When I’ve got nothing to say,
my lips are sealed.
Say something once,
why say it again?
But there are lots of great
Dad Bloggers (24 of them so far)
who do have something to say
on this excellent Fatherhood Friday.
This is that delightful time of year when I have to poke my head inside each store to check for scary things before I bring my young son inside.
Last October, I took Jacob (then 2½ years old) into a craft supply store and walked him past a full-size ghost figure that I was sure he wouldn’t notice. But the ghost had a motion sensor, and as we came alongside it, the thing started moving and emitting an evil laugh. Jacob screamed in horror and clung to me.
I was slow to learn my lesson. About a week later, I was out with Jacob again and realized I needed something from Party City. I hastily pushed the door open and led my son by the hand into the store, where we found ourselves face to face with a large ‘bargain bin’ full of 4-foot-tall Grim Reapers. He got a look of panic on his face, and we both high-tailed it for the safety of the sidewalk.
I’ve never been too fond of scary stuff, for emotional and spiritual reasons. When my first two sons were little, I actually took a pretty hard stand on Halloween. Our family distanced itself from the H word and from the ‘spooky’ activities that tend to mark the day. If my sons wore costumes on or around Oct. 31, it was to participate in a church event (typically called a harvest festival) where scary costumes were out of the question.
I still take spiritual matters very seriously, I still think church harvest festivals are way better than trick-or-treating, and of course I make an effort to keep Jacob from seeing the ‘horrific’ side of Halloween. But I’m a mellower dad than I used to be. For example, I’m not keeping my son out of the preschool’s Halloween parade simply because they call it a Halloween parade. Labeling an event with the H word does not make it a demonic ritual, just as calling an event a “Christmas party” does not make it a religious observance. It’s what happens at the event that determines what it is. And everything this preschool does, it does with extreme sensitivity to the kids’ emotional comfort. I’m not afraid.
I don’t know if it’s because my belief system has evolved or simply because I’m older and wiser now, but I just don’t get wrapped around the axle about names and labels — including “Halloween” — anymore.
Anyone have something to share on the innocence or the evils of All Hallows’ Eve?
For homework this past weekend, my preschooler, Jacob, was to make a “me cube,” a tissue box wrapped in colored paper and then covered with photos, drawings and information about him. One of the faces of the cube was supposed to feature a picture of “my family.”
I agonized, as I often do, over whether to show his family of three — just Jacob, his mom and me — or his family of five, which includes his much older half-brothers.
About a year ago, when the teachers in Jacob’s previous class asked for a family picture for the bulletin board, we gave them the family of five. But even at that time, it was a difficult choice.
For a while I had been sensing my wife’s need to identify just the three of us as a family in our own right. A couple of years ago during the holidays, I had been putting all five of our names on Christmas cards when my wife, Angela, observed me doing it and asked why I was including the two sons who weren’t under our roof. I hadn’t thought much about it till then; I had just put their names down because they were my kids. But it was kind of illogical to do that — I know I shouldn’t presume to act as my older sons’ representative for things like greeting cards.
Lately, it occurs to me that Jacob probably thinks of his family in similar terms. Mama and Daddy are with him in the house every day, so we are his ‘immediate’ family in the sense that we are the ones in his immediate reach.
Another observation: When people ask if Jacob has any siblings, I don’t just say ”Yes” or that he has two older brothers. Instead, I usually say that I have two (much older) sons from my first marriage. I’m saying, in so many words, ”Yes but not the same kinds of siblings most preschoolers have.” In a way, I am doing it to differentiate between our ‘conventional’ family of three and our less conventional family of five. This seems to give everyone proper recognition for where they are in life.
In any case, a photo of the family of three is now pasted to the cube.
I’d like to hear from others who struggle with which family to identify as the family.
You know the bumper sticker that says “My son and my money go to UCLA” (or some other university)? I am not qualified to put that sticker on my car.
I have two sons in college, and I’m not paying for either one of them to go. Does that make me a bad dad? (They get aid as part of my veteran benefits, but it certainly doesn’t cover everything, and of course it’s not the same as my paying out of pocket.)
I feel like I’m the only parent in the world who (1) isn’t paying cash for college and (2) isn’t hiding behind the excuse of not being able to afford it.
Yes, I’m divorced from their mother and remarried. Yes, my wife and I have a preschooler. Yes, our expenses are considerable. But my position on paying for college would be the same if I had stayed single after the divorce or never gotten divorced.
Here is my position: Being autonomous is the only way to learn autonomy, and that is a fundamental part of a proper education.
It’s cheap and easy for me to take that position. Some might even call it a cop-out. I don’t care. It’s what I actually believe. And I don’t think it’s a win-lose position.
One benefit of my ‘cheap and easy’ position — from my sons’ perspective, not mine — is that they don’t (and won’t ever) have to answer to me for how they live their lives. If they goof off and get poor grades, that’s their business. If they drop out, that’s their business. If they get their degrees and then decide to become monks, that’s their business. If they rack up too much debt during college, that’s their business. Whatever they do with their investments is their business.
In the three years my oldest son has been in college, I’ve never had the slightest inclination to judge how he has spent his time or money. I’ve given him advice, but we both understand that he doesn’t answer to me. I think he is better off because of this, and I think my second son (and, down the road, my third) will be better off, too.
Still, most of the world seems to believe paying cash for college — giving till it hurts — is a sacred obligation of parents.
There’s a whole page at FinAid.org dedicated to trashing parents who, for whatever reason, don’t pay. Here’s a little excerpt:
Some parents feel that they can’t afford to pay for college or are up to their eyebrows in debt. They don’t realize that paying for your children’s college education entails sacrifice. The parents will have to forgo buying a new or second car, clothing or big-screen TV, going on the annual vacation to Aruba, eating out every night, and a few other luxuries to help pay for their children’s education. It won’t be easy, but most families can afford college if they really try.
I know paying for college entails sacrifice. But whose sacrifice should it entail?
The start of school* makes me nostalgic for one of the two happiest times in my life: 12 years ago.
Twelve years ago is when I started working nights on the copy desk of a regional newspaper. What was so great about that? Well, I didn’t have to be at work until 4 p.m., so I got a lot of good quality time with my sons, Charlie and Thomas, who were in fourth grade and first grade.
This was the routine: I would finish work at midnight or 1 a.m., come home, sleep for a few hours, get up, help my boys get ready for school, walk them out to the bus stop, and maybe go back to bed for another few hours. I say “maybe” because I might drive them to school, or go to one of their classrooms and help out, or get just a little sleep and then go have lunch with them at school (we would eat quickly so there was lots of time for them to humiliate me at tetherball). I never got eight hours of sleep (or even six) in a row, but life was beautiful.
The other happiest time in my life: Right now. What’s so great about right now is that I get to have morning quality time with my third son, Jacob, who is in preschool. Mama’s workday starts kind of early, so from about 7 or 7:15 a.m., that kid is all mine.
I don’t have a night job anymore, so I can’t spend half the day with Jacob. In fact, I have to do the drop-off promptly at 8 in order to make an 8:12 train. But we do a lot with the time we have. We might make pancakes or toast, or wrestle, or just talk while we eat cereal. It doesn’t matter exactly what we do. We are just together. Normally, goofing off comes first and I end up rushing through the necessities — making lunches, rinsing the dishes, getting us dressed — and we just barely make it to the preschool on time.
Two days a week, I also get some bonus time with Jacob. My employer is flexible on hours, so my typical work week is 10, 6, 10, 6, 8 (10 hours Monday, six hours Tuesday, etc.). On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I pick up Jacob while my wife does her workout — so we can do whatever we want. We do errands or go to the park or to Super Franks or to the train table in the children’s section at Barnes & Noble.
Sleep deprivation is part of the routine this time, too, but only because my blogging and some miscellaneous editing projects are keeping me up late. And at 43, I feel the effects more than I used to. Still, sleep or no sleep, the phases of life that provide lots of ‘kid time’ have been the best.
* The ‘start of the school year’ is happening around me, not to me. Charlie and Thomas are college men and live in another part of the state. Jacob’s preschool knows no season.