Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Have you ever had this experience when you have company visiting you? You partly dread their arrival, not because you don’t like them, but because you feel that heavy obligation to show them around and make sure they have a good time. Then, part way through their trip, things begin to change. You notice what a great time they are having, and you start to see your own little corner of the world again through their eyes. Suddenly, you have a whole new appreciation for something you’ve seen a million times.
Being a dad is the same way. The obligations of being a dad are overwhelming. You feel bogged down by the same things you’ve seen and done a million times. But if you allow yourself to experience them through your child’s eyes, you can regain that sense of wonder.
I’ll give you an example.
I was at a minor hockey game just a while back. My son was just shy of 3 and it was the first time he’s ever seen a game. We were a little late arriving and the game was already underway when we took our seats.
My son sat on my lap, staring inquisitively at the players on the ice. His little brow was furrowed and I could tell he was trying to figure something out. This went on for a few minutes until he finally turned to me and said, “How did they get in there?”
He was referring to the players, of course, wondering how this group of gladiators got into what seemed to him like an impenetrable fortress of boards and Plexiglas.
His curiosity tickled me to no end. I spent the rest of the game explaining to him what to anyone else would be the most obvious of details—why the goalie was wearing pads, why the players have tape on their sticks. It was a joyous evening of discovery and rediscovery and I owed it all to my little boy.
The next time you are feeling frazzled by the endless array of whys, try and use it as a chance to see the world with the same awe and wonder you child does.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I have a theory when it comes to being a dad. Most fathers subscribe to one of two main types of parenting. One is the “it was good enough for me it is good enough for my kid” theory. The other is the “there is no way in hell I’m going to do to my kid what my dad did to me,” theory.
You can’t really say one is more “enlightened” than the other. You may have had a terrific father, in which case, you see no need to do anything differently. However, you father might also have subscribed to the “I’ll beat you within an inch of your life if you ever talk back to me again” school of parenting, in which case you are not making the world a better place or your child a better person by carrying so much anger forward to another generation.
Recognizing your dad’s faults and refusing to repeat them is a great way to break some negative cycle, but simply taking a contrarian approach to parenting isn’t necessarily any better either.
For example, with a father who was both emotionally and geographically distant, I was determined not to be that way with my son. I remember the first time I had to leave him and my wife for a few nights. He mustn’t have been more than a month or two old. As I was saying goodbye, I began to sob uncontrollably. I was blabbering to him about how much I loved him, how going away didn’t mean I wasn’t coming back, and most importantly, how my absence didn’t mean I didn’t love him.
Afterward, I reflected on my behaviour. I concluded that the tears and sobbing were the little boy who felt emotionally abandoned by his father. Although I know my father loves me to no end, he was always unemotional whenever we parted —- often when we wouldn’t be seeing each other for months at a time. Years later he told me he was breaking up inside, but he felt the best thing was to be strong. He, like most fathers, was doing the best he knew how at the time.
I was aware that his stoic behaviour had, despite his best intentions, caused me scars. The message I was left with as a child was that he was indifferent to our parting. With my own son, I was determined that I wouldn’t make the same mistake. Although my blubbering and bawling caught me off guard, I had no regrets. My son was going to grow up and see a father who was emotional. My son would see that tears were a sign of strength, not of weakness. And my son would know that his father loved him so desperately, that it tore him up inside to be away from him.
This parting behaviour on my part continued, unabashedly, for just over a year. The following summer, my wife’s cousin and her three kids were visiting from Germany. My wife was going to take the Germans and my son for a few days of sight seeing. Once again, as I strapped my boy into the car seat, I began to cry and blubber. My wife’s cousin pulled me aside and said, “what the hell are you doing, can’t you see how upset you are making him?” I looked to see my always happy one year old, straining against his car seat restraints, tears streaming down his face, arms outstretched and reaching for me. He was wailing. He wanted his daddy.
“My son will see my emotions” I said defiantly. “My father would leave me without so much as a hint of sadness. My little boy will know how much it pains me to be away from him.”
“You mean you want to create separation anxiety in you son?" she asked. "You want to teach him that each and every time he leaves you, he is hurting you? Is that what you want?”
She was right.
I had never thought of it that way. I was just so determined to do the opposite of what my own father had done, just because it had been so painful for me. If my dad’s way of doing it caused me pain, certainly, the opposite of what my dad did would be better. Not so. I realized that what I was really doing when I left my son was reliving all those painful partings with my father.
The point here is not that you need to go through therapy to fully understand your relationship with your own father (though I wouldn’t dissuade you from it, either), you just have to be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Neither the “it was good enough for me” or the “no way in hell” schools of parenting would have served my son in this instance. If I had carried on, I would have created a dynamic where my child would grow up guilt ridden or resentful that his father was reduced to a weeping heap every time he left the house.
What I do now when I leave my son for a prolonged period of time, is I give him a huge hug and a kiss, I tell him that I love him and that I will miss him. Then I tell him it’s kind of nice to miss people because it reminds us of how much we love them. It’s also great when we get together again because we can share great stories of all the things that happened to both of us while we were apart.
What do you do differently from you father when it comes to parenting? What do you do that is the same? Why?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I had one of those days yesterday.
It was one of those dragging, burdensome days where everything seems heavy. It was a day of obligations and responsibilities. It was one of those days where the word “should” seemed to be attached to every thought and every action.
I’m in the process of starting a business geared towards helping men achieve better work-life balance. Much like this blog, the purpose is to help men fully embrace the gifts brought to them by their children in order to make their lives more happy and meaningful. Anyone who has ever started a business knows how much work it is and how many risks are involved. There are many internal battles. On one hand, there is the vision and promise of fulfilling and meaningful work and the potential for more freedom at home and time with my family. On the other hand, there is the risk and financial uncertainty that can put your family’s security in jeopardy. On some days, like yesterday, the latter got to me. I was feeling the weight of doing the “responsible” thing—settling down in some 9-5 job to put food on the table. The thought of that made my stomach churn and my head ache, but the call to “responsibility” would not relent.
Finally, after a day of brooding and struggling, I came home. I had left the house before my son had gotten up, and he was now asleep. I entered his room and sat on the foot of his bed. He looked so peaceful as he slept—so light and unburdened by the grown up world. I watched him breathe. I watched the way his little back raised and lowered with each breath. I saw his little nostrils gently flare in and out.
As I sat with him in his stillness I was overcome with love. Tears welled up and flowed freely down my cheeks. There was such wisdom in my little boy’s simple act of just breathing.
Breathing is at the core of so many of the world’s religions and philosophies. Focusing on the breath is designed to bring us into the present and be fully aware of the now. Inadvertently, my son was doing just that. Just by breathing—by being, he was inviting me into the truth and beauty of that single moment.
As a simple exercise try this with your child. The next time she is asleep, sit with her. Don’t think, just observe her breathing. If you are suddenly overcome by feelings of love or sadness or joy, just let them happen. Don’t judge it. Don’t question any of it. It is a gift from your child, a gift of bringing you fully into the present moment, a gift of opening your heart.