Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

At the store this afternoon, I was thinking of something else my father told me once. This was his advice when we told him we were having twins:


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Father, the Unschooler

My father’s mother immigrated to this country when she was 11 years old, in 1919. As the story goes, she did not speak any English, and school officials put her in the second grade—with the 7 and 8 year olds. That, as the say, wasn’t working for my grandmother, and thus ended her formal education.

My father graduated from high school, but never finished college. School was never as satisfying to him or as intellectually rewarding as the public library.

Five of his six children have college degrees, though. His sixth child, never went to college. He was born in 1974 with Down syndrome, and went to school longer than all of us. He wore a cap and gown at his formal graduation—at the age of 26.

My father doesn't tell stories about his success at school, because there wasn't much. He tells stories about his success at life. My father is an autodidact. Growing up, I remember him writing and painting and reading and listening to music. To this day, he studies philosophy texts and books on quantum physics in his spare time. Right now, he's teaching himself how to speak Spanish.

He taught himself, and in doing so, taught us.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Very Good One

I’m sure there were many, many ways in which my father wanted to influence his children. Too many to list here. The crucial things, I absorbed unconsciously growing up in our big, loving family. For example, he wanted us to know he respected our mother. He wanted us to know he was available for us whenever we needed him. He wanted us to know he would always tell us the truth.

When I was all grown up and married, he told me he wanted to be a good father. How I love that he added the qualifier! Wanting to be a father wasn't enough.

He wanted to be a good one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Lovely Night Out. And Yet.

I was thinking about my father’s “before the age of 15” credo on Friday night, at a dinner with a group of moms I’ve come to know through my daughter’s school. Our children are growing up together in an urban environment, and so when we get together, we talk a lot about what our children know and don’t know. About what academic (and life) lessons they learn (or don’t learn) at school.

At one point during the evening I realized that two of the mothers felt perfectly comfortable having their sixth graders read and discuss Night by Elie Wiesel, but felt completely uncomfortable having an in-depth discussion of the “facts of life” with these very same children.

This seemed inconsistent to me—parents who believe their children intellectually and emotionally mature enough to handle the work of Elie Wiesel, but do not believe the same children intellectually and emotionally mature enough to handle “the talk.” (I mean, I can’t imagine that a child’s questions about the human body are more difficult for a parent to answer than questions about the human soul.)

A healthy, honest, and meaningful dialogue with your children on the subject of human sexuality and reproduction takes time to develop. Years. What are you waiting for ladies? Fifteen will be here before you know it. . . .

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

My father—a father of six—once shared with me his personal parenting philosophy:

If you want to influence your children in a certain way, you should probably do so before they turn 15.

My father’s view is that after the age of 15, children aren’t paying much (if any) attention to their parents, even if you think they are. There’s a 15-year window of opportunity available to parents, and then the window snaps shut.

I love that imagery. It’s been a useful parenting tool for me. I don’t know if Dad is right or wrong, but as a mother of two 12 year olds, I’m guessing he’s closer to right. Interestingly, the closer our daughters get to age 15, the more right my Dad’s words seem to me.

This week at Barking at Kathy, I will reflect on my father’s wisdom, and on why his words reverberate for me.