Thursday, June 13, 2013

Things My Kids Have Taught Me

On Father's Day, Sunday, June 20, 2004, my weekly "Undercurrents" column on the Lifestyle page was the following:

Things my kids have taught me

Jessi and Nate 2006
Educators and child development experts are fond of pointing out that the greatest influences on a child are his or her parents.

I’d go as far as saying that this rule holds true no matter the person who raises a child or what sort of traditional or nontraditional family that child has. The greatest influences are the mother and father — their presence, their absence, their attention or neglect — whether or not the child ever knew them.

A grandmother raising a grandchild as her own may do a wonderful job, but the absence of a mother/father duo will affect that child for the rest of his or her life.

That’s a long introduction to the idea that, as quantum theory suggests, the reverse is also true — the absence or presence of children makes a huge difference in an adult’s life. The child really is father to the man.

Or, in bumper sticker terms: Insanity is genetic — You get it from your kids.

Apropos of the day, listed hereafter are some of the things my children have taught me. Put simply, they made me the man I am today.


  • A quiet house means someone is up to no good.
  • I’m luckier to have the two of them than they are to have me. At least twice as lucky.
  • Child-proofing a house only succeeds in frustrating adults.
  • Somebody else started it. It’s my job to finish it.
  • I’m sure there are more painful things than a child’s tears. I just can’t think of one.
  • Respect has to work both ways or it won’t work at all.
  • Cleaning up is not nearly as much fun as making a mess, and takes much longer.
  • The hardest thing to explain is "why."
  • Being a kid is tougher than you recall.
  • If the rest of their generation is anything like them, then the future will be more complex, irritating, exhilarating and imaginative than you expect.
  • Noisy bodily functions are funny. Are too. Are too.
  • I am not my father, though I sometimes sound like him — and they are not me, though I often see myself in them.
  • That doesn’t mean I’m letting them get away with anything, though.
  • Kisses really do make booboos better.
  • Hard work never hurt anybody. Neither did an afternoon of cartoons and popcorn.
  • My folks were wrong when they said, "You’ll understand when you get to be my age."
  • There are more questions than there are answers.
  • Sometimes the best answer is still, "Because I said so."

Peace.

(And happy Father’s Day.)

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My Undercurrents column for Friday, June 14, is as follows:

Things my kids have taught me

Jessi and Nate 2013
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Several years ago, I made a mix CD that I titled, “Songs My Kids Taught Me.” It had tracks by Iron & Wine, the Killers, Postal Service and many others who were, at the time, fresh on the scene.

I always have prided myself on keeping up with new music — though not the plastic, manufactured pop dreck. I try to introduce my kids to new music (such as OK GO, Anna Ternheim and Airborne Toxic Event when they first broke out) thanks to sources like NPR and Paste magazine.

So, looking back, it was a big step to admit they were teaching me. I still enjoy answering them with “Yes I have,” when they ask if I’ve seen a certain new video or heard a certain new song — but it doesn’t happen as often these days.

With Father’s Day approaching, and these thoughts on my mind, I started wondering what else I used to teach them that they now teach me. The fact is, I can’t really say that I’ve taught them anything — though I’d like to take some credit for them being intelligent, curious, creative and compassionate souls.

But they have pretty clearly taught me a thing or two over the years. I even wrote a column based on that idea about a decade ago, featuring nuggets like: A quiet house means someone is up to no good; respect has to work both ways or it won’t work at all; and the hardest thing to explain is “why.”

There are many things they have tried to teach me, but that I refuse to learn. I still won’t eat sushi, for instance, no matter how they flavor it, and I still don’t ride amusement park rides.

But a couple of other items have become clear in recent years. They certainly have taught me:


  • Patience. I was impatient as a young man, easily frustrated, often angry. Now I’m patient almost to the point of oblivion. So patient, I make others impatient with me.
  • Never say “never again.” I mean it at the time, but when a similar challenge presents itself again, I’ll probably cave. It’s one thing to draw a hard line and another thing entirely to watch a child struggle when you can help.
  • Loosen up. I know it may seem unlikely, but I can be uptight when it comes to being “proper” in public. They’ve taught me it can be okay to laugh inappropriately, among other things.
  • Sometimes, peace is more important than justice. Sometimes, getting a job completed is more important than an even distribution of labor. And sometimes, if you wait long enough, even a patient Dad will get tired of asking.

But I maintain, as I wrote before, that I’m luckier to have the two of them than they are to have me. At least twice as lucky, though it’s more likely that I’m lucky-squared.

Peace.

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