TV On Wheels

Yesterday I flew home through an airport in Anytown, U.S.A.  As I walked from one concourse to another to get to the gate for my connection, I passed a woman pushing a stroller.  In the stroller, a little girl — who was probably about four years old — was watching her own little TV and had headphones on so her enjoyment of the program wasn’t disturbed by the surrounding hubbub.  She was oblivious to everything except what was happening on her nifty pink device.

It struck me as an interesting parenting choice.  Going to a modern airport has got to be a cool, interesting experience for a kid.  There’s a lot going on — bright lights, brisk movement, diverse shops and signs, announcements, unknown people, different languages — that would help a child to understand that it is a big world out there with many things to see and understand.  In short, it’s a learning experience.  And if your kid has lived a sheltered life, being pushed through an airport concourse under the watchful eye of Mom is a pretty good, and safe, way to be introduced to the bigger picture.

But this particular little girl was missing out on all of that.  She was in her own lworld, watching a TV program that she had probably seen multiple times already and plugged into her headphones, oblivious to pretty much everything that was going on around her.

In fairness to the Mom, maybe the little girl was exhausted and on the verge of a tantrum, and the path of least resistance was to let her watch her program until she fell asleep. avoiding a full-blown airport meltdown.  If so, that’s a parenting choice that the other travelers, myself included, would applaud.  But it’s also possible that for this little girl, with her very nifty portable TV screen, watching TV programs rather than the world passing by is the default approach whenever she gets into the stroller, whether her mood is good or bad.

We’ve read a lot lately about younger people feeling disconnected, unsatisfied, and at times depressed by the on-line, TV/computer screen world in which they spend so much time.  Maybe the answer is to take away the TV and let kids have a bit more interaction with the real world and the real people in it.  A stroller ride through a busy, bustling airport seems like a pretty good place to start with a device-free approach.

 

“Buddy Boy” And “Missy”

Recently one of my friends responded to an email from a colleague by addressing him as “buddy boy.”  It was the first time I’d heard that phrase in a while, and it was used perfectly, in line with the standards of my childhood.

00019748When I was a kid, there were definite gradations of parental reprimand.  Reprimands, of course, were different from punishment.  Punishment was typically physical, and could range from a swat on the behind to loss of TV-watching privileges to having to sit at the kitchen table until you ate all of the vegetables on your plate to being “grounded.”  Reprimands, on the other hand, were verbal, for offenses not quite meriting more vigorous discipline.  “Buddy boy” — as in “Listen, buddy boy” — typically was used with a relatively mild form of verbal censure, and when it was directed your way you knew that you had trangressed, probably by acting “too big for your britches” and presuming too much familiarity or expressing an opinion on some adult topic.  “Young man” was the next step up the scolding ladder, and usually was employed if you’d acted in an impolite or unmannerly way, often with respect to an older relative.  And the top form of reproach, which usually was reserved for some inappropriate public behavior, like at school, was to say your full given name, first, middle, and last.  When you heard that, you knew you were really in for it.

There was a similar reprimand ladder for girls.  The female equivalent of “buddy boy” was “Missy,” and the “young lady” replaced “young man,” but the top rung — the full name — was the same.

The reprimand ladder was an effective way of letting a kid know just how badly he or she had crossed the line.  Once a boy understood the censure spectrum, and then heard “buddy boy” directed his way, he knew he had screwed up, but his parents were really annoyed rather than furious.

Of course, these things change, and the “buddy boy” reprimand seems to have fallen out of favor.  In fact, if you run a Google search for “buddy boy” today, you learn from the top hit that it’s the name of a chain of marijuana dispensaries in Denver — so maybe the “buddy boy” message these days would be a little bit mixed.

Fatherly Advice

Tomorrow is Father’s Day.  All across America, fathers will be receiving cologne, ties, and power tools, and everyone else will be thinking about the sage advice and guidance that they received from their own dear Dads.

e04aaedc09e253b1f93d41943aee090eMy Dad wasn’t much for giving pointed advice about your life, however.  In fact, you could say he had a decidedly laissez-faire attitude about how and what people were doing.  Whenever he heard about somebody doing something that suggested that they were really going off the rails, Dad typically would shrug and mutter something about people needing to “do their own thing” and “find their niche.”  These phrases, in fact, were heard so often that they became part of the Webner family lexicon.  I think Dad realized that he didn’t have all the answers, and he wasn’t going to impose his views on somebody else — who probably wouldn’t have appreciated his attempt to steer the course of their life, anyway.

And you know what?  Nine times out of ten, the person who was struggling figured things out for themselves, through a little trial and error, and in the meantime the family happily missed out on the drama and slamming doors and yelling and hard feelings that sometimes can be the result of a little aggressive parenting.

As I sit here, I realize that I also haven’t really offered much in the way of Father Knows Best-type wisdom, either.  Sure, I instructed the boys not to stick their fingers into electrical sockets and told them that littering was wrong, but beyond those basics the only thing hard and fast rule I remember imposing was that if you wanted to play on a sports team, you had to stick it out and play to the end of the season, to be fair to your teammates and your coaches.   I suppose you could draw some deep life lessons from that, if you tried real hard, but of course the rule wasn’t meant to convey deep life lessons — just to establish an understanding of the consequences of decisions about childhood things like Little League and the Nazarene basketball league.

So where do you go if you really want to get some fatherly advice?  That’s simple:  Homer Simpson.  Here’s an example:  “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Hey, maybe getting fatherly advice isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, after all.

The Ray Donovan Parenting Standard

Recently Kish and I have been binge-watching Ray Donovan, the Showtime series about a guy who fixes problems for the rich and famous in Hollywood — usually through violence, extortion, and sex.  It’s a very entertaining and well-acted show, and we’ve enjoyed getting caught up to the current episodes.

960I usually come away from the show with a curious reaction:  Ray Donovan makes me feel good about my parenting efforts.  This is because the parenting of Ray and his wife Abby, and of Ray’s ex-con father Mickey, is outlandishly bad, launching generations of seriously messed-up, dysfunctional offspring.

Mickey cheated on his dying wife, robbed banks, allowed his kids to be serially abused by a Catholic priest and beat up Ray when Ray tried to tell him about it, and urged his son Terry to keep boxing until the repeated punches caused him to develop Parkinson’s disease.  Everything Mickey touches turns to mud.  Ray hates his Dad — but he and Abby really aren’t a whole lot better in the parenting department.  Ray doesn’t show up at home for days at a time.  Abby decides to go to Boston leaving her teenage daughter in charge.  Both parents have obvious affairs, leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves.  Not surprisingly, the kids are struggling — they’ve had issues with violent behavior at school, underage drinking, the daughter had an affair with her teacher, and the son has a gun fixation.  It’s not a happy, huggy family.

Parents don’t often have insight into how they’re doing; they don’t usually get see how other people perform in the parenting roles.  TV families at least give us measuring sticks by which to gauge our own efforts.  No doubt there were many parents who strove to be like Ward and June Cleaver but found they couldn’t quite measure up.  For a long time, TV showed us the idealized families, but now we’re getting to see the other end of the parenting spectrum.

If you’re worried about your parenting, watch Ray Donovan.  I promise, you’ll feel better.

Lying To Your Kids

Should you ever lie to your kids?  And if you do, how will it affect them?

Parent Herald has an article that presents both sides of the issue.  Some parents contend that lying — they use the softer term “fibbing” — is an effective, crucial tool in the parental toolbox.  If your kids won’t quiet down or eat their vegetables at dinner, it’s OK to tell them a “white lie” in furtherance of achieving what the parent knows to be the greater good.  The “fibs” come out after other parental tools, like trying to make your kids feel guilty because “there are starving children in Africa” or “your father works hard all day and deserves some peace and quiet,” are found to be unsuccessful.

UnsincereThe other position argues that lying is a bad thing, period, and if kids understand that their parents are lying to them, the kids will be encouraged to lie as well.  This isn’t a good thing, because kids are natural, unapologetic liars.  In fact, they are unskilled, inveterate liars, who aren’t even bounded by concepts of remote plausibility, who lie even when visible evidence exposes their duplicity, and who wither under only the mildest cross-examination.  Parents really shouldn’t be doing anything to promote that dishonest tendency.  If your kids conclude, from your example, that lying is OK, imagine the effect it might have on them during the teenage years, when the temptation to lie, and the stakes involved, are so much greater.

I tend toward the latter position.  The only lie I remember telling the kids was about the existence of Santa Claus, which can be rationalized as an effort to promote and maintain the sense of childish wonder in how the world works.  I don’t remember using lies as a regular parental technique to get our kids to do what we wanted.  We recognized that they were naturally stubborn, as many kids are, and I’m not sure lies would have done much good — and I always thought our kids were smart enough to be able to sniff out a lie, anyway.  I also hate being lied to, because it’s insulting and demeaning, so why do something to your kids that you wouldn’t want someone to do to you?

Good For The Dads!

I never thought I would write something complimentary about members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the day has come.  Of course, my kudos are for their parenting, not their exploits on the gridiron.

Two members of the Steelers, James Harrison and DeAngelo Williams, have taken a stand against the “participation” awards that are now given to kids for pretty much everything they do.  Last year, Harrison made his sons give back participation trophies and wrote:

trophy-300x271-300x271“EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

This year, Williams made his daughter return a participation ribbon she received at a school track event, and reported that she went out the next day and won first place.

I think the notion of “participation” awards are one of the worst brainstorms ever devised by the fevered imaginings of school counselors and helicopter parents — and I say this not just because the participation awards the boys received cluttered our basement for years.  Whether it’s sports, or chess, or science fairs, the ribbons and trophies should go to those who compete and win, not just those who show up.  Kids know the difference between phony trophies and recognitions for true achievement; they discount and quickly forget the former and actually value the latter.

I’m with the two Steelers on this one.  Forget the stupid participation trophies, and don’t try to make kids think that the world won’t draw distinctions between performance when adulthood arrives.  Participation trophies teach kids exactly the wrong life lesson.

Is Porn A Public Health Crisis?

Utah’s state legislature has passed a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis, and yesterday Utah’s governor signed it.

ip01091The resolution doesn’t ban pornography in Utah — with the volume of porn available on the internet and through various media outlets, it’s hard to see how that could be accomplished, anyway — but it does seek to highlight what it calls an epidemic.  The resolution says that porn “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment” and “is contributing to the hypersexualisation of teens, and even prepubescent children, in our society,” and speakers at yesterday’s signing ceremony argued that porn also undermines marriages and contributes to sexual aggression.

Utah, which is a majority Mormon state, has always long been one of the most socially conservative states in America, and an “adult entertainment” trade group called The Free Speech Coalition said that Utah’s declaration is an “old-fashioned” morals bill that ignores that porn watchers tend to have more progressive views on sexuality and women’s rights and that ready access to porn correlates with a decline in sex crimes.

It’s hard to see how anyone could plausibly argue that pornography is a public health crisis in the same way that, say, the Zika virus or Ebola are.  Porn isn’t randomly striking people down or causing microcephaly or other serious health conditions through mosquito bites, and if there is such a thing as “porn addiction” it sure isn’t as widespread or destructive as alcoholism or drug addiction.  Clearly, there are more serious targets of our public health spending than porn.  And there obviously are free speech concerns at issue, too, that the law has wrestled with since one Justice of the Supreme Court famously declared that he might not be able to craft a legal definition of pornography, but he knew it when he saw it.

Still, I think anyone who pooh-poohs the fact or significance of the increasing prevalence of porn — soft, hard, and even violent — in our society might be missing the point.  “Dirty books” and “dirty movies” have always been around, but they sure are a lot more accessible these days, available with a few clicks of a mouse or TV remote control unit.  Anybody who watched HBO, as we do, can’t help but notice how graphic the depiction of sexual activity and sexual situations has become, and broadcast TV isn’t far behind.

There’s a reason pornography is euphemistically called “adult entertainment.”  Parents have a legitimate interest in protecting their children from exposure to porn until the kids have a chance to learn about sex in a more neutral, less charged, less graphic way.   No one wants their kids to think that the scenarios presented in porn are a normal representation of sexual activity in a loving relationship.  That’s not old-fashioned, it’s common sense.

Parental Eavesdropping

Like many states, New York has a law that bars recording communications unless at least one of the parties to the communication gives consent.  Earlier this week, the highest court in New York considered whether parents can legally eavesdrop when one of the parties to the communication is their child — and held that parents can do so under certain circumstances.

The ruling came in a case where the divorced father of a five-year-old boy, over an open phone line, heard his son having a “violent conversation” with his ex-wife’s bodybuilder boyfriend.  The father recorded the conversation.  (Disturbingly, though, the father apparently didn’t contact authorities to give them the recording until months later, when the ex-wife and boyfriend were arrested after neighbors heard screaming and crying coming from the house.)  The boyfriend argued that the recorded conversation shouldn’t be allowed into evidence at his trial because neither party to the conversation consented.

eavesdropping-1stepmother-helpThe New York Court of Appeals disagreed, and concluded that the father had “a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that it was necessary for the welfare of his son to record the violent conversation he found himself listening to.”  Three of the judges on that court dissented, concluding that the ruling raised policy concerns that should be left up to the legislature and could raise issues in divorce situations, with the parties to the break-up planting bugs to record conversations between their children and the other party to the divorce.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would argue that a parent who heard their little boy being threatened with violence couldn’t making a recording to try to help their child — but then again, it’s hard to imagine that a father who made such a recording wouldn’t immediately take the recording to the police to try to get his son out of a dangerous situation.  The father’s inaction in the case makes the ugly divorce scenarios that apparently motivated the dissenting judges seem more plausible.

But one person’s bad judgment shouldn’t mask a key reality:  parents should be permitted to eavesdrop and intervene when they honestly believe their child is at risk.  Whether it’s bullying on a school bus, or a situation where a child is falling under the sway of a sexual predator, there are many instances where parents could legitimately decide that making a recording of a conversation involving their child was the right thing to do.  It’s not snooping, it’s trying to protect your kid — and we shouldn’t let speculative worries about what might happen in other worst-case scenarios prevent parents from following their basic parenting instincts when it comes to trying to do right by their children.

The Impossible Challenges Of Modern Parenting

The tragic tale of the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell is one of those stories that demonstrates, yet again, that being a parent in the modern world poses challenges that our parents and grandparents would never have thought possible.

Nicole Lovell was a 13-year-old girl who lived in Virginia.  She had liver transplant surgery that left her scarred, and she took medication that made her gain weight — which in turn caused her to be the butt of ridicule by some of the mean kids at her school.  Like many kids do these days, she turned to social media as an outlet and apparently created alternative personas on-line, on a number of different sites.  Unbeknownst to her parents, for example, she had multiple profiles on Facebook.

nicole-lovellAuthorities believe that Nicole Lovell’s social media activities brought her into contact with an 18-year-old named David Eisenhauer — a student at Virginia Tech.  According to police, Eisenhauer and another Virginia Tech student, Natalie Keepers, plotted to kill Lovell and dispose of her body.  Lovell went missing from her bedroom after midnight on January 27; her body was found days later in a remote wooded area in North Carolina.  Eisenhauer is charged with Lovell’s abduction and murder, and Keepers is charged with being an accessory.

All parents know there are bad people out there.  That’s always been true.  The difference now is that social media makes it so much easier for the bad people to find your children, interact with them, and lure them into danger.  In more innocent days, parents could ensure their children’s safety by making sure they stayed in the neighborhood.  In the modern world of America, however, physical location is no longer an assurance of safety, because the computer in the family den can be the gateway for predators.

Nicole Lovell’s story involves a lot of common, nightmare scenarios for parents: unfair bullying at school, a child entering the teenage years who feels lonely and friendless at school while feeling liberated by the anonymity and possibilities for self-reinvention that social media and the internet offer, and, in all likelihood, that youthful confidence and certainty that nothing bad will happen to them — until it tragically does.

Modern parents know of these risks, but how do they keep them under control with so many social media options available in the modern world?  One of the social media options mentioned in the news stories linked above is called Kik, which is a messaging app that allows its users to remain anonymous and send photos that aren’t saved on the phone.  Have you even heard of Kik?  I hadn’t until I read the stories about Nicole Lovell — but I bet many young teenage kids have heard about it at school.  The kids are always way ahead of the adults on the social media/technology curve.

Our children survived the teenage years and made it out into adulthood.  I’m grateful for that, because I really don’t know how modern parents are supposed to thread the needle and allow their children enough freedom and self-sufficiency to develop as autonomous human beings while ensuring that they don’t fall prey to the evil people that we know are out there.  Sometimes, as the story of Nicole Lovell suggests, modern parenting just seems impossible.

Kids On The School Stage

A few days ago a drama teacher at Richard and Russell’s school gave Kish some pictures of the kids when they were in various productions, years ago.  There were some snapshots of Russell dressed up like a Native American for one school play, and this picture of Richard in a somewhat Harry Potterish old man costume and makeup for another.

The pictures brought back memories, of course — and they were all good ones.  Any parent who has watched their child perform in a school play remembers the tension and nerves as the show time neared, because you were praying fervently that there wasn’t some mishap or stumble after the weeks of learning lines and practicing and staging.  But then the curtain would go up, the kids would perform like champs, the parents would feel a sense of great relief, and in the end it was clear that the kids who were in the show had a ball.

IMG_0129And years later, when you think about your kids’ school years, it turns out that the theater performances created many of the strongest memories.  When Richard was in kindergarten he played a squirrel in a short play called The Tree Angel and had the first line.  The teacher said she picked Richard because she was absolutely sure that he would not be nervous and would say the line without a problem, and she was right.  I felt like I learned something important about our little boy that day.  Several years later, Richard played Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even sang a song on stage (“Cheer up, Charlie . . . “), and did a great job.  Russell, too, had his turns before the footlights, memorably playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz and the aforementioned Native American character, who I think was named Bullseye and (intentionally) got a lot of laughs in another show.

The point isn’t that our kids were great actors or stars, and their participation didn’t turn them toward Broadway or Hollywood for their adult careers.  But those school plays did give them a chance to shine on stage and to know firsthand what it was like to perform in front of an audience — and, in the process, to get a better sense of themselves and their capabilities.  School is supposed to do that.  The fact that the performances are warmly recalled by parents, years later, is just the icing on the cake.

When I look at these old photographs, I think about the school systems that, for budgetary reasons, have cut their theatre programs, or their orchestra or choir programs, or their art programs.  When the budget axe falls, those programs get chopped first, on the rationale that they are non-academic and therefore non-essential:  after all, the standardized tests that seem to drive school policy these days don’t check whether you can act or sing or play an instrument.  But that reasoning is wrong-headed, and also sad.  It doesn’t recognize how those programs greatly enrich the school years and help to produce more well-rounded students who have tried something new and now are bonded by the shared experience of performing before an audience — and it also deprives the parents of that deep, lasting thrill of learning something new about their child.

What A Federal Law Can Tell You About Your Society

Earlier this month Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a massive piece of federal education legislation that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act.  Buried deep in the bill is a “free range kids” provision that reads:

“…nothing in this Act shall…prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission; or expose parents to civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate.”

istock_000000823936medium-e1359581892173I’m not sure that the provision means all that much, because it’s simply clarifying that the federal law itself doesn’t bar kids walking to school or support charges against parents who allow that to happen.  The law does not preempt state or local laws, however, so parents who let their kids walk or ride their bikes to school could still be subject to harassment and prosecution under local ordinances or state statutes.

Advocates for “free range” parenting, though, think the free range kids provision is a victory.  Color me skeptical.  Instead, the provision seems to say that we’ve reached the point that the federal government needs to specify that its enactments aren’t interfering with basic parenting decisions, like whether your kids are capable of walking to school by themselves, as UJ and Cath and I did for years, or playing outside alone, without hovering parents or social workers controlling everything they do.  Responsible parents — like my mother and father — can properly decide when their kids are self-sufficient enough to do so, and can reasonably conclude that allowing their children to play or walk or bicycle by themselves builds self-reliance and responsibility.  Yet parents who allow their kids to walk to school or play in a park are still being subjected to harassment by local authorities, who obviously think they know better than the parents do.

This is one of the moments, I think, when we should stop and consider what our government has become.  Are we at the point when we need to include a provision in every sweeping piece of federal legislation stating that it isn’t intended to criminalize basic parenting decisions?  That’s bizarre, and sad.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When you think about it, the Star Wars movies are pretty much all about dysfunctional families.  Luke Skywalker’s relationship with his dear old Dad, Darth Vader, was a frenzied, arm-chopping, each-trying-to-control-the-other mess, and when we learned about Luke and Leia’s back story in the prequel movies, and saw that they were the disturbing product of an incredibly creepy and awkward romance, the broken familial bonds become even more pronounced.  We never learned anything about Han Solo’s family, or Chewbacca’s.  So far as we have seen, there is no happy family headed by Ward and June Cleaver in that galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens continues that heart-warming trend, except that now the circle of family dysfunctionalism has broadened even more.  One of the new characters was apparently abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself; the other was stolen from his family when he was a little tyke and forced to become a soulless storm trooper.  And let’s just say that Han and Leia’s family, and relationship, aren’t exactly what you’d see featured on the cover of Reader’s Digest.  What’s worse, Luke’s latest failure to establish a warm and loving relationship with a close relative has sent him off the reservation and off the grid, making him the subject of a universal manhunt.  And the ultimate sign of some serious family issues comes when a kid would rather hang out with a colossal 3D image of an ugly guy with a grotesquely misshapen head than spend some quality time with old Mom and Dad.

star_wars_episode_vii_the_force_awakens-wideSo let’s say this for the Star Wars franchise — for all of the uplifting music and cute robots and aliens and successful missions to blow up colossal planet-killing weaponry, the films don’t exactly sugarcoat the trials and travails of the standard nuclear family.  If you’re a Dad who’s planning on seeing it, prepare yourself.  You’re probably going to walk out of the theatre after watching it and think, sadly, that being a Dad is a pretty tough job and even heroes aren’t all that great at it.

That said, I liked the movie very much.  I’m not going to drop spoilers on those of you who haven’t seen it, but I will say that I thought the new characters were very likable and the new bad guy is a pleasant surprise because he actually seems somewhat conflicted and human.  Daisy Ridley, as Rey, takes the self-sufficient female character action up about 10 notches above the supremely capable Princess Leia from the original movies, and John Boyega, as ex-storm trooper Finn, is both believable in action sequences and funny to boot.  The special effects are terrific, as usual, the rolling ball robot is very cool, and the new aliens — especially the near-sighted female who runs a raucous watering hole where rebels and fascists alike can hang out and somehow managed to get Luke’s and Darth Vader’s old lightsaber — are great.  And it’s especially wonderful to see Han Solo and Chewbacca back in action, with Han teaching the youngsters how to properly do that rebellion thing and Chewie kicking some serious storm trooper butt.

Sure, there’s a some very familiar — very familiar — plot threads at work in the film, like the evil First Order that seems like Empire Light, a bad guy dressed in black with a black helmet, a desert planet, X-wing fighters and tie fighters zipping around at impossible speeds, another planet-busting gizmo, and a bunch of people looking intently at a video display while an impossible race against time is occurring — but there was enough that was different to keep the movie unpredictable.  And, I particularly liked the ending.  I got the sense that the old storylines had finally been disposed of, the Death Star recycling was finally completed, and now it is time to move on to something really new and different.  I hope I’m right on that.

Go see it!

Dadfacts

What do you do if you are a parent who is frustrated because your child simply won’t eat what you carefully pack in their school lunchbox?  One Dad decided to leave his youngster a note to encourage food consumption that read: “Every time you don’t eat your sandwich a unicorn dies. #Dadfact Love, Dad”

The idea that sandwich noshing might affect the health of mythical horned creatures is a tantalizing one, but what really attracted my attention was the notion that there are “Dadfacts” out there, ready to be disclosed to the waiting world.  This particular note-writing Dad has put his finger on something important.  “Dadfacts,” of course, would be unlike the unconditional reassurances and warming hugs that you receive from Mom.  No, “Dadfacts” would target the things that drive Dads crazy and make a daft, last-ditch, passive-aggressive bid to alter offspring behavior through statements that would make Moms recoil in horror.

I’ve got my list of “Dadfacts,” and I suspect other Dads do, too:

“Toys that get broken because they weren’t put away send out a “naughty” beacon that only Santa and his elves can hear.  #Dadfact”

“All of the adults who now live on the streets began their downward spiral by making their Dads pay late fees for rented videos and games.  #Dadfact”

“Plastic soft drink bottles that lose their fizz because someone failed to screw the top back on can never be successfully recycled.  #Dadfact”

“The amount of acne in teenagers is directly proportional to the number of times they return the family car with an empty gas tank.  #Dadfact”

“If you try to quit a sports team that you voluntarily joined during the middle of the season you’ll never actually see a dolphin or a whale.  #Dadfact”

“Wet, smelly towels left clumped on the bathroom floor retard the growth of facial hair in teenage boys.  #Dadfact”

“Spiders are attracted to the rooms of kids who say ‘I hate my clothes.’  #Dadfact”

Thinking About Dad

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about Dad.  My guess is that most of the fathers out there will think, at some point today, about the man who played that role in their lives and who provided the personal examples, good and bad, of how to be a Dad.

I say good and bad because there aren’t many perfect Dads outside the black-and-white world of ’50s TV sitcoms.  Dad wasn’t a perfect father, and neither am I.  We all approach the job differently, drawing on our own experiences, aspirations, and fears, and we all make lots of mistakes that we beat ourselves up about.

webnerfamilyphoto3But here is the thing:  the missed baseball game or the seemingly unfair discipline or the harsh comment tend to fall away over time, sent skittering down the memory hole, and the perspective changes forever when you personally tackle the tough, infinitely challenging job of being a Dad.  When you understand how easily parenting blunders can be made, those blunders tend to be forgiven, and a big picture emerges that is a lot more balanced.

My Dad has been gone for many years, and when I think of him now I think mostly of his attitude.  Kish and I often quote, with a chuckle, two of Dad’s favorite sayings — “finding your niche” and “doing your own thing” — that Dad inevitably used, after first clearing his throat with a rumble, when he was told of a child’s decision to follow an unconventional life or career path.  It was a remarkably easygoing attitude for a man who experienced the Great Depression as a child and who was himself highly motivated to achieve traditional financial success, but Dad really meant it. I always appreciated that approach, and I’ve come to appreciate it even more as the years have passed.

There are deeper elements to that attitude, when you think about it.  It is rooted in trust and confidence and understanding:  trust that his kids would eventually find our way to a good and fulfilling life, confidence that he and Mom gave us a sufficient grounding in appropriate behavior that we wouldn’t end up in a biker gang, and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all path to happiness.  It is a liberating attitude, too, for both parent and child.  The parent isn’t frazzled by constant worry about whether their child will measure up to their own definition of personal success, and the child isn’t burdened by the ever-present specter of parental disapproval about this decision, or that.

Thanks, Dad, for that lesson — and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.

Rearing “Free Range” Children

It’s high time for another screed about how America, at least as I understand it, seems to be vanishing.  This time, the precipitating event is a news story about parents in Silver Spring, Maryland who are under investigation by Child Protective Services because their kids walk the streets alone and play unsupervised in a park.

The parents recently were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” because they let their kids — a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old — walk home, alone, in December.  Now the parents are being investigated again because the two kids were playing together in a park at 5 p.m. on Sunday and another parkgoer reported the “unsupervised children.”  The parents, who are both scientists, believe that their “free range” approach will encourage their kids to develop independence and self-reliance.

UJ and I started walking alone to school in Akron when I was a five-year-old kindergartener and he was a six-year-old first-grader.  Mom packed our lunches, bundled us up if the weather required it, and set us off on a mile-long trek to Rankin Elementary School.  This was viewed as normal behavior in those benighted days of the early ’60s, just as it was viewed as normal in the ’70s when UJ and I rode our bikes to our junior high school in Upper Arlington.  Nobody talked about “free range” children back then because every kid was a “free range” kid — even though the “free range” phrase wasn’t invented until years later in connection with chicken.  Amazingly, kids were viewed as capable of walking to school, riding bikes to their friends’ houses, and playing sandlot baseball or a game of tag in a park without having the watchful eyes of parents on them every waking moment.

At some point that all changed . . . and in a poisonous way.  Now we apparently view our neighborhoods — even in Silver Spring, a suburb of Washington, D.C. — as so inherently dangerous that children can’t be alone on the streets even during daylight hours, and what’s more if kids are spotted outside without parents nearby our instinct is to report the parents for child neglect, even if the kids seem healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and fully capable of playing by themselves.  Rather than making our streets safe for unsupervised kids — if in fact they are truly unsafe, as opposed to the focus of overblown concerns brewed in the fevered imaginations of helicopter parents who must arrange every element of their kids’ lives — our approach is to investigate parents and put them on the watch lists of government agencies just because they don’t monitor their kids’ every move.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want to live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where busybodies apparently feel good about reporting unsupervised kids in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon and authorities dutifully investigate such claims and hassle responsible parents who hope to encourage their kids to develop a sense of independence.  Is every town in America like Silver Spring, Maryland these days?  Have we really gotten to the point where parents who simply let their kids play outside unattended are viewed as so irresponsible that we need to sic Big Brother on them?  What kinds of lost adults are the constantly cosseted kids of modern America going to turn out to be?