One of my friends posted a note on Facebook about his dad’s birthday and said how much he misses his father. We didn’t talk about it, but I know how he feels, especially today.
My dad was a good listener and a good teacher, and I never met anyone who didn’t like him. That says a lot. When he died, he had been retired and ill for a long time, so there were no customers or vendors or anxious heirs to fill the funeral home. Still, the room was overflowing, simply because people liked him.
I’ve always thought about him as the kind of father I wanted to be and want to be, still. I could talk to him about anything and he would listen, without laughing or judging or making sure I knew immediately what he thought of the situation. He taught without lectures. He didn’t view his success as dependent on someone else’s failure, or vice versa. He worked ten hours a day, plus lots of weekends, but he always seemed to have time for me, because I knew he was paying attention when we shared time together.
There are lots of books about how to be a good parent; maybe you’ve read one or twenty. For most of us, whether we read the expert guides or not, our roadmap for parenting is complete by the time we’re in high school. Whatever our parents did up until then will lead us on our own journeys. Later, in our twenties or thirties, without even thinking about it, we mimic them.
There’s comfort and caution to be had here. The good examples of our own parents are etched into our synapses, but so are the bad ones. Abused children become abusive parents because that’s what they know. Oddly, I don’t know many pampered children who become doting parents, possibly because they’ve been trained to see themselves as recipients rather than givers.
As a dad, even with grown children who have children of their own, I’m checking my own dashboard regularly. What can I leave on cruise control and what do I need to change, right now and forever? How can I be the same kind of father to my kids that my father was to me?
I’m still working on it, but the girls haven’t sued me for parental malpractice yet. I’m taking that as a good sign.
Happy Father’s Day.
Next week, we take a deep dive into another father, the founding kind, as we reconsider the meaning of Independence Day. Subscribe by clicking here and you won’t miss a single word.
Now that my daughters have their own children, they call me every day to ask me for advice on how they can be the bestest-ever parents like I was for them. Okay, they aren’t really calling about this, but I once had a dream where one of them said I wasn’t the worst father in the world, so it’s the same thing.
Anyway, if ever there was a time when my daughters should be calling for fatherly wisdom, this is it. Halloween is coming up in a few days and every good parent is looking for answers to the world’s most important question:
How do I make sure my kids bring home Hershey bars instead of candy corn?
Because, let’s be real about this whole Halloween thing. We say it’s fun for the kids and they love to dress up and get free candy, but we’re lying. No little kid has ever wished for the opportunity to put on a sweaty plastic costume and cover their faces with a cardboard mask so they could stand out in the cold and the rain while some stranger hands them a malted milk ball.
Yeah, they’ll say they like it after we coach them enough, and they’ll tell their parents they’re having fun, but that’s only to avoid being left out in the cold near the old house that everyone knows is haunted by a real ghost.
By the time they’re three, every kid knows there are much easier ways to get candy. Either whine non-stop until mom gives in or wait for gramps to show up and just ask him. Getting dressed up to beg for crap from strangers? That’s amateur stuff, and way too much work.
In truth, Halloween is a holiday for parents, and it’s all about the candy that the parents can score, even if it means pimping out their costumed progeny as “trick or treaters.” The whole thing is truly nuts, though. Mom loads up on Snickers and Milky Ways and all the other candy she likes, but then she ends up giving those treats to a bunch of snot-nosed tykes while hoping that her own snot-nosed tykes will bring home….Snickers and Milky Ways. If everyone eliminated the middlemen, or middlekids, this would all go so much better.
But we’re Americans and we love to complicate things, so we’ll all be dressing up the kids to go out and collect the candy and telling everyone how much fun it all is for the little ones. And we’ll all be regretting our choices when dad brings Junior and Little Missy home with a tub full of candy corn, popcorn balls, wax lips and Necco wafers. Meanwhile, back at home, mom has been reduced to tears as she gave away the last of the really good candy she was hoping to enjoy with dad after Missy and Junior went to sleep.
Happily, all this nonsense can be avoided if parents follow our simple Dadwrites Guide to Halloween Bliss. The seven-volume how-to manual won’t be out until next year, but here are a few of the highlights:
Halloween is only one of the many tests that parents face as they strive to clear the path for their children’s success. Whether we’re fighting for admission to the preppy pre-school or the Ivy League college or the top summer camp for entrepreneurs, it’s our number one job to make our children winners, not whiners. Because, except for our “fair share” of the Snickers, we’re doing it all for them.
Your children will succeed at Halloween, along with everything else they do in life, but only if you read and follow all the incredible parenting insights that we offer here at Dadwrites. Make sure to subscribe by clicking here and save your children from the total failure experienced by losers who don’t sign up.
Not that I’m really needy and whiny and crave the attention of tiny young people who are blissfully unaware of all my flaws, but it’s worth noting that today is Grandparents Day across the United States.
While parents double-dip with Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June and then Parents’ Day in July, there’s only one day in the year for Grandparents, and it must be shared by both Gramps and Grammy. (Actually, I think I saw a National GILF day during my research, but this is a family blog and we’re not going there.)
Being a grandparent is one of the great joys in life, because it combines all the fun of having children with zero responsibility. Take them to the zoo, gorge them on cotton candy, buy them a puppy and then drop them off when they get cranky. If mom objects, remind her of that video with her singing on the toilet while she pooped.
(Disclaimer: I am supposed to note here that I do not actually have any videos of my daughters singing while they pooped. I do, however, have several that are even better.)
As grandparents go, I would describe myself as ridiculously greedy. I love spending time with the children and I make sure to file my requisition forms at least once a week. And why not? There are a ton of things that make grandchildren far, far superior to all other forms of people:
It’s important to reciprocate, of course. As a grandfather, I want my grandchildren to know there is always a person who is happy to see them, happy to play with them, happy to teach, happy to listen, and always, always, rooting for them. That’s not a tough investment on my part, and the returns are huge.
I know there will come a time when they're too cool for me, too engaged with their friends or their start-up businesses or their viral videos or whatever. Right now, though, we're still in the magic zone and it's time for me to fill out my requisition forms for next week’s visits.
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Writing a blog called Dad Writes, it’s natural for me to think about my own dad quite a bit. His approach to life shaped my journey and I learned a ton from his stories. Among them was a very old joke that he told me several times over the years, a joke whose meaning became much clearer as I matured.
Sign on a light pole:
One leg missing.
Right ear torn.
Blind in left eye.
Tail doesn’t wag.
Answers to the name of Lucky.
Okay, not the best joke in the world, but I’ve come to think of it as very meaningful.
Like other dogs, Lucky doesn’t mope around with resentments for the damage life inflicted on him. He doesn’t plot revenge for the torn ear and the broken tail. He doesn’t look at us with soulful eyes that seem to plead, “Why me?” Instead, he takes each day as a new opportunity to have fun and sniff out whatever life has to offer.
"Eat the same food every day? Sure."
"Poop in the snow? No problem."
"Sleep in a crate? Sounds swell."
"Stand still while other dogs smell your butt? Doesn’t everyone?"
After reconsidering my dad’s old joke, I’ve decided to live like a dog. I have a few scars and I’ve had parts removed and my psyche has suffered a few hundred slings and arrows, and every so often the weight of it all can wear on me. In spite of that, I want to wake up every day with a real gratitude for the life I have and the opportunity to have fun with whatever comes my way.
That doesn’t translate into treacly commentaries on the super-duper glee of mindless delight. Rather, it informs a philosophy of gratitude for what I have and confidence in my ability to deal with whatever comes next.
Lucky is undoubtedly dead by now, but a big chunk of my life is committed to following his example, his worldview, and his willingness to sniff absolutely anything. As he could teach us, everything in life is interesting and fun, in its own way.
By the way, Lucky would have loved the opportunity to subscribe to dadwrites and experience the joy of sniffing, or peeing on, our weekly updates. You, too, can live like a dog by clicking here to become a subscriber.
So, last week I explained why being a dad is the easiest job in the world, which led millions of unengaged dads to leap off their couches and do their duty. I know because my mailbox has been stuffed with poopy diapers that other fathers have sent me, clearly to show their gratitude for my lessons in the Tao of Fatherhood.
This week, we continue our tutorial with a Father’s Day list of all the things you need to know to be a great dad. (Also a great mom, but I finished this too late for Mother’s Day.) Our super-secret list shows how simple it really is to raise great kids and finally earn your “World’s Best Dad” coffee cup.
And so, we submit with great pride and just a bit of trepidation…How to Be the Bestest Parental Unit Ever!!
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With Father’s Day coming up next week, we can look forward to the annual media blitz about abusive fathers, fathers in prison, absentee fathers and generic baby daddies of all sorts. Just in case people were still feeling familial warmth after Mother’s Day, the third Sunday in June is the perfect time to balance the scales.
Oh, well. It’s not that the world is filled with inspirational stories about nurturing dads who helped their children to thrive. More common are the tales, often told by successful entrepreneurs, about being left destitute by drunk/absent/philandering/abusive fathers. That’s probably the reason that nobody looks into the TV camera at the football game and yells, “Hi, dad.”
This is incredibly surprising to me, because being a good dad is such an easy job that you’d think more men would give it a whirl. I’m not talking here about guys who don’t have kids. Nope, I’m focusing on the men who have children and are missing out on the honors, accolades and pedestal-upon-putting that comes with being even a moderately engaged dad.
Because, let’s face it, men benefit all the time from the incredibly low expectations that people (read: women) have about us. We can get major points for washing our own underwear, or even for putting it in the hamper. Our wives will brag about us if we make dinner once a month, and we qualify for a medal if we remember to put down the toilet seat. The bar is set so low for us that we almost need to dig a tunnel if we want to limbo under it. And yet... so many guys go the extra mile to give 110% and leave it all on the field in order to throw the game.
I supposed at one time that the era of unengaged fathers was over, a relic of my parents’ generation, or maybe mine, but certainly not a Gen X or Gen Y or Millennial thing. But the tradition seems to continue in many households where the sperm donor declines the opportunity to change diapers, bathe, clothe, feed or, in many cases, be alone with their children. (Yes, I have met men who are unwilling or unable to spend time with their own flesh and blood, unless mommy is there to make sure everything is fine.) I don’t know whether it’s fear or rigid gender roles, but it is insane on many levels.
First, it’s ridiculously easy to change a diaper. You can’t stab a baby with adhesive strips and, even if you put the diaper on wrong, you can blame the baby.
“Look at that mess. Zelda is already an overachiever in at least one area, hahaha. But I changed her last time, hon, so it’s your turn now.”
Second, you don’t have to change the diaper frequently; 5-10% of the time is enough to win awards for your commitment. And, if you “admit” to changing diapers with poop in them, you’re halfway to Dad of the Year. Still, so many dads refuse to change a diaper filled with doody balls that the guys who do the dirty work can qualify for pretty much anything except a hall pass.
Being an engaged dad takes some work, but the rewards are unbelievable, including a potential room over the garage when you get old and your wife finally evicts you. In the meantime, minor tasks like changing clothes, feeding, and reading bedtime stories are a piece of cake for real men. We’re the ones with the can-do, take-charge, problem-solving chromosomes.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.