day. Otherwise, you will confuse your child and you will struggle with them to get the rest they need.
These thoughts about timing came to me with the news that our Secretary of Defense and others have decided to tell certain of our service men and women that they will no longer be needed when returning home as they serve in combat and other vital areas in Afghanistan.
It’s no surprise to anyone paying attention that the military was going to cut back the number of forces with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars winding down. But the decision to send ‘pink slips’ to service personnel while still serving in a war zone is unconscionable.
As stated by Jonathan Hendershott, in an article in the New York Post, “What is astonishing is that the Defense Department thought it would be appropriate to notify deployed soldiers — men and women risking their lives daily in combat zones — that they’ll be laid off after their current deployment.”
When a decision, based on facts and needs, is correct, you still may have other considerations to address. Those considerations include when the decision is to be announced to those affected, and the appropriateness of how it is done. This is true whether you are a parent, or the Secretary of Defense.
The appropriateness of the current drawdown of forces is not the issue. But how it is done matters to many. Imagine coming in from a patrol in god-forsaken Afghanistan, having seen things you never wanted to see, or doing things you never imagined you would ever do, and then opening a letter telling you that, ‘thanks, but when you get home, we’re letting you go’. Would you tell your daughter she could have done better after completing a marathon? Would you remove your son from his little league team after striking out three times? No! If you see an issue with your child, you find a better time and a better way to approach them.
Common Sense and Awareness
You don’t need an Ivy League education to know the importance of timing. All you need is common sense. I would have thought that the Pentagon would have had enough common sense not to send a negative message to a soldier in a combat zone. But it happened! I can only imagine the lack of a sense of timing many parents must have.
It will be impossible for the Defense Department to undo this wrong for this particular incident. Hopefully, they will learn from it and never do it again. It’s the same with parenting. I’ve often made mistakes in the timing of my comments. It’s comes mostly from not being aware of the situation or not having empathy for others. While timing is common sense, maybe it can also be learned by having more awareness.
Be aware of your parenting. Know the tremendous influence you have with your kids. If you want that influence to remain and flourish as they grow into young adults, be mindful of your comments and treatment of them. Usually that includes the timing and nature of those comments or lessons. Relations can live or die based on your awareness and timing.
Never leave your child alone in the car!
Leaving babies and toddlers in cars alone? Dads, we are guilty! Here is sad evidence.As a group, we leave our children alone in cars three times more than moms according to SafeKids.org. But moms are guilty also, as are clergy, police, teachers and others who have lost children by accidentally leaving them in hot cars alone.
Many times it happens when a parent is deep in thought about work or anything, and often not in the habit of having the baby with them. If the baby is asleep, or very quiet, you may not recall that there is another life on board. There must be a fail-safe method which will make it impossible to leave the car without the child. It is not enough to say to yourself, “Always look in the back seat”.
The link above reports on 14 recent incidents. How heartbreaking is it when you hear of a child left alone in a hot car. If left too long, they die a terrible death. Because it can happen to the best of parents, or anyone else driving a car with an infant or toddler in the back seat, it is essential that you have a plan. Here are 10 facts about child deaths in cars caused by heat stroke.
The technology is not difficult and I believe someday there will be an affordable car seat that makes an obvious signal when the ignition is turned off, or the driver’s door is opened and the car seat is latched. In St. Louis, two inventors have developed a smart phone app that work will work with compatible car seats.
Until this app, or something similar becomes commonly available, each parent should seriously consider a fail-safe method to not leave their child behind.
Here are some ideas to consider and they must become habits:
- Put your child’s teething ring on your key chain, one big enough that it won’t fit in your pocket.
- If you are a smart phone addict, put it in the baby’s diaper bag and have the bag in the front seat as another reminder.
- You could also place your phone under the baby’s car seat prior to leaving. You should not be using it in the car anyway, especially with a child on board.
- Put a sticky note on your driver’s side window or rear-view mirror.
- Mom, if Dad is taking your baby somewhere as a new experience, call and see how it's going! (or vice-versa).
- Buy a large rear-view mirror for viewing the back seat AT ALL TIMES with a baby on board, and have a mirror on the back seat headrest so you can see them.
- For women who wear heels or anyone whose shoes are easy to slip off, leave a shoe in the back seat.
Two enterprising young boys have come up with great ideas to help us to never forget.
- Enterprising young boy #1 has a method anyone can use called "ezbabysaver".
- Enterprising young boy #2 has a more technical approach called "Forget-Me-Not".
You may not be smarter than these boys, but you could surely be smarter than me; and you know your habits better than anyone. Think of something that will work for you!
Admittedly, the likelihood of you forgetting your sleeping child in his/her car seat--as you leave your car to begin your day--is very small; and these reminders can be a nuisance. But the consequences of leaving a young child behind can be so horribly tragic, that you must consider a method that will prevent such an unimaginable mistake from happening.
Never leave a young child in a car for any reason--no matter how quick you think you will be, or how cool it is outside, or how comfortable your child is sleeping! And if you see a child left alone in a car, evaluate the situation and seriously consider calling 911. For more discussion on what to do, read Safekids.org's thoughts on the actions you can take.Please share this information, especially with caretakers of young children. Also review the seven links highlighted in red.
Launch List: Things you want your kids to know before leaving the nest.
When I look back on my life, I have achieved more than I might have guessed when I was a boy. I’m not sure if that’s from hard work or my youthful lack of vision. On the other hand, I think I could have done much better than I did. On that, I’m not sure if I’m kidding myself, or I missed out on some key lessons that would have helped me to be more successful.
A significant part of a dad’s role with his son is to prepare him for life and competition. We all grow up under different circumstances, but I am convinced that those who have good fathers, or mentors, are much more likely to set goals and to reach them. Just being around as a male example is a tremendous advantage to a young boy growing up. But I’m going to take a huge leap here and discuss the ultimate in fatherly advice.
There are six activities or subjects I wish I had participated in or studied. I realized this after my son was grown or I would have suggested most of these to him. These six suggestions I think would best prepare a young man for an exceptional future. (Note: This advice also applies to daughters but is slanted to sons for brevity)
Certainly not all dads would want to give the following advice and most sons would not want to follow it. This advice is for future leaders. In my opinion, only one or two in one thousand young men would ever accomplish all six of these activities/subjects. After all, 71 percent could not even qualify for the military these days. Those young men, however, that would pursue this extensive yet broad education could achieve previously unimaginable goals! Here are my six suggestions for almost certain success.
Be Involved in Sports
Okay, I thought I would start off with an activity that we should all understand and most agree on. A young man needs to experience competition. He doesn’t have to be athletic, but he does need to learn teamwork, get physical activity, learn to win with humility, and lose with the ability to rebound. If the competition is too tough, have them join a recreational or fun league. If too easy, increase the competition.
Join a Debate Team
Advise your son to join his school’s debate team as soon as he is eligible. This, like the other forthcoming suggestions, may be a hard sell. But learning how to talk in front of people, the art of persuasion, and logic are invaluable tools to develop. This will help him in school, higher education, work, and life in general. He will be far ahead of his contemporaries and more confident. Even if your son is not a star in debate, he will certainly learn quite a bit and learn quite a bit about himself. He should continue his speaking education by joining Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a very helpful, encouraging, and safe atmosphere to learn how to speak and work with others. You are never too young or too old to learn.
Learn How to Dance
If your son takes your advice to learn how to dance, he will thank you forever. It is THE way to meet the opposite sex. Girls and women love to dance and they often have a difficult time finding a partner. If your son can dance, he will get all their attention in a social situation. Other guys will be on the sidelines, virtually invisible, no matter how attractive they may be otherwise. The ability to dance with a partner is one of those skills that says, I'm not just smart, but I'm charming too! Learning to dance is also a confidence builder for any social situation. I really regret not knowing how to dance when I was younger!
I know you think I am really losing credibility with this suggestion. Few schools teach it and no one speaks it. So why do I think learning Latin would help? Your son’s vocabulary and ability to learn languages and other topics will be helped tremendously, and the meaning of unfamiliar words can often be determined just by a knowledge of Latin.
A quote from ‘Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning”:
“I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent [emphasis added].”
Latin is one of those topics that acts like a large umbrella, protecting you from the reign of ignorance.
Be Fluent in Finance
This is where you can help directly if you have skills in handling money. If you don’t have these skills, stay out of the way. I have met many children and adults that are clueless regarding how to make, spend, save, and invest money. Many lives and marriages have been ruined by bad financial decisions. Without going into the details of finance here, read “Teaching Your Kids Financial Responsibility”.
Fun with Philosophy
The practical reason to study philosophy is that it teaches young people critical thinking, intelligent decision-making and sound judgment. If a young person can demonstrate these skills--the skills employers really want--then they can be taught the specifics of most jobs by the employer. Philosophy develops our ability to look at different views and opinions and to see the big picture. Not only can this help your son in the workplace, but in friendships, marriage, and raising children.
Philosophy can also mean learning everyday things like values, beliefs, attitude, kindness, compassion, patience, ethics, etc. Where does a young man go to learn these things? Could it be you? If not, then you may need some self-education.
As an aside, I think grandparents should also take an active role in educating their grandchildren if possible. Sometimes a parent just isn’t experienced enough the first time around raising kids. I know I was clueless in so many ways while raising my children. Mentors also need mentors, even if they don’t use your advice.
Have a ‘Launch List’ for your children
The Ultimate List aside, we’ve all heard of a ‘Bucket List’--things you want to do before you die. I suggest developing a ‘Launch List’ for your children. A list of things, tailored to each of your children, that you would like them to learn as they prepare for an independent, successful life. Your Launch List doesn’t have to be the ultimate list--just what will work best for each of your children.
In summary, in no way do I imply your son could not succeed without all these six suggestions. My son is successful in his career and personal life although he participated in only two of the six . But don't assume that knowledge and experience in as many areas as possible is not extremely helpful to being an all-around success. If you have the means and your son has the drive and potential, these are lessons that will allow him to be all he could ever hope to be. But anything you do to prepare your son for his independence in life is indispensable for life!
Service flag retired upon my son's return from Afghanistan.
Coming up on the 4th of July, I would prefer to be positive about the future of America. However, a recent study reminded me that we have become too comfortable in our lifestyle and unappreciative of the sacrifices that were made for us to live in this great country. We as parents, and our society in general, do a poor job of educating our youth in our country's history and values.
Independence Day begs the question, "What would the world be like had the United States never been formed?" I know in my own heart that the entire planet has benefited. I say that as a proud American although many citizens of the world may disagree, even some Americans. Of course there have been, and will be, mistakes made by our leaders, and there are plenty of issues with which to deal across this nation. But I would put the U.S. above any other country in the world!
This 4th of July, we remember that the United States would not exist if not for the many people who died and suffered during the Revolutionary War. Those that fought for freedom and liberty gave up so much; and we reap the benefits of their suffering. But how many of us appreciate their sacrifices? Would you believe that 40% of 18-29 year olds surveyed did not know we gained our Independence from Great Britain! I’ll talk more about this later.
Apathy can kill any society and apathy is gaining on us!
A new study shows that only one percent of those aged 17-24 years meet both the current criteria to serve in the armed forces and want to serve. That is sad and dangerous to me! It’s not that the military is the best fit for some, but 99 PERCENT do not want to serve and/or cannot currently qualify! Similarly, less than one of every one hundred citizens currently serve, or have served, in the military. Would three or twenty out of one hundred be asking too much?
The apathy of serving is just one aspect. The apathy of ‘self-respect’ is another concern! In the same study, 71 percent of youths aged 17 through 24 would not qualify for military service. The military disqualifies potential service members for obesity, lack of a GED or high school diploma, felony convictions, taking ADHD prescription drugs or certain tattoos. See the WSJ Report for details.
Taking the military service requirements out of the discussion, I am literally shocked at that statistic of 71% being ineligible! The criteria for serving is not out of line. Just a high school education, not to be obese, self-control from drugs and illegal activity, and a professional appearance is all the military asks. What that tells me is strong families are in decline, largely causing this situation. But I already knew that by the frightening statistics that come out of the 43% of homes being fatherless.
When you look around at today’s youth (17-24) what do you see? It often depends on your circle of friends and family. Of those I know in that age group, 71% would certainly qualify, if not a much higher percentage! My circle is generally made up of strong families, and I think that is where the difference lies.
Ask five random 18 year olds to find Delaware on a map, let alone Pakistan or Afghanistan. Or ask a 22 year old how many terms our President can serve, and just how long a term is for a U.S. Senator. What do you think the top Google searches are for 17-24 year olds? Might a pop or reality TV star be in that mix? I have already mentioned that 40% in the 18-29 year group did not know that the United States achieved its independence from Great Britain. Taking the entire population into account, the percentage who have no clue is still high at 26%! The details are in the highlighted text.
Our youth are lacking in too many ways, and they don’t compete well with the youth of other countries. Here is evidence in the areas of Geography, Education, and Current Affairs.
From the Harvard Graduate School of Education
“In many ways, it shouldn't come as a shock, but it still does: Last year, when the National Geographic Society surveyed 18- to 24-year-old Americans to find out what they knew about the world, only 37 percent could find Iraq on a map, despite the fact that U.S. troops have been in that country since 2003. (Places closer to home didn't fare much better: 50 percent couldn't locate New York, the country's third largest state.)”
From the Bloomberg News:
“Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries on a math test and scored in the middle in science and reading, while China’s Shanghai topped the charts, raising concern that the U.S. isn’t prepared to succeed in the global economy.” Perhaps we expect too little from our kids.
Social Studies and Current Affairs
From an article in UK’s The Daily Mail:
“The questions that Americans could not answer went from the more challenging - how many justices are in the Supreme Court? (63 per cent did not know) To the most basic - who is the Vice President of America? (29 per cent did not know).
An alarming number of Americans did not know basic information about the Constitution, namely that it was the supreme law of the land, that it was set up at the Constitutional Convention and that the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.
Newsweek reported that civil ignorance is nothing new. Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators for as long as they have existed.
And their ignorance is only highlighted by the knowledge of their European peers.
In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs.
Europe came out on top. Around three quarters of British, Finnish and Danish people could, for example, identify the Taliban but just over a half of Americans could, despite the fact they led the charge in Afghanistan.
Back to the Military
No doubt that, when necessary, the military would lower their standards! But what they are saying is ‘we want the best we can get when we can get them’. As it turns out, many of the ‘best’ don’t decide to serve in the military. Personally, asking for a HS educated, healthy, trouble free, young person is not asking for the best, but for what should be the norm. Having been in the military for over 29 years, I can only pray that the typical young adult in civilian life could even approach the typical young adult I worked with in the military! We can’t ignore this issue. Everything I have stated is fact. Our most precious resource is our youth, and we are wasting them! We need families, schools, media, etc. to teach values to our young and service to the community in some way!
Happy Independence Day to all!
One of the small treasures of life, holding a little one's hand.
I once lived next door to what you may call a typical all-American family. The mom was a wonderful mother who stayed home and was very dedicated to her two children at the time. The father, I'll call him Ron, was from a modest background but had high aspirations to be a success in business. Ron was smart, engaging, and willing to do what it takes to be a success in his field.
Our wives were very close friends. They and our children spent time together. They would also help one another by occasionally watching each others kids or just by having another adult to talk to. While Ron and I were friendly, we didn't see much of each other because of schedules, especially his.
What it took for Ron to be successful, was to work unending hours to prove himself to his company. He knew prior to his hiring what he was getting into, because the field he was in demanded it. I was always home hours before Ron, and although I had some evening classes, I spent much more time around my children-and his too!
One year on Halloween, when our kids were in their peek trick-or-treating years, my neighbor Ron and I were going to escort our kids around the neighborhood to collect their goodies. We each had a boy and a girl then. The girls were princesses and the boys were, of course, superheroes. The block was full of kids, noisily running to and fro in various scary and colorful outfits. It was a beautifully cool evening, a perfect Halloween night.
The six of us met on the sidewalk, with our flashlights and empty bags. The kids were excited but the youngest two, my son and his daughter were a little tentative, being only 3 and 4 years old. My neighbor, sensing this, went to hold his daughters hand...but she pulled away. She walked over to me and asked, “Can I hold your hand?”.
I didn’t know what do to! I felt absolutely terrible for Ron. I recall suggesting to his daughter that she should hold her Daddy’s hand. But kids that age don’t think with their heads, they go with what is comfortable to them at the time. Ron didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything to him. I held his daughter’s hand for a block or so until she got into the spirit of the evening. At that moment in time, she was more comfortable with me than her own father. Her dad was a good guy, but she had not yet got to know him as she knew me.
I’m not sure how my neighbor Ron felt about this incident because we never discussed it. He may have been shattered, as I would have been, or he may have taken it in stride, knowing how kids can be and understanding the consequences of his choices, which were to do the best for his family as he knew how. We are still friends and I’m happy to report that Ron did rise to the top of his field. Not only that, I see no apparent issues as he seems to enjoy an excellent relationship with his wife and all his children, which now number four.
What saved the relationship between this father and his daughter? I have a theory that consists of two parts. One part is that this was a good man, and as his daughter grew older, she could see that. The other part is having a mother who was a great partner to her husband. She kept things together, did not show any anger towards her husband’s goals and ambitions, and did not talk badly about her kids’ father.
I’m not sure I could have succeeded as a dad had I taken the path of my friend. On the other hand, I’m not sure my friend could have succeeded as a dad, being an average Joe at his occupation. His lack of satisfaction, income, or perceived failure may have made him uncomfortable to be around. His unhappiness, perhaps, would have shown through and impacted his relationship with his kids.
What it comes down to is this. There is no one way to be a good father. The amount of time you are physically present is just one factor. The real factor is ‘being there’ for them. Being there when they need you. Being there for important events. Being there when you need them. Sometimes this means being physically present, like a hug at the right moment, or a smile that says “I understand”. Sometimes it means an encouraging phone call, a note, a text, or even bail money! Hopefully, not the latter!
I know my neighbor has ‘been there’ for his daughter many times. He may have had a rocky start in the physically present area, but he recovered nicely.
Be there for your children! They can tell if you are or not, and it has little to do with where you are. But having said that, the most important time to be physically present with your children, if you can, is when they are very young!
If you were to stop and think about all the challenges a man must face to be a good dad, you might not be surprised that 43% of homes with children do not have a dad living there. What the statistic tells me is that too many men can’t or refuse to deal with these challenges.
It is true that it’s not always the absent father’s fault. But sometimes men are men’s worst enemies. Our egos get in the way of our parenting. We have to make money, drive fast cars, build muscles, be good at sports, impress women, and be clever, masculine, and cool. Being a dad takes time away from most of these things. Women have egos too, but they have a distinct advantage. Being a woman who can successfully juggle three kids, hold a job, and make a house a home are considered heroines among other women, and men.
Basically, men want to be masculine above all other things. Frank Pittman in his book, Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity states, “The great passion in a man’s life may not be for women or men or wealth or toys or fame, or even for his children, but for his masculinity.”
This causes many of the issues with fatherhood. It is usually a young man who firstimpregnates a woman, in part, to prove his masculinity. When this happens, the young man ends up being a father when he’s not ready for the commitment, and with a woman he may not love. The man, the woman, and the child are off to a terrible start!
Further complicating the issue, being a dad sometimes doesn't fit in with the persona that some young males want to project. A young man may then be unable to make enough money for all his dreams with a young mouth to feed, further damaging his ego. He is no longer free, cool and can’t ethically chase women any longer. Nothing is going right for him! When the going gets tough, he may bail on his responsibilities. It can happen that easily and it happens too often as proven by the statistics. This is just one scenario that results in the 43% absence of fathers in the home.
It would be helpful if men could wait to be fathers, i.e., wait for their maturity to place less importance on masculinity and more importance on the people in his life. Fortunately, the older a man gets, the less he feels he has to prove himself. Older men are self-deprecating, surer of themselves, and less concerned for what other people think. They realize that being a good father is as simple as realizing how easy it can be to become a good one. Just time, concern, love, and attention are enough. You’ll find that men who were disappointing as fathers often become wonderful grandfathers-and the parents of those grandchildren scratch their heads.
The drive for masculinity and satisfaction of ego becomes much more pronounced when the young man did not have a caring father in his own life. So while irresponsible fathers have various backgrounds, those men with irresponsible fathers themselves are much more likely to fail as dads. If we are to stop this cycle, then we have to start with the young men of today before, or soon after, they become fathers. It takes action to neutralize the masculine ego and raise consciousness of what it takes to be a father. That action usually is best done by a more experienced man, hopefully the father, but someone.
It’s not just the men/boys who are need this education. Young women who have had unpleasant, or no fathering experiences also have ego needs. They need to know and feel the love of a male, a situation which may be sorely lacking in their lives. When you have a young male, with a need to prove himself and his masculinity, and a young female, who needs proof of her ability to be loved by a male, you have perfect formula for a baby to be born. And you have an imperfect situation for a baby to be born.
SO WHAT TO DO?
If you have a fatherless young man in your life that needs some fatherly advice, try to show yourself as someone he can approach. Uncles, grandfathers, brothers, even neighbors are perfect as mentors. It is most likely one of the most important and satisfying acts you could ever perform for someone!
Time stood still then, and went by fast!
A few years ago, a family moved in down the street. They have a daughter who I guess was around 7 years old at that time. While I didn’t meet the parents for quite some time, the little girl would come over occasionally and pet my dog Daisy. Her name was Sarah. She was sweet and we had a couple of nice conversations, after which see would skip home. Then she disappeared.
It’s now 3 years later. It’s not a mystery you may someday see on “48 Hours”. The family still lives there and I think she does too. I just never see her outside. I casually met the father once and the mother twice. They are very friendly and always wave as they drive by, which seems to be many times a day. But I literally never see their daughter. She may be behind those darkened windows in the back seat, being chauffeured to an activity-I’m not sure. When I last saw the mother, we were trying to find the owner of a lost dog. Another neighbor, who also had not seen Sarah around, asked her whereabouts. The mother said she was competing at a horse show nearby. We learned that Sarah was very much into horses and had won many ribbons that day.
I was happy to hear Sarah was still ‘around’ but I didn’t pry any further. Earlier, I had learned that Sarah’s family had moved here from out of state so Sarah could go to a private school that her mom had attended. From talking to Sarah those times she came to pet Daisy, I could tell she was very bright. From all accounts, Sarah is doing quite well and obviously has very nurturing parents.
What I miss, as a neighbor, is seeing that little girl around and having her visit. I enjoyed Sarah coming over to say hello and pet my dog. I liked that she paid attention to my granddaughter, who was only 2 years old at the time. I thought I would have the privilege of watching Sarah grow, like I had many other neighborhood kids. But she is virtually invisible.
It isn’t just Sarah. There aren’t many little kids playing outside in my neighborhood any longer. For that matter, there aren’t many kids playing outside at all. When they do socialize outdoors, it’s oftentimes arranged playdates at parks or swimming pools. Otherwise, kids are busy doing things other than casual, unmonitored playing. Organized baseball and soccer, dance lessons, swim lessons, music lessons, girl scouts and boy scouts, these and other activities keep kids from doing what I did as a kid. That and the heightened fears that someone will snatch our kid if we aren’t watching them every second.
When I was a kid, we rode bikes, played catch, kick ball, tag, cowboys and Indians, army, etc. The last two activities are looked down upon these days because we pretended to have guns. I personally don’t think I was scarred by that. Besides, many of today’s video games are much more violent! Of course, when I was a child, we didn’t have computers, the internet, smart phones, cable TV, and the fear comes with the constant, 24-hour updates of every wrong doing that occurs among us 300+ million Americans.
While it may sound like I’m complaining, I really don’t know that we had it better when I was growing up. To be honest, there are advantages and disadvantages of today’s world versus the world of my youth. Kids are still social and probably much more diverse and accomplished in their skills. I'm certainly not against organized activities. It’s just that these activities are not as instinctive or unstructured. You don’t see many kids playing on their own in middle class neighborhoods any more. They are being escorted to the malls, or movie theaters, or in basements, challenging each other in the latest video game craze. Too many are busy shifting from their mom’s house to their dad’s house and back, innocent victims of their parents’ issues with each other. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that unstructured 'Free Play' is important for kids! Read here about their study.Surely, not every neighborhood is void of kids playing outside. Where you live, it could very well be hectic with active kids having fun outdoors. I hope so. But I miss the sounds kids make when they are playing outside, chasing and yelling at each other. Sure, sometimes I wanted them to be quiet or to behave more civilly. But there is nothing like kids playing on their own, running around in the grass, forgetting time, rushing in for a glass of water then running out again. When I think back to summer days when I was around 6-12 years old, I was always busy, without a schedule, always wearing a hat. I wore a hat because I never combed my unruly hair. It simply took too much time and I had to get outside ASAP and play with my friends. Time stood still then, and went by fast! When Girl Scout cookie time comes around, I’ll discover, or remember, that there are still some kids around and I’m surprised at how they have grown. It’s good when kids are busy. It keeps them out of trouble. But being busy in a very structured way can kill, not only imagination and creativity, but a lot of adult-free fun! Yes, sometimes I look around and wonder, “Where have all the children gone?” I guess I know where they might be. Maybe I should ask, “Why are all the children gone?" Read, "Is your child too busy?"