(Advice For The Something Less Than 24/7 Dad)
iCarly is NOT actually my favorite show…!!
When I was a kid my dad would come home from work every night (almost exactly at 5:30PM each night), have dinner, change clothes, do a couple of small things, and then sit on couch and watch game shows from about 6:30 until 8 o’clock. Every weeknight. I remember it like it was yesterday. The shows changed over the years, but the routine was always the same. Joker’s Wild, Tic-Tac-Dough, Name That Tune, Concentration, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and more…
We didn’t really interact. The kids did their homework in the other room until 7PM, then we had play/free time, and then some primetime television before bedtime routines (back when there were only three channels in most cities – we were lucky in LA to have seven). You see, Dad was there to provide and to discipline as needed. That was the roll he played, and this was his down time every night.
While most of the other kids would go off to do THEIR thing, I would quietly slip into the living room to watch game shows with dad. I didn’t necessarily care about happened today in history in 1849 (May 10, as I’m writing this, is the anniversary of the Astor Place Riots), or how many notes it takes to identify The Blue Danube. What I cared about was being able to be with my dad. Again, we didn’t really interact much – you didn’t talk during television shows. I don’t really think Dad saw this as bonding time – this was time for him to unwind from work and sip on a glass of scotch. So I would watch TV quietly with him….
But, watch out for commercials..!! (this was back in the day before Tivo and DVR). When Jack Barry would stop “The Joker’s Wild” show for two minutes for a word from our sponsors, that was MY time. THIS is when I think my dad probably found me most annoying. In craving time with my dad I would take those two minutes to ask Dad the goofiest of questions. You see, in my eyes, my dad knew EVERYTHING. We watched these shows and it was like sports to him. He would try and beat the contestants to the answers – and most of the time he would. So, during commercials I would ask my dad questions on history, science, literature, etc. I’m sure his LEAST favorite were the “what if” questions. You know the ones. I’m sure your children ask them too. “What if the army and the navy got in a war – who would win?”
I had two minutes and two seconds of my dad’s time and attention. I would put it to good use. Come to think of it, I probably got to know more about my dad during those six commercial breaks between 7PM and 8PM than any other time…
So what’s the point…? Is this all just to explain what others call my mastery of the minutiae and the trivial..? No, but if you want to know about the Astor Place Riots you can probably check out my Facebook page for a trivia update.
The point is about finding connections with your children. Are you making it a priority to find something to connect with them on a regular and repeating basis…? I mean seriously, when you’ve asked how their day was, and they respond “fine”; and you’ve asked about what they learned in school, and they say “nothing”; what is your connection. What will YOUR children write about their personal intimate time with you? I can absolutely guarantee you that my dad didn’t believe this was OUR time; I was infringing on his. I can also 100% guarantee you that your children are seeing SOMETHING you guys do together as OUR time – the question is are you actually sharing it together or is it something only THEY will remember…?
Check out this goofy dad…
Is this productive, educational, time he is spending with his children…? Um, I think not. What this dad IS doing however is creating a common ground – a shared experience – with his children that will pay dividends down the road. And, just like your financial planner advises at Fidelity, you reinvest those dividends again to gain even MORE rewards. This dad is a horrible singer. The words to Bohemian Rhapsody are certainly NOT as important as knowing the Beatitudes. This dad has time, and an experience, that is separate from anything any other person will have in these kids lives. Mom doesn’t get the same thing (hopefully she has some connection of her own). Friends don’t have it either. When that girl in the back seat becomes a young lady this time can become a foundation for the intimate conversations a dad needs to have with his little princess as he hands her over to a gorilla.
Am I saying that you have to give up all of your own interests and your own “down time”…? No. Life is not about being “kid centered” – it is about being “family-centered”. The kids need to take some interest in the things that dad does as well. But, taking genuine interest in the things your children love is the best investment you can make – and there is no recession that can take away those gains.
My children have many changing “likes” as I’m sure most do. I have to watch them closely and try and adapt with them. For a while it was Hannah Montana. Then it was Avatar (and is again with the new Korra series). Then it was iCarly. Now it is Duck Dynasty and Pawn Stars. Those are just the television shows. I have grown attached to these TV characters and let them go as my kids have changed.
The point is we create a shared experience. It started when they were very little. We made it part of our wind-down routine – and this was time for just the kids and me (again, not mom time). We enjoyed a little TV show snuggled on the bed before settling down for a story and bed time. As they got a little older we started throwing in what we call “bed time sports” into our routine. The kids and I invented a game called “Treasure Hunt”. Basically I would lay on the bed and watch a TV show and call out a random item and they would race to their rooms and bring it back to the bed. We would call out all sorts of goofy things for them to run and get. It is lots of fun. We have been doing that for almost five years. We don’t do it all the time now, but occasionally we’ll play a game.
The problem is that I know too many dads that lament that they can’t connect with their teenage kids. I know that I had nothing in common with my dad when I was in high school. I believe that it’s because you have to build that connection when they are little. Find that thing that you do together and only YOU do together. It will change over time, but always have at least one thing. Maybe it’s singing Bohemian Rhapsody in the car, I don’t know that’s up to you. Hunt, fish, go to movies, take an art class together. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Probably let them choose…
Invest now. Invest while they are young. If you don’t there will be nothing in the bank when it is time to make a withdrawal. It won’t assure a perfect teenage son or daughter. However, if there is ever a need for a call in the middle of the night it WILL assure that the call comes to YOU and not to someone else. It goes back to what God said in Proverbs 22:6 “Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost.” It doesn’t guaranteed they won’t need some directions, but hopefully they will know where to find them.
I have traveled for a living for most of my children’s lives – it is all they know. I have spent many nights in a hotel room. I will watch a TV show they are interested in and talk about it with them. iCarly might not be my favorite show in the world (although it can be quite funny), but there are many nights that I’m in a hotel room and flip on the channel and there it is. I sit back and watch an episode and also know that I am watching my investment grow….