Saturday 15 March 2014

My Non-Regrets as a Dad...

Tomorrow is a milestone. My eldest son turns 18. In Australia, that is the age of adulthood, though we have already welcomed him into the world of men a few years back. He can now vote. He can now legally drink. He can get his car licence. To all intents and purposes, our parenting "job" is now done...though we'll always be here for him.

And so I stand back and regard him as a man and I have to say I'm proud of his empathy for others, his sharp intellect, his wicked sense of humour, his faith, his brilliant people skills (he didn't get them from me!). And in reflecting, it shows me that there are many things I don't regret doing over the last 18 years of my role as a Dad.

My non-regrets include:

  • reading to and with him at bedtime several times a week until well into childhood
  • putting work aside to watch him do something or tell me something
  • putting work and self-interest aside to play with him
  • initiating him into manhood over the year between his 13th and 14th birthdays, with the help of some incredibly generous and wise other men (see
  • listening to him when he was trying to tell me that he was too old for things like bedtime stories
  • praying with him whenever he faced a challenge...and often when he didn't
  • teaching him to tithe part of his pocket money (which was given to charity) until he was 14
  • having that birds-and-bees talk (that had me crapping my pants)
  • teaching him to have faith, demonstrating that faith, but allowing him to question it and come at it his own way (Thank God for wise mentors for me in this regard)
  • paying for sports he never stuck at, buying him musical instruments (which he did stick at), taking him to interesting places
  • vacations
  • answering his questions after taking them seriously
  • listening
  • wrestling with him and giving him hugs
  • tuning in to his sense of humour and opinions

My one main regret is the times I missed the opportunity to do any of the above. If I had my time over, I'd do more of that.

But it's interesting isn't it, that the things we focus on in the here-to-now (that report that needs
writing, that guy that wants to catch up for a coffee, that project we think will change the course of our destiny, that home improvement we think will make us look better to others) have so little eternal value?

Anything we do that is for and with and because of our children, is an investment. It stands the test of time. And it bears good fruit in the real world as they go on to perpetuate goodness on Planet Earth.

Live long and live large, son. It's been an awesome ride and I'm excited to see where you take your life from here.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Sydney Trip Nov 2012

I'm a believer in boys being welcomed into the world of men around age 13/14 rather than being left to vegetate in the post-industrial malaise known as teenage-hood (is it known as that? Well, something similar). I believe it's the job of Dads and other significant adult males in the young man's world to "initiate" him around that age, speaking wise and affirming words into his soul, leading him in challenges, helping him recognise his strengths to give him confidence. Part of this I reckon is at least one big physical challenge.

My poor Oldest Son got his Dad running around the city for the Melbourne City Romp with him just after his 13th, (oh and a bass guitar). Youngest Son (turning 13 when we had more $$) gets a trip to Sydney Harbour Bridge to test his mettle (and mine!) ...

It was a privilege the past three days to get to know youngest son as a young man and to experience the thrills of a Harbour Bridge climb, Luna Park and a nasty Sydney storm at Bondi Beach (where even Prince Charles was running for cover). What follows is the inevitable barrage of photos. Endure it if you dare...

Young Guy: "I'm gonna climb that thing with this bloke? Maybe I should reconsider..."


Official proof we made it.

One of the best pizzas ever created. And a Chicken Brachiosaurus (or something like that) to die for.

A magnificent Panna Whatta...oh, sorry, Panna Cotta . Youngest Son actually knew what this was, ordered it, gave me a five minute explanation about how they make it, and thereby introduced to me a dessert like no other.

Another selfie by the bloke with the camera. These magnificent purple (Jacarandas??) were everywhere in Sydney and in some places where they dominated were simply stunning.

Storm over Bondi. Less than a minute later we were running for cover in the pavillion along with about 5000 other people.

Half an hour later and it's blue skies over Bondi. And they say Melbourne's weather is changeable!

And one more shot of the tool with the camera.
And one last selfie for the collection (while I await Youngest Son who's on a Luna Park ride).

Friday 7 September 2012

4th Grade Fizzix.

I'd like to say I'm revisiting this anecdote for some serious social commentary. But in truth I was reading an old diary of mine and it just tickled my funny bone.

Kids are classic when it comes to interpreting the questions we ask them...and in terms of how simply they see a subject.

When Oldest Son was in 4th Grade, for some reason his teacher decided to teach them Newton’s Laws of Motion . When some time later, I found my son's homework sheet on the topic, some of his answers were priceless…

Newton’s First Law of Motion says “An object in motion tends to stay in motion & an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted on by an outside force.”

To the question, “If you leave a cookie on a plate and no one else is in the house, where will the cookie be in an hour?”, he responded It depends on whether they come back to the house later.cookie

To the question “The horse you are riding stops quickly; what happens to you?”, he wrote Depends how tight you’re holding on.

The 3rd Law says “Every action has an opposite and equal reaction.”

To the question “Two ice-skaters glide into each other at full speed; what will happen?, he replied They fall down, duh.

Sounds to me like he gets it.

Monday 23 July 2012

The Fine Art of Meddling

Want to build a cubby house with your kids? Here’s how not to do it.
Many moons ago, I found myself building a “cubby-house” (or more likely -- knowing my lack of manly carpenteering skills -- a lean-to) for my oldest son. Only problem was, it shouldn’t have been me building it. Let me explain…

I’d been reading about how pre-teen boys need to engage with the outdoors and some have the instinct to build shelters to prove to themselves they could fend for themselves. It all sounded rather plausible and when my son came to me asking if he could build a “cubby” in the backyard, because his friend Nathan had just done that in his, I was all for it.

We went to see a friend of mine, a carpenter, who kindly made some suggestions about materials and even gave my son (and me!) a crash course in building and construction. We assembled the materials and went home to build it.

I know what you’re thinking: “What a great Dad! Giving his son space and encouragement to do it. I wish I had a Dad like that.”

… actually, you shouldn’t wish that.

From the start, this project was undermined by two tendencies that I battle constantly:
  • the need to be seen as a great Dad – particularly by my kids – and
  • the need to teach things … actually, let’s call that last one what it really is: the need to micromanage (to direct or control in a detailed, often meddlesome manner).
Things first came unstuck when I told him, no you can’t build it where you want to, you have to build it where I want you to. At first pass, this might sound like a good thing, and – look – if he had wanted to build it on the roof of our house or nail it to my wife’s car, then fair enough, I should say no. But he simply wanted to attach it to the back fence. I didn’t like that and said, no build it over here.

The next problem came when I stayed outside to assist him instead of going into the house and leaving him to it. Now, my excuse was he asked me to stay, specifically to hold the beams while he hammered. Again, good dadship to be there for him? But alack! and alas! I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut.

When he said “Dad I can’t do this!!”, struggling to get the nail into the wood, I could have said, “Yes you can; keep at it, champ.” Sometimes I do encourage him this way. But not this time. I could have said, “This wood is pretty hard, it’s probably not suited to this. Do you want to finish what we can with the other pieces then go out and find another piece that’s easier to work with?” That would have allowed him to stay in control and saved face for him. I could have said that but I didn’t.

I said, “Let me have a try.”

Those 5 little words resulted ultimately in the photo I have of the occasion. Where is my son in that photo? Nowhere. (My other son took it). Oldest Son had by that time gone inside, frustrated. After twenty minutes of rising tension about how to do things, he’d thrown a mild tantrum and given up. Because whereas I thought I was communicating “I’m here for you”, what he heard was “You can’t do it, give a real man the hammer.”

As usual from little things, big things grow. From my small action – well TWO small actions – discouragement flourished.

The results: four planks of wood loosely nailed together in my backyard and sitting there for months like that, a boy who lost interest in building things and a Dad still kicking himself.

You might say all sorts of things like, “The boy should have had thicker skin” and such. I seriously don’t think this one was about him being oversensitive. I think I royally screwed up.

The lessons for me were twofold:
  1. be careful not to communicate to a boy that he can’t do ‘it’ [there are so many subtle and not-so subtle ways we can do this]
  2. be careful not to discourage a kid from a passion of theirs in any way
In this case, there was a fine line between directing and discouraging, between placing boundaries around his activity and meddling with it. Knowing my son, what he needed and desired from me was my company, my pride in him, my encouragement.

Sometimes kids need to be allowed to make a mess of our backyards, to risk putting a crack in our fence palings, and even to try-and-fail without being shown “how to do it properly” (especially by someone like me ... who really didn’t know how to do it anyway.)

Friday 25 May 2012

Watch this, parents. Please watch this. And when you're done, tell me that I'm not the only one who watched it and alternated between snorting and swearing at it.

I'm sorry, which planet are we on again? I am supposed to throw away my children's food and feed them who-knows-what-the-hell's-in-this powder???

Whatever happened to "That's your dinner, son. You eat it or you skip dessert"?

Whatever happened to "Your chicken and vegetables will be in the fridge for the rest of the night, little lady. If you get hungry before you go to bed, go eat it."?

Whatever happened to setting expectations and sticking to our guns as parents?

Well, I guess we don't have to anymore. We have powder in a can. I can sneak this into my son's chocolate milk or his energiser drink and say "I'm a good parent".


Monday 30 April 2012

Daddy, What Does &$@*# Mean?

I’m firmly middle-class and Christian. And while I drop the odd swear-word (usually in traffic), our household is neither a prissy one nor a cussin’ one.

But we live in a colorful world and speak a colorful language. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when my 7-year-old  asked me one morning, “Daddy, what does c**t mean?”

This is the lad who – as a first-grader – was advised by a second-grader to Google-search images of “boys having sex with girls”! So this is not the first time we’ve had to navigate these waters…

But I must admit, I had one of those “How do I field this one?” moments.

When in doubt, I’ve tried to make it a policy to be affirming and answer the question as simply as possible, while adding my own message. Sometimes, I’ve gotten it horribly wrong, sounding like a cross between Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner. This time, it went a little something like this:

Me: “Where’d you hear that? …

Him: "I dunno."

Me: "Ok, well, first, it’s probably the rudest word there is and us Aldins don’t say that. Second, you asked me what does the word mean. Well, do you know what a vagina is? No? (Quick matter-of-fact anatomy lesson follows...) So this word is a rude word for that like d**k (I knew he knew that word) is for penis, but worse. Does that answer your question? … Ok. Mate, I’m really glad you asked me ’cause if you’d asked your teacher or Grandma … (then I ham up a horrified-old-woman-reaction – sorry Grandma – it gets some laughs) – You can always ask me anything, buddy.”

Him: “Ok, Dad and I won’t say that word. Ever.”

And five years later, he never has... my knowledge...

Friday 13 January 2012

That's What 6 year olds do!

Six years ago, I sat down with Jacob, a mate of mine who’s a psychologist. I began complaining about how crazy-making my youngest son’s behaviour was becoming in the evenings.

(Now, 6 years later, I can’t remember what the heck he was doing that was getting me so worked up).

He patiently listened to me describing the situation and anguishing over my inability to stop my son from doing whatever it was he was doing. When there came a lull in my whining, my friend leant forward and simply said,

“Pete. That’s what 6 year olds do.”

It was all I needed. It was epiphany. It told me that I was stressing about something that was normal. That I needed to put my energy into directing my son’s energy rather than trying to
shut it off. It was a vital reality check, a calming thought.

This kind of self-talk helps me overcome Gen X anxiety around having perfect kids.
AND Gen X guilt over not being able to make the kids perfect. (It’s stupid when you verbalize it, but it’s what many of us suffer with).

What do you tell yourself to calm yourself down, to give your kids some grace, to be more positive and proactive around them?