I know I've only been doing this dad thing for 4 years so I'm not pretending to know much about it, but here's some things I've learnt in these 4 years.
1. Pants MatterI don't know why but they do. Some of the biggest outbursts in recent months have been to do with Riley's pants. Apparently having boring pants is not only possible, but terrible. Every few months we have to make trips to buy new pants - just to preserve the peace. For a while it was pirate pants, then it was Spiderman pants and now it's superheroes. Valuable lesson #1 don't settle for boring pants. You never know when your friends might ask you what pants you're wearing and if at that moment your pants have only got stripes on them, you're going to feel a fool!
2. I Want To Be A Kids TV Presenter
I'll be honest, I feel a slight twinge of jealousy every time a new presenter is introduced on CBeebies. I want to be Andy Day of Andy's Wild/Dinosaur Adventures fame.
It just looks like such a fun job to have and they seem like such a fun group of people to belong to. The CBeebies team are awesome and I want to be part of them. Milkshake (the C5 alternative) is a different matter all together, don't get me started. They make me want to be a kids TV presenter but for entirely different reasons, they're all just so... bad, and the production so amateur (sorry).
3. My Past MattersTo them as a source of fascination, and to me as a model to copy.
Riley loves it when Amy or I talk about what we did 'when we were little'. His eyes light up like he's discovering treasure. In time, I'm sure that'll wear off but for now it's fun and I feel like a celebrity.
Secondly my past matters as providing a source of advice on how I parent and a list of ideas for what games we play/trips we go on. Being aware of this is useful. It means I can be more intentional about mining my memory for wisdom and ideas, but it also means I'm a little more humble about my task of parenting. I recognise that the reason that I think this way of disciplining is right and that way of instructing is wrong may just be because that's what my parents did. It doesn't make it right or wrong it just makes it familiar. In parenting I've learnt that my upbringing makes a good servant but a bad master. Learn from it, take the good bits from it, but don't let it rule the way you do it. I am not my parents, and my kids aren't me. Amy and I both draw upon our different sources for advice and wisdom but must forge our own path up the mountain.
4. Society DeValues Dads
I didn't notice this before I had kids, but I think it's true. I knew that dads were significant to the way a child turned out and I knew about the negative impact that absent fathers have on children but I didn't see all of the different ways that dads are devalued. In our kids TV shows Dads are often clumsy, forgetful and irresponsible, and in adult TV shows they're often absent, violent or cruel. Watching (with Amy you understand) a recent episode of One Born Every Minute one of the midwives commented that: the best dads, are mums - as if that therefore legitimised same-sex parenting. I've also observed that many a mum thinks nothing of making sarcastic comments about dad and his latest moment of parenting incompetency, often with him present and in the room. This is sad.
Ok, so I often take twice as long as Amy to make the sandwiches, or get them dressed, or get them in the car... or a lot of things for that matter. Ok so I often dress them badly and go out without the necessary supplies, and ok so I like to goof about and wrestle with them but still, dads matter. Maybe we can't do dad-jokes & dad-dancing and still expect respect but still I know that I'm having a positive impact on the way my boys turn out, the way our home runs and the way Amy flourishes as a mum. Besides that studies have shown a direct correlation between fatherlessness and poverty, obesity, alcoholism, incarceration and crime (I'm sure there's also a correlation between motherlessness and those things but I don't think their value is ever called into question or undermined like a dads is).
1 in 3 children in the UK are being raised without a dad at home and I don't think our cultural attitude is helping the situation. We can't change the way men & dads are presented in the media but we can ensure that we don't devalue them in the conversations and communities/churches we're part of.
The truth is that we do often need more help in becoming good dads than mums do. It doesn't seem to come as naturally to us, and we're not often endowed with as much natural wisdom or plain common sense ;) as them. But the sarcasm and jokes and public belittling isn't helping us get better either. Joking about someone's incompetency doesn't help them get better, it only reinforces what they're not.
5. Life Sparkles
I tried to find a less flouncy and camp way of saying it but couldn't - it's true.
Having kids means that I appreciate the wonder and beauty and potential adventure in all the things around me. A wooden spoon becomes a sword again, the rocks in the garden become mountains for intrepid explorers to climb and the dining table becomes a den to hide under. Visiting places with kids is chaotic for sure but it's also exciting. I love being able to appreciate everything again because I'm seeing it through their eyes. It's as though I'm seeing much of life for the first time. The rain, the sea, the woods, the mud - all take on a new magic and fascination.
I'm reminded of Chesterton's comment about fairy tales. He argues for the value of them to remind us of the everyday magic in life that we've become too familiar with to see. The reason, he says, that in fairy tales the rivers flow with wine is to remind us that they flow with water. Having children has the same effect on life. I'd forgotten how fascinating nature was and how magical life is.
6. Whilst writing this blog I've neglected my kids
Riley's starting hitting Zach, Amy's had to do the breakfast battles on her own and now the toys are being thrown around the room - I think I should put the computer down and engage in the room :)
Maybe that explains no. 4!
Maybe that explains no. 4!