AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.
A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
Life is a Learning Journey
There's something vital in the human spirit that dies on the day we stop learning, or being interested in the world. We need to coin a
word for that part of the human spirit, the opposite of ennui.
Fostering a healthy mental appetite for new knowledge is one gift that will
enrich our children's entire lives.
To help us
remember the novice's outlook such learning experiences require, we as parents
should regularly try our hands at new things, too. The japanese call it sho
shi, "beginner's mind", and being able to empathize with how
occasionally baffling or humbling it can be helps us communicate better
and be more patient with our children.
Remember as you feel clumsy in the dojo, or turn the directions upside
down trying to make sense of them, that even walking was once this
unfamiliar and frustrating. Notice the attitude of whomever you're
learning from. If they are harsh, you will not learn. Comments which
magnify a sense of not-knowing (particularly those from the inner
critic) serve only to erode your ability, turning your attention to
fears of failure. Some things you can only learn through having other
people show you how, but most things you only learn by doing them
The idea is to stretch the boundaries of your way of thinking -- to become more
flexible, humble and gentle with yourself -- so that you may summon these qualities for your children. If you
notice that you are impatient with yourself, judgmental, or unsatisfied
with a rate of progress, set these expectations down. Trust in the
process of learning at an organic pace.
If all you take is two minutes of regular time to practice juggling
while your breakfast's toasting, it will still surprise you how much
difference it makes. A human being can learn a lot of things in a
At no time in the last month has this come home to me more clearly than
in Keefe's quest to make Yuletide gifts. Last year we made a list in
November of who he wanted to give presents to, we talked about what
their interests were, and every day or two he'd sit down and draw a
picture of something the recipient was interested in. Having done the
same when I was almost exactly his age, it warmed the cockles of my
heart, and his heartfelt offerings were very well received.
This year the list was longer, and the days grew fewer, and a busy
social calendar beckoned, and there was a lot more homework, and karate
and guitar lessons, and a play he was in, and... you get the picture.
Suddenly we've got a week and a half to produce eighteen pictures, and
dad has this annoying concept that if you whip off a sloppy sketch in
two minutes it doesn't really show that you care very much; more like
"I couldn't wait to be done with this so I could go watch TV." At
which point we reach an impasse. Keefe wants to do it, but he's backed
himself into a corner time wise, and he gets grumpy about it.
Conveniently, he's got a useful resource available: me. Freelance
illustration was a sideline for me for at least a decade. I can't do
it for him, but I know the basics, and I can help him get the most out
of his efforts. A marriage made in heaven, wouldn't you think?
Not at all. Keefe approaches me like a rival. He asks for my help,
but it seems like it's strictly so he can argue with me when I make
suggestions. Naturally, he's trying to skip to the finished product,
and my talking about the steps that take you there frustrates him. He
can't duplicate the images in his head (or, say, the comic book)
without those steps, so his confidence is low. His attention wanders,
he rushes, and the task looms large. We snark at each other.
It's hard not to feel slighted. He doesn't shout at Sensei Baughan, or
Chris the guitar teacher. But despite my own knee-jerk irritation, I
can empathize. As I often do, I try to open the door with a story from
"I used to make pictures for Christmas and birthdays gifts, too, you
know that. It's how I got my start, really. One year, I ran out of
time just like you are. I made coupons that said 'I didn't get time to
finish a drawing for you, but it's coming', and gave those out instead.
You know what happened? I was making Christmas presents until June.
Dumb, right?" Keefe grins, but doesn't want to agree out loud. "The
next year I got smarter. I did one picture, took my time and really
made it my best, and gave everybody a print. Instead of giving half an
hour a piece for twenty people, why not give a few hours to making one
thing that's really cool and you feel proud of? I'll help you if you
want, but only if you treat me like someone who's trying to help you."
While his masterpiece slowly takes shape, I repeat my mantra: "Take
your time, don't expect to be perfect, and keep at it." He tries, he
rushes ahead, he slows down again. Sometimes we push each other's
buttons and get exasperated. A neighbor, over for tea, sees how hard
I'm trying to keep Keefe's attention on the next step, and chimes in
"It's like a test in school. You've got to really focus on it, because
there's not a lot of time and you need to get everything perfect."
This is well intended, but I cringe, and search for a better metaphor.
"No. It's more like a video game. You can't be Spider Man and beat
the bad guy by just pushing buttons while you watch what's on TV in the
next room: he'll clean your clock. You can pause and walk away but
when you pick the controller up again you've got to be into it, present
to it, because that's the only way to win."
Finally, after all the tears, shouting, and reticence, Keefe gets out
of his own way and his best slowly pours out of him. When Janice gets
home from Christmas shopping, he vibrates with the urgency to show her
what he did. It was all worth it.
Michael Nabert is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about
parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having
deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh
(3) and Keefe (9). Send feedback for Michael to: firstname.lastname@example.org