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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


When I was about eight, my dad would send me in search of everything from train tracks to robin's nests -- to "take a good look at them." He'd spend half an hour with me after supper to talk about what I'd learned, and we'd wander into history or technology or wherever our ideas took us. In retrospect, he was fostering an interest in learning, and thinking for myself.

When I was ten, my dad died. He was still mostly a big, comforting buddy-figure at that point, and I never got the chance to argue with him as a dismissively rebellious teen. I had to define myself as a man in something of a vacuum, without him, and he left awfully big shoes to fill in my image of what a father should be.

Now here I am, 23 years later, stay-at-home dad to a precocious three-year-old, with his older brother entering fourth grade. Among my goals as a father is to share enough joy, laughter and learning with my sons that it never becomes uncool for them to hang out with their dad. I want to stand beside them and watch them grow, playing games and sharing stories of evolving complexity and maturity. I want to acknowledge the signposts they pass on their way to becoming strong independent men. On my better days, I feel that I am accomplishing that.

Then there are the other days, when I have trouble relating to them -- particularly eight- year- old Keefe. Sometimes I feel dismissed by him and it's like pulling teeth to get him to strive, to pay attention, to take care of himself or his things. Days when I am short with him, impatient, angry. At those times, I feel like I am accomplishing very little indeed.

This column is about how I try to thread the needle of those two states -- to be the best dad I can be, the one my boys deserve.
  Maybe I can provide the right balance of anecdote, inspiration and cautionary tale to help illuminate your parenting journey as well.  Cheers.

Pop Rocks:
Sing a Song of Curriculum

There's nothing that sticks in your head like a catchy tune, and the magic of rhyme makes lyrics one of the easiest things to commit to memory. Whether it's addition or calculus that your child is struggling to learn, you wish it could come as naturally. The solution is simple: combine the two with educational filksongs, and write musical mnemonics! A little ingenuity can set that chemistry test to music, a technique that works well from elementary school through university.

Any song that you or your child knows is fair game. Have any study material handy before you start. Count the syllables in each line and try to match them with your rewrite, although a confident singer can squeeze in an extra syllable or drop one here and there, as my example below does. Pay attention to the rhyming scheme, and you might want to have a rhyming dictionary handy.

Then comes the fun part: to get the payoff, you have to sing it together, often enough to make it stick. I think it's good for families to sing together. You inevitably get better at it the more you do it, and once you get past feeling self conscious your voice starts really working magic.

When Hugh took a shine to the PBS documentary "The Death of the Dinosaurs," he requested a "Mr. Asteroid" song, and I summed up the scientific data as completely as I could to the tune of "Africa" by Toto.

An astral body six to ten miles wide
Struck the gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago
A big explosion lit the sky
And witnessed the extinction of the dinosaurs you know
A wall of fire sprang up too
When T-Rex saw it coming he turned 'round and he began to run
Iridium and tektites flew
Clouds of ashes blotted out the sun

When the cretaceous became the tertiary
It meant the end of all the dinosaurs you see
You killed T-Rex Mr. Asteroid
And turned him into bones for paleontology

The K-T boundary's how we tell
With carbon spheres and shocked quartz in the layers of the sediment
And Chicxulub was where it fell
A hundred mile plus crater in the bedrock of the continent
Hundreds of species said adieu
Opening the way for Pleistocene mammals that would later come
Iridium and tektites flew
Clouds of ashes blotted out the sun

When the cretaceous became the tertiary
It meant the end of all the dinosaurs you see
You killed T-Rex Mr. Asteroid
And turned him into bones for paleontology

He requested it constantly for days, making me wish I'd chosen something that wasn't as severe a verbal workout, but he retained more than many paleontology students. Of course, toddlers are a forgiving audience. They unabashedly love the sound of a parental voice, and aren't critical of your singing. I've had tremendous success with cleaning up songs, potty tunes, and other mundane tasks that can be parenting struggles. The music adds a needed element of fun.

To keep a sophisticated six-year-old or, heaven forefend, your teenager, similarly forgiving, make sure they share in the singing. It's harder to dis your dad when you're stumbling over your own tongue, and goofiness and shared laughter is highly encouraged. I've heard Shakespeare's Hamlet sung in three minutes. Comedian Tom Lehrer even did it with the periodic table of elements. Try it with one tough subject and see. You may even plant the seed of overlap in your musical tastes.

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 "a deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh (3) and Keefe (8).  Send feedback for Michael to: poprocks@austinmama.com


I I I I I I I  

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