Magazine article USA TODAY

The Fun-And Foibles-Fatherhood

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Fun-And Foibles-Fatherhood

Article excerpt

ONE DAY, when our oldest son Aaron was about three or four years old, he and I set about washing my two-door Fiat. JoAnn, my wife, had gone to mn some errands. The Fiat had just enough room in the back for a car seat. Aaron was like I had been at his age. He wanted to be inside near the steering wheel, radio, and keys. So, he climbed in while I put up the windows, closed the door, and started hosing off the car.

It was a beautiful day in sunny Southern California and we were having a ton of fun. Aaron would put his hand on the window and I would spray where his hand was. He would put his face to the glass and I would spray his face--funny stuff. He jokingly pushed down the door lock, and I mimed how funny that was. I also indicated that he should unlock the door, but he had turned away and was jumping around like a chimp on the seat. Oh, it was fun all right--until Aaron went to his car seat and, to my surprise, buckled himself in.

Aaron looked at me for a moment and then he realized he was stuck. He started to cry. I successfully calmed him down, but I did notice that the sun now was shining directly into the car, turning it into a sauna and illuminating the beading sweat on his nose. Through the closed windows, I tried to narrate and pantomime for Aaron how to press the buckle so that the car seat latch would release--but alas, it was childproof. His little face was getting red. I knew that time was not on my side. Since Jo Ann had the other key to the car, there was only one thing I could do. I went into the house, got my hammer, and smashed the driver's side window in order to reach in and unlock the door. I pulled him out. Life was good, and that parenting adventure cost me $175.

When I told JoAnn about it, she did not criticize me for letting Aaron run free in the car or for leaving the keys inside. She just shook her head and laughed with me--as she did when I lost Emily skiing, accidentally hit Benjy on the head with a baseball bat, forgot to pick up Aaron from Sunday School, or any number of other things that may have happened along the way. The real essentials of the story--no panic, no anger, and an ability to laugh at ourselves-were consistent with our basic philosophy. I certainly was not the first parent to make a boneheaded mistake, and it helps to know that, as parents, we all may not be in the same boat, but we all are on the same ocean.

I recognize that Jo Ann and I are good teammates and, although many parents are single, it is important to think of parenting as a team sport. Married or not, very few of us are raising our children in complete isolation. So, in cases of divorce or separation, many of our friends have found others with whom to discuss the decisions they make regarding their children. From the beginning, Jo Ann and I began working together to meet our parenting objectives, and to motivate and manage our "players." We were partners, covering each other's weaknesses and discussing strategy. We also were cheerleaders, guiding our children in the directions we thought would best serve the development of our family, which was the whole team.

At the beginning, of course, we were rookies. We spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted to do as parents, wading into the unknown with only our own life experience to carry us. Thirty-seven years and four children later, we have seen just about every play in the book, both by coaching our children and by observing the coaching techniques of others.

Raising children requires watching and discussing the "game films," even if they only are our best recollection of events. The key is taking the time to discuss, reflect, and adjust. It means observing what works, and then using it. In this way, we prepare for whatever may happen tomorrow or the next day. Reviewing allows us to see how our children reacted to situations and, more importantly, it helps us understand how we felt ourselves.

I essentially am a loving, results-oriented, bottom-liner. …

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