As individuals we spend most of our lives trying to find who we are. At least for me the search was a tumultuous and awkward one. Then once I finally started to feel comfortable in my own skin as an adult, fatherhood came along. Now I had to edit who I was, to fulfill my role as “Dad”. One must ponder; can you can be authentic to your kids when you have to censor yourself?
There are many theories and techniques on how to parent, everything from boarding school detachment to being your kids “friend” instead of their parent. Whenever I get confused about how to be authentic with my kids, I remember two very important lessons I learned from my mom and grandparents. “Everything in moderation” and “There is a place and a time for everything”. I let those two tenants guide how I present myself to my kids.
Kids are so much smarter than what we give them credit for. If we just took the time to remember back when we were kids, truly remember, not the memories, but how we were, we would realize the true capacities of our children. Kids can see through fakeness sometimes better than adults. So it is important to show our kids who we are as individual, at the right time and the right place.
Call me old fashioned but I believe that my main duty to my kids is to be their dad. Sometimes being dad, is being the bad guy instead of the buddy. I do wear several hats with them, dad, protector, coach, traveling buddy and friend. But regardless of the hat I make sure they know that my actions and decision are always guided by love and with their best intention in mind.
Just today I had to reprimand my soon to be 12 year old. My initial reaction was the dad reaction, to bark and gets him to fix what he did. It wasn’t anything huge but a collection of things throughout the day. Waffles left out on the counter after he made them, a ridiculous amount of chocolate syrup left over on his plate in the sink, not being ready for football practice because he was playing video games and not getting his reading done prior to the video games. It all culminated with him challenging me, which made my Puerto Rican blood boil. The barking increased and grounding from video games was handed out.
I could have left it there, but it wasn’t enough for me. The reality of life is that the same way I have to deal with his sometimes absent minded head, he has to deal with my imperfect parenting. After dinner I asked him over and we talked. Not argued, not parented, but talked. I explained to him that yes I do have high expectations and standards for him and his brother. And that for me to have low expectation would be a disservice to him. He understood that the point of having high expectation is that even if you don’t’ reach the moon, you will be land in a very good place. We also talked how as the oldest I expect him to be more responsible. I hate waste and I know I can be a little crazy about it, but having grown without a tenth of the luxuries they have, I like to make sure they understand the value of things, and respect what they do have. I know I can go overboard with it sometimes, but I refuse that my kids to grow thinking it is ok to be wasteful. It wasn’t about the waffles, it was about that principle.
During our conversation he apologize for his behavior and it was genuine, not the “I’m sorry” with attitude, we often get while reprimanding our kids. He also saw me, not just dad, not the old feisty Puerto Rican, but as another human who cares for him with all his heart. It is those moment of calm authenticity in which we make the biggest strides in our relationship. And I feel those moments, that trust, that raw authenticity between us is what makes him feel comfortable talking to me about stuff that often kids find uncomfortable talking with their parents about. Is it a perfect method? No. But it works for us and as I start my venture with him into his temperamental, hormonal, testosterone filled teens, it gives him the confidence that he can be authentic with me since I am willing to be authentic with him.
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