How to Be a Father

January 18, 2013

So lately, I have been witness to some amazingly epic fathering failures across all parts of my life. It’s starting to piss me off because the whole fatherhood thing is really not that hard and I can’t believe there are so many men who are utterly incapable of mastering it. While I may not be an expert, per se, as my children are 3 years old and 11 months old, respectively, I do have extensive experience with teenagers and happen to have had a decent father of my own. I also know at least a few other people with fathers, both competent and incompetent, so I think I can write on the subject with some degree of authority.

So, without further ado, here are a series of rules that should serve any father or potential father well. These apply especially to fathers of daughters, but most transfer easily to boys.

1. Do not be a petty asshole
Here’s the thing about your kids, they are kids. They might act immature occasionally, but you know what? They’re supposed to. Don’t pick ridiculous fights with your children. It’s important that you at least appear to be reasonable.

2. Show affection to your children.
I know, you’re a “man” and stuff. I also do not care. You know how many times my dad has hugged me and told me he loved me? Yeah, me neither because the number is uncountably huge. On a related note, I have a really awesome relationship with my dad.

3. It is not your children’s job to learn about your interests, it is your job to learn about theirs.
Also, you should at least attempt to feign an interest. Learn about it a little bit. If you show this kind of initiative, your children might realize you care about them. If you dismiss your child’s passionate interests, it it often the same as dismissing them.

4. Don’t get mad when your kids turn out to be different than you.
Your child is not your clone. Chill. If your kid likes to murder people, this is cause for ceasing the relationship (and reporting them to the police). If they support a presidential candidate different from yours, this is maybe cause for a fun political argument, but not the time to scream at them and make threats and other stupid shit.

5. Admit when you are wrong.
This seems obvious, but apparently it isn’t. You will be wrong sometimes, and, get this, often your kids will know you are wrong. If you refuse to admit it, you just look like an asshole.

6. Don’t act like you own your children.
You especially don’t own their sexuality. Your daughter’s value is not tied up in her virginity. For more information on this, see here.

7. Do not lord money over your children.
Oh, you raised them! You paid for everything they ever did! You bought them food! You know what that’s called? Being a parent. If you aren’t willing to do this stuff, don’t have kids. It’s one thing if your children are openly ungrateful for luxuries, but never act like you’re doing something special by providing necessities. That just makes you a jerk.

Writing and People

January 10, 2013

The other day, I felt the need to illustrate a particular point to one of my writing classes. This is what I did: I took four short excerpts (2 pages each) from four books. I removed identifying information about the authors from the margins, and then I asked the students to read the excerpts and tell me what they thought they knew about the writers.

Excerpt #1: An old preacher writing to his son.
Excerpt #2: A teenage girl helping her father try to save a horse from drowning.
Excerpt #3: A black midwife going about her day.
Excerpt #4: A man in a post apocalyptic wasteland.

They read an discussed in groups and then we discussed as a class what they thought they knew about the authors and then I told them where the excerpts came from.

Excerpt #1: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Excerpt #2: Everything in This Country Must by Colum McCann
Excerpt #3: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Excerpt #4: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The point I was making – or trying to make – is that who we are doesn’t have to be who we write, especially where it concerns gender. The vast majority of the students were unable to nail the correct gender of the writer (I didn’t ask them about gender, I determined their conclusion from which pronoun they used).

The mistake many of us make, be it as writers or people or both is to assume that certain groups of people are fundamentally different from other groups. We aren’t. People are people. It’s only the experiences that are different. The best writers don’t have a magical ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of a different species, they have the ability to imagine other experiences. Once you at least try to put yourself in the position of another person, especially one who doesn’t share your race or gender, once you see what the world shows them, you begin to see that we are all much more similar than we give ourselves credit for.

A Clear-Eyed Morning

January 4, 2013

I find myself suddenly ambitious, and I’m not alone in my household. Maybe it’s the start of a new year. Maybe it’s that I just had two weeks off. I suspect both are at play, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

Since July, I’ve been working feverishly on my National Board Certification and trying to be a decent husband and father when I wasn’t doing that. It’s been a mostly rewarding process, and I’m a better teacher for it, but I’m glad to be nearing the end because it’s come at a deep personal cost.

I only read 51 books last year. I didn’t write very much. I hardly picked up the guitar.

I like teaching. As a profession, it’s gratifying, and I love the classes I’ve been given to teach this year, but it isn’t my first love or my second. There are other things I need to spend time on if I want to continue to feel like myself and this year, I want to spend time on them.

I undertook National Boards because Cate and I want to move to a nicer house in a neighborhood we really love and that wasn’t happening without a raise. Assuming I pass muster, we’ll be able to save enough to move in a year or two, but I’m not someone who likes to put his wallet before his well-being and this year, I intend to par more attention to my creative endeavors.

So it’s simple, this year I intend to write as much as I can, read as much as I can, get more use out of the Richard Thompson songbook Cate got me two birthdays ago, and have a bit more fun than I did in 2012. I want to feel like a whole person again. It’s been a while since that happened. We’ll see how I do.