3Generations

3 Generations

As my children have gotten older and more self-sufficient, I’ve seen them become more “objective” about the hard-earned advice I offer.  They no longer hear my voice as if it were thunder on the mountaintop.  As my role in their lives has become far less primary than it used to be, I’ve begun to think about my relationship with my own father – and how I felt about him when I was their age.

I always loved and respected my father, but as I grew up in the newer world of my own creation — my own young children, my incredibly hip friends, my co-coaches, my social scene — his knowledge and participation began to lag.  He hadn’t lost any ground in his own world.  At about my age now, he was still a highly respected businessman. He still had his group of loving friends and a new family. But my work in the entertainment industry was quite unrelated to his fascination with words and the law.

sc000189deOur careers actually collided at one point.  I had been working for a company that encountered some interesting legal problems, and I recommended that the owners call my dad for advice.  After a few months as their off-site counsel, they brought him in-house. We would see each other in the halls.  He came to be respected and even loved.  I, as always, was proud to be his son.  Aside from that, however, we stayed completely out of each other’s business — until the company needed to hire a new CFO.

Among the candidates was a young friend of mine.  A real schmoozer who wore nice leather and talked regularly of his big game studio experience.  My dad hated him.  He thought he was slick, he thought he was dishonest, and he didn’t like the way he did business.  I, on the other hand, thought my dad was “old fashioned” and didn’t understand the complexities of structuring a business in our industry.  Imagine that: my father, Harvard Law School grad and business counselor to titans, couldn’t understand how to run an entertainment oriented business.

sc000b4e78As it turned out, my father’s time-tested instinct was right.  Within a year, despite his efforts to organize and reorganize the business, it went belly up.  The investors lost their cash, the “fast talker” moved on to deceive others, and my dad retired –  more convinced than ever that “show business” was not for him.

I’m writing this because I know I still have good insights for my children.  I know there is benefit to sharing my life experience with them, and even more so when they have children of their own.  I also know I’ll have to slip them my wisdom without seeming didactic or bossy – because nowadays they only really “listen” to about twenty-five percent of what I say.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  I’m just honoring the passage of time and recognizing that I am now the “old guy.” They are the new, improved, self-sufficient versions of their mother and me.

Kelsie + Benjy-387This, I suppose, is the double-edged sword of parenting.  On one hand, we take great pride in the people we have brought to our community.  On the other hand, as our sons and daughters effortlessly assimilate, we feel the loss as they become immersed in their own lives.

We will offer advice.

We will guide as necessary.

We will be here to listen.  And we will remember that, for us, parenting is now mostly a spectator sport.

I’ve been doing a lot of media lately, specifically about how to speak to our children about the situation in Ukraine.

Emdanglingfeet_1_96liteIt is my experience, theory, and observation that we all like to feel safe – especially children – so the idea of introducing something into the life of a small child that might create anxiety strikes me as being completely unnecessary.  I would counsel that there is absolutely no reason to tell a small child about what’s going on in Ukraine – because I think that child really only cares about what’s going on in the kitchen.

Elementary School aged children may come home with a question or two, but I’ve found that those kids are quite satisfied with simple and confident answers like “There is a war going on in another part of the World – but it’s far away and it’s not a threat to us.”

If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you’ll know that I like to use driving a taxicab as a parenting analogy, so assuming that our children are our “fares” and we are driving the cab, our job is to minimize their anxiety during the ride.  As a result, if someone in the back seat yells “What’s that?” while pointing at some smoke rising in the distance, my response would be “Looks like it’s a fire over there – I’m sure glad we’re safe here in our cab.”  I would not say I sure hope that smoke doesn’t blow in our direction and ashes don’t start falling on the car!!”

map-ukraineI don’t really think what’s going on in Ukraine today needs to be on the front burner at home.  If an older child asks what’s going on, I’d happily discuss the facts of the situation.  I’d also remind my kids, no matter their age, that we are safe here in the United States and add something about how lucky we are to live in a country where we are not threatened by being invaded by a neighboring Army.

Discussing World affairs can often lead to a good conversation about civics and the role of government (ours).  My objective in these conversations would be to present a confident and calm perception of the situation – as if to say “You’re in my cab, I know where we’re going and everything is going to be alright.”  I might also use the situation to encourage my child to join me on the computer and start looking up the facts.  This way I’d be showing the child how to get answers, and we’d have a chance to chat about the situation.

McdonaldslogoFor an older child I think I would talk about my sincere belief that asAppleLogo citizens of the United States, our trump card is our ideology.  I would explain to them that the Internet has allowed people all over the globe to see day to day life in countries where people are levisfree to express themselves – in music, politics, technology, fashion, business, etc.  I believe this leads them to Facebook_like_thumbwant to participate in our openness, commerce and artistic success.

For those who are repressed and misinformed by their governments, the truth of our imagery and the product we export on YouTube, Facebook, Google+ and other media outlets is demonstration enough that there is a better world in which they can live.

The Truth floats.

or…  EXCUSES PART TWO

ScribblesIn a previous blog I addressed the folly of parents too frequently accepting excuses from our children. I also mentioned the possibility of parents actually making up excuses on behalf of their kids – as in, they ate sugar and got all wired up, which is why they covered the walls of their room with crayon scribbles (true story!)

But what about the excuses we make up on our own behalf — the stories we tell ourselves, and how those stories affect our roles as parents?

FatherChildIconLet’s start from our child’s point of view.  Remember, our young ones are pretty much blank slates, so they have no built-in expectation or “definition” of what a Mommy or a Daddy is and when they’re toddlers, they’re not interested in comparing their parents with other parents.  All they know is YOU.  If you’re a working mom, or a stay at home dad – you are the definition of mom and dad to them.

Our problem is that we have a tendency to put ourselves at a disadvantage through self-criticism that causes us to be defensive about the job we’re doing.  “I’m a single parent.” or “I’m a working mother.” Okay – but how does that change your responsibility to your child?  Yes, working motherhood makes things more complicated. But does that alter our child’s perception that we are the definition of what parents are?  In fact, that perception does not change whether you’re working, single, divorced, or on the road. Parenthood is defined by what you bring to your children — whether it’s by touch, phone, or Skype – whether it’s every morning, or every night, or every other night.MotherCHildIcon

Kids don’t punch a clock.  When we’re not there, they miss us – and that’s because they’re hardwired to need our guidance, our confidence, and our approval.  It’s obviously nice when we can hold them and hug them, but if it’s not always possible, it’s important that we accept that (about ourselves) and not let it affect our identity as parents. Is there such thing as a perfect parent?  Can anyone possibly “be there” all the time?

No – not possible.

The job has built-in challenges and flaws, so let’s accept them and not play defense.

When JoAnn was toilet training our children, she (and the “student”) made their way to our bathroom.  During working hours, I would be at my office doing my job – earning a living.  But JoAnn phoned me EVERY time our kid made a wee wee in the potty so that I could congratulate him or her.  I wasn’t physically there, but we managed to find a way around that without making my job into an excuse for not having “been there” and our kids were aware that Daddy was really proud!  (I don’t think they cared if I was home or on the other end of the phone.)

ManyProfessionsI loved my parents very much, but they rarely made it to my little league games.  My dad was a hard working guy.  He went on business trips weekly and he taught a class on Tuesday nights. I didn’t blame him for that, mostly because he never blamed himself. He never made excuses or felt a need to make them – that was his job, and his rhythm.  In those days, men weren’t expected to be participatory – but I didn’t feel any sort of loss because my father wasn’t always around.

My mom did a very good job of holding the line, applying the rules, and keeping me on course, but my dad was who I wanted to be like.  I’ve written about the fact that he spanked me.  I’ve written about his need to dominate discussions. But he taught me the value of honesty, and I saw how he devoted his time to doing things for other people, including me – which included the time he spent working away from home.

As parents, we are who we are.  Our identity isn’t changed by excuses, or by career demands, or by personal challenges.  Childhood may not be the time of innocence that the Romantic poets depicted, but we can do our kids a favor by not making our job as parents any harder than it needs to be by coming to it on the defensive.

And if it seems so hard that we need to start making excuses for ourselves, we should keep those excuses to ourselves.

You’re there and you care.  That’s what makes you a parent.