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vectorstock_3042159We’re evolving – all of us – and so is our world, or should I say “our worlds” as each of us is surrounded by our own experience.

As society has shifted away from the “good ‘ol days” (a “Madmen” episode filled with smoke and sexism), we dads have had to pick up a bit more of the parenting load.

My father used to come home to a ready dinner, a relatively content wife, and two smiling, freshly-washed children.  And, even though my mom worked hard serving us and the community, my dad was the king of his castle.

That was that.

My pop worked hard, and when it came to imparting wisdom, he was compassionate, loving and focused. My schoolwork and social life were just not part of his purview. He and my mother had a good partnership; they found an odd balance between common sense and criticism, as in “How could you be so dumb as to not have thought of that?”

When I became a dad, I lived in a modified version of my childhood. As I’ve written before, we’re products of our parents; often dealing with the residue of their individual personalities and their generation as a whole as we navigate our lives, and because our society changes, so must our parenting styles.

I think I saw my father cry twice.  In my childhood, if a coach or player cried at a news conference, they would have been branded a “sissy” – which was, and probably still is code for “not a man.”  My kids see me cry every time we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sometimes I even cry because I’m moved by a commercial (you know the one, daughter grows up in the passenger seat of the car – drives off to college).

Although I wasn’t taking my kids to doctor’s appointments, or buying them clothes, I fulfilled my role as the “man of the house” (as a guy in my generation would).  I did “guy” things. I fixed stuff, changed bulbs, carried the “baby bag,” I had the cars serviced, fixed the computers, did the science projects, drove carpools, coached teams, wiped away some tears, and even shared some of my own.

vectorstock_1010664I don’t think it was women who kept dads from being more involved. I think it was society. An interesting source for this possibility is defined by the Masculinity Index, a measurement created by sociologist Geert Hofstede that “describes the degree to which masculine values like competitiveness and the acquisition of wealth are valued over feminine values like relationship building and quality of life.” On the scale, Japan is the most “masculine” country at 95, while the U.K. and Germany tie at 66, the U.S. scores a 62, France a 43, Spain a 42, and Sweden an 8. For me, however, it’s not so much about the “global” aspects of the index as it is the way it applies to my personal “world.”

In the early years of our marriage, I found myself perpetuating concepts born of my social “masculinity.” It would have been quite acceptable to describe my wife as a “ball and chain,” my kids as “rug rats,” and to believe that paying attention to injury made me a “pussy.”  My ego would be upset if JoAnn disagreed with me in public. Over the years, and through my wife’s brilliant use of logic (like “Am I a ball and chain?” “Are our kids a pain in the ass?”) I was led to evolve away from those old “standards.”

Today, there are many contributing factors as to why fathers are more involved. In addition to the fact that more moms are pursuing out-of-home careers, it has become professionally accepted for dads to prioritize their “Dadness” and carry their share of the load (a “share” that should be defined by each set of parents on their own). Happily, we dads have benefited by this change through being involved in every aspect of our children’s lives, as well as through the acceptance of our more sensitive “feminine side” (like being allowed to express fear, or truly appreciate musical comedy).

And we’re all the better for it.

Most importantly though, aside from the re-distribution of labor, I think the basic rules of parenting remain largely the same. Both parents are involved in the process of setting an example, and nothing teaches children more than the way, and comfort with which, roles are shared in the house. Each of us needs to decide what works best for our family.

In my marriage it was JoAnn’s job to give our children a soft landing place, and it was mine to teach them that the world outside our “nest” wasn’t necessarily a friendly place. Of course, we weren’t stuck in those roles; we traded off as necessary. But today our children know exactly what they’ll get from each of us. We’re both about appreciation and love, but JoAnn is their go-to for compassion, and I’m all about common sense – without the criticism.

You see, I am evolving.

I don’t typically regret much. I believe what’s past is past. As I get older, however, the passage of time allows me to look back and consider life’s lessons.

FullFamBKGKSGWeddingOur children are now grown, for the most part. Our sons are certainly men, our daughter is a very self-reliant college girl, and our daughter-in-law is more mature than any of us. As a loving family, we remain intimately connected.   No regrets there.  Read the book.

But here’s the catch.

Cobylittle_5_93liteWhen I see a little kid whose front teeth are crazy, or a tot opining about why he or she likes a particular song, picture, or TV show, I feel like giving one of my kids a hug. It’s not that I miss my children’s love, or feel I didn’t get enough hugging when they were young. It’s just that I’m not over wanting to let them know how much I enjoy and have enjoyed them – from their goofiest to their most grownup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suppose it’s not so much the hugs I regret not getting, as it is the ones I still want to give. There is just something about the way a kid fits into your arms or contours into your shoulder that’s different from that perfunctory, semi-formal hug that populates our adult landscape.

I’m not looking for sympathy (although I wouldn’t mind getting a hug or two out of this).  I think my real objective is to raise the flag to all of you who are still raising young children.

Get and give those hugs. Now. Today. Tomorrow.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMaybe I’m writing this to recapture time. Maybe it’s about recognizing those cliché moments when we think, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It’s not so much that it’s wasted on the young, but that we waste it when we are young! I recently confessed to a friend that I’d always wanted a Porsche. Now I’d rather have a car that’s easier to get in and out of.

Enough moaning. Having recently been told that I am a didact, I ask: “What are the lessons here?”

Aside from the part about grabbing all the love you can (while your kids are still young and bite sized), I think it’s important to recognize that things change, as they always have and always will. The more we can accept those changes, the easier it will be to keep moving forward. It is, after all, our job to guide our children into adulthood.

EHGTiredAthleteAs parents, I’ve found that many of us don’t want our kids to grow up. But we really do them a disservice by keeping them too close and dependent. So for every wish I have to be hugged by my children, I also have a silent appreciation of the fact that they’re out in the world using the skills my wife and I have worked hard to give them.

I guess the next time I see an incredibly adorable toddler, I’ll just have to think, “Been there, done that,” and then offer a small prayer to hasten the arrival of grandchildren.

No pressure kids.

emorylogoWe have a daughter at Emory University, home of our country’s most advanced Ebola treatment epicenter. People ask us if we’re worried and frankly, we’re not. We’re not good with panic.

Teaching our children to remain calm, find the facts, and react correctly to changing developments are among a parents’ most important jobs. But we must also remain calm ourselves!

DFW TaxiI’ve mentioned a number of times that, as a father, I compare myself to a taxi driver guiding his children through life. In their early years, they ride in the back of my cab and I show them the best ways to get from place to place. They don’t’ have much input with regard to the route, but they’re certainly welcome to make observations and to discuss things we see along the way.

As the kids get older, they may chime in about traffic, and we can share some route-based decisions. I know that someday they will be driving their own vehicles, so I teach them to navigate while I’m still around as their safety net.

CautionSignEven though there are times when the cab is almost out of gas or the tires may burst, I avoid making them aware of those problems because it’s my job to make them comfortable enough to look out the windows and learn about the world.

As a parent, I always want my child to feel safe even if I’m a little worried (which is just about as much fear as I would show my children). I also know that the world is full of scary or dangerous things, some of which require everyday attention — like swimming pools, electricity, sharp edges, and plastic bags – while others are more conceptual (like disease, war, fire, and death).

Knowing that we’re not always around to offer reassurance, I believe we should give our children the following tools to comfort themselves:

  1. Be skeptical. Teach them not to believe everything that people tell them. Research the facts to avoid repeating dumb things. Ask your kids if they can give you an example of someone telling them something crazy that they knew was untrue. Tell them the story of Chicken Little.
  2. Know your source. Identify the people who like to spread news, especially bad news, and weigh the value of their information. Explain the concept of “drama” because most of what bothers tweens is drama – not substance. Teach them to avoid “bandwagoning” – becoming one of the dramatists.
  3. Pause to educate. Delay your reaction until you can find the facts. There are many places where information about the threat (or non-threat) of Ebola can be found. If your child asks, sit down at the computer with and find the facts.
  4. Remain calm. Teach them the dangers of panic. The world was full of smokers when I was young. One of them was a good friend who, while driving, lit a cigarette and accidentally dropped the match in his lap. His panic to find the ember and put it out was so extreme that he steered his car right off the road and into a tree. It was the panic that got him, not the match.
  5. Offer reassurance.. If something scares your child, use your strength and knowledge to teach away their fear. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. My mother asked me if I wanted to stay afraid, or learn more about the dark. I wanted to learn more and, with my agreement, she told me to get in my closet and get comfortable. Once in the closet, she said “I’m going to close the door until there’s a sliver of light – will that be OK?” I meekly said “Yes.” And she closed the door to the sliver. She reminded me that I was safe, nothing had changed, and that there was nothing in the closet that could harm me. Then she asked if I thought I could sit in the closet with the door closed. “I guess so.” I said, and she closed the door the rest of the way. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the absolute darkness I could see that nothing had changed. There were no demons, and I was no longer afraid. My mom suggested that I just go to sleep… it would be a good way to kill some time if I was stuck in a dark place. Years later on a tour of Alcatraz, I was put in a solitary confinement cell for twenty minutes. Easy peasy. I took nap.

ignoranceinactionEbola is scary and it’s being talked about almost everywhere. When there’s danger, realistic precautions need to be taken. But there is a difference between teaching preparation for a tornado or an earthquake perhaps and worrying about a disease in a far off place.

My mother used to quote Goethe when she’d say, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

Remember, panic is more contagious than Ebola – and probably more harmful.  Do your kids a favor, teach them to stay calm and check the facts.

JusticeMany important issues are raised by the abuse Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings, administered to his son.  Although there is absolutely NO justification for Peterson’s behavior, and he has been arrested on a felony charge, there are other, somewhat related questions of a milder nature.

To spank or not to spank – is one such question. Beating a child is completely unacceptable. But spanking, far less severe, is in some homes a functional part of the parenting process.

As parents, each of us carries what the writer Selma Frieberg has called the “Ghosts in our Nursery.” They are the enduring remnants of how we were parented. They are inherited behaviors that travel silently with us into our adulthood.

Early in my book, I suggest that parents sit down and examine the ghosts in their nurseries by answering a simple Parenting Questionnaire. The questions can help us define those ghosts so we can decide which ones to repeat (like being sung to at night) and which we’d like to eliminate (like spanking perhaps). The objective is to create a parenting plan whose methods are clearly understood and thought out, rather than unconscious “ghostly” reenactments of the past.

TheAuthor copyIn my childhood, punishments were doled out as if in a court of law. If I said or did something unacceptable, this was discussed and, when the charge was serious, like lying, I was told to go to my room to wait for my father. He was going to come “give me a spanking.”

As this took place, my father usually said that he hated having to do it but my behavior forced him to discipline me. We’d discuss what I did, I’d indicate that I understood, and then I’d “take my medicine.” There were limits. I was never hit with anything other than my father’s open hand. Done. Case closed.

For me, it wasn’t so much the pain of the whacks. My rear was designed to handle adversity. It was mostly the humiliation of facing my own powerlessness under the circumstances. And that was my father’s objective: letting me know he was the boss and he wasn’t kidding around.

As a dad that makes sense to me.

LittleGoldenBookI once tried putting a Little Golden Book in my pants as protection against my father’s firm slap. But my dad was no fool and he yanked it from my bottom before administering the three quick slaps that were my punishment.   I wished he would have seen the humor in it and given me a break – but no deal.

I was spanked a lot. My kids, not so much – but I spanked at least one of them before my lovely wife convinced me there were other, less violent ways to punish our children. I don’t regret having spanked my eldest. For one thing, the “legend” of his spanking traveled down to his three siblings: “You really don’t want to get dad angry.” And he doesn’t seem to carry any grudge. Luckily.

AaronCrew2002-1With our other children I employed the modification of dropping to a knee, firmly holding the little bicep (to avoid squirming,) looking them squarely in the eye, and then in my deepest and most serious “dad voice” stating that their behavior was unacceptable. I would often make clear that continuing the bad behavior would end in a serious punishment. That usually worked, but the physical component, including eye contact, was a significant part of that warning.

For me, though, grabbing the arm or even spanking wasn’t about punishing as much as getting their attention. I wanted my kids to know that the infraction they had just committed was outside the expectations of our family. Corporal punishment was reserved for only the most heinous of crimes – like lying or disrespect.

I’ve noticed that this issue usually breaks down along gender lines. Many men were spanked as kids, but women much less often. Historically, men are taught to solve problems physically, and women generally aren’t. So there can be a disconnect on this issue.

What’s the solution? I believe that “rules are the arms with which our children can embrace themselves.” Discipline is important to me. It’s up to each of us as parents to decide what we think will work best within the values of our family. I can’t say that all spanking is bad. because it worked for me and generations before me. But there is a significant difference between spanking and child abuse – and I think for most people the difference is obvious.

3GenerationsI grew up to love and admire my father, who administered the spankings.  I didn’t fear him, because there was always a logical component in his behavior. But I’ve evolved to a point where I can communicate my anger without having to hit. It was a conscious effort, just like marriage, but I did it.

Ultimately, I’d like to believe that no father wants to hurt a child. I’d also like to believe that most parents can be mature enough to control their anger. But the only father whose behavior I can control is me. I can advocate increased communication, I can encourage parents to separate themselves from their anger, and I can guide grownups toward having a plan, so that panic doesn’t take control. Sometimes the issue becomes a legal matter. But I don’t think legislation is the solution.

As Common Sense Dad, I think the common sense of this is pretty clear.  Our children want to be loved – they trust us – and it’s up to us to keep their trust by acting in their best interest. The Golden Rule applies: Would you like to be treated the way you’re treating your child?

To spank or not to spank? That is your question.