Category Archives: A Dad’s Role

How do I tell my daughter she looks nice?

I’ve been watching my 8 year old daughter start to play with her identity. It’s a wonderful thing to watch her develop into her own person and begin to visually express on the outside who she feels she is on the inside. Yet, this is also causing me some confusion as I grapple with how I should respond.

This Christmas she received a gift card from her aunt to an accessory store. You know, that store in the mall where they sell cheap jewelery and every item is adorned with cuter-than-cute airbrushed images of Justin Bieber or bejewelled and bedazzled to within an inch of its life. One of the items she bought was a pair of glasses. Now, my daughter doesn’t need glasses. She bought them simply as a fashion accessory. She wanted to see how she would look with glasses on.

This morning she came down the stairs from her bedroom wearing both the glasses and a pink bandanna headband. She looked adorable, and I was just about to say, “hey, you look cute.” And then I caught myself. If I say that, what is my daughter really going to hear? That making a change in her appearance gets her noticed as “cute”? And what of that word “cute” anyway? What am I saying to my daughter when I say she looks “cute”? Am I seeding the thought in her that her self-worth is tied to her appearance?

Of course, I didn’t think all that consciously in that split second where I paused, questioning my choice of phrase. This has all come after as I reflect on the moment. But something in that moment did make me hesitate and check what I was about to say and, instead of saying she looked cute, I said ,”hey, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?” She smiled and giggled and went into the bathroom.

I don’t know if that was a better choice of words, but it felt better in the moment than saying, “hey, you look cute.”

I’ve been thinking about this for the rest of the day. Our words carry so much weight with our kids. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way (is she listening to me?) but they do, and they are listening. Always. I hear the things I say come rolling out of my kids mouths all the time. They take it all in.

What do I say to her? I love that she is beginning to play with her identity and make her outside a reflection of who she feels she is on her inside. But what do I say to let her know that I don’t think her self-worth is connected to how she looks?

8 year old me

Glasses. I used to get beat up when I was a kid for wearing glasses and here she is wearing them as an accessory. Fine by me, which is me projecting my own feelings about what those glasses represent. Intelligence? Brains? Really, if she wants to project an image that she is intelligent and brainy, isn’t that okay? Better than short skirts and makeup, right?

Or is it? I mean, I am still making a judgement call about her based on how she looks, projecting my own assumptions and beliefs about what something like glasses represent. Am I not still making a judgement based on her appearance?

There are going to be times when I want to compliment her on her appearance. She’s beautiful, and I want to tell her that. I want to notice. Maybe I want to say it to her as a shield to protect her from the message that she will be constantly bombarded with by popular culture and advertising that she is not. She’s my little girl and I want to protect her. But on the other hand I don’t want to start sending her signals that men only notice her when she looks a certain way.

So, I’m feeling a bit caught right now. What do I say to my daughter? Is it okay to tell her I think she looks nice? That she is beautiful? Any advice?

Who taught you to be a good Dad?

Just discovered a great new Dad podcast, Dads Unplugged, which introduced me to the work of John Badalament, author of The Modern Dad’s Dilemma: How to Stay Connected with Your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World. John was interviewed recently on the Dads Unplugged podcast, and he got me thinking about a great many things about being a Dad.

One of things John mentioned in the interview that has resonated with me is his question of who taught you to be a Dad? John says that no one ever talked to him about Fatherhood. No one ever told him when he was a boy that they believed had what it takes to be a good Dad.

It’s more than missing mentors and role models. In fact, I think we have a lot of models and mentors for great Dads around  (and, as an aside, I think there have always been great Dads – it’s not necessarily something new with our generation. I have something percolating in the back of my head about this so called “changing role of Dad” thing that I am suddenly finding irksome, but that’s another post). It’s just that there is not a lot of open discussion about what it takes to be a great Dad with those who matter the most – our sons.

I am not talking about publicly writing our blog posts, or carrying out these conversations over beers or on Facebook with each other, as important as those activities are. We Dads ARE connecting and having those discussions about what it takes to be a Dad. That is happening.

But what John says is missing are those conversations we have with the boys in our lives about what it takes to be a great Dad. It is about arming them with the belief and the confidence that they have the tools within them to someday be great Dads theselves, and then seizing the opportunities as they come up to help them refine those tools.

I am guilty. I don’t think I have ever consciously thought that while I am playing with my son I am preparing him to be a Dad. I am preparing my son for lots of things in his life. How to work as part of a team, how to think for himself, how to solve problems, how to treat and respect women, how to tie his shoes. But I haven’t ever consciously thought that I should be teaching him to be a great Dad.

I can’t tell you how uncomfortable typing that last line made me feel. Like I have just discovered some innate truth that I should have known all along. But the truth is, it is something that  had never occurred to me, beyond consciously trying to be the best Dad/Husband I can be in the hopes that I can model behaviour for him. But what John is saying is, while that is important, modelling alone isn’t enough – we have to be explicit and act consciously if we want our sons to be great Dads. As powerful as our modelling is, we can’t expect that our sons are going to get it just by observing our actions. It is, I think, an important point, and one that I need to pay attention to.

Here is some more from John.

Why it is important for Dads to read stories

The latest issue of Literacy Lava came across my Twitter feed in a tweet from tessadad. In it is an excellent article called Story Time with Dad by Kelly Burstow about the importance of Father’s reading stories aloud to their kids. In the article, Kelly quotes from Jim Trealease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, who says:

Fathers should make an extra effort to read to their children. Because the vast majority of primary-school teachers are women, young boys often associate reading with women and schoolwork. And just as unfortunate, too many fathers would rather be seen playing catch in the driveway with their sons than taking them to the library.

I do the vast majority of bedtime reading with my kids. I enjoy the time that I get to spend with them at the end of each day. And it reconnects me to my childhood. I loved reading, and I love the opportunity to connect my kids with the books I loved as a kid. It reminds me that at one time of my life I read as entertainment – to escape – as opposed to today where I often read to understand. Balance the time crunch of being a full-time working parent with the demands of a Masters program, and reading for escape and pleasure has taken a back seat in my life for the past few years. So when I get a chance to read The Littles or the Magic Tree House to my kids each night, I relish the fact that, for a few brief moments every day, I get to share a moment with them and escape with them into another world, a temporary distraction from the hectic reality of life.

A post for soon to be new Dads

Jim over at Sweet Juniper has created one of those wonderful posts that somehow manages to encapsulate exactly what being a Dad is.  A funny, sweet, sad, frustrating, and intimately poignant snapshot of a day in the life of one Dad.

I can especially relate to the moment he shares with his daughter who, after throwing up on his laptop battling a norovirus, reacts like I could imagine mine doing. Just when you think you know what you are being called on to do as a parent (in this case, make your kid comfortable while they battle a bug), parenthood throws you a small curveball and you realize that you are being called upon to do something else entirely.

I go into my daughter’s room to kiss her goodnight and find her sweating under blankets. Her best friend has lately found other kids he’d rather play with at school, and in her sleepy state that’s the first thing on her mind. Through her dream haze she says to me, “It’s good that he wouldn’t play with me today; I might have made him sick.” Here I’ve been worried I upset her with my reaction to what happened, but heavier things weigh on her tiny heart.

“I just want you to know that I love you, and that my computer isn’t broken after all.”

“Okay, Pops.”

“And don’t you worry about him. He doesn’t know how much fun he’s missing.”

A few lines later, musing about his angry reaction to losing his laptop, he says;

But how could you be mad at her? You might as well be mad at the wind.

Later on, an event happens that puts losing your laptop to a kid vomiting on it into perspective, and presents another reality of what parents are called upon to deal with, in this case it is Jim’s Mother-in-Law. Here’s hoping the follow-up post has some good news with regards to that situation.

This is wonderful writing, and a post that every soon to be Dad should read.

The problem I have with David After Dentist

If you are not familiar, the latest viral video making the rounds is David After Dentist. Briefly, Dad with video camera shoots video of son sitting in minivan stoned out of his gourd after a dentist appointment. At last count, it has over 5 million views.

Not to be the wet blanket at the party, but this does raise a troublesome point for me that I seem to be riffing on lately, which is the responsibility we, as parents, have in protecting our kids digital identity.

Set aside the issue of what will David think 20 years from now about this video – and, who knows, maybe this will go down as being one of the greatest things that happens in his life – but let’s take a look at how David is being exploited.

Right now, David’s video is being remixed, mashed and reconfigured by hundreds of people. The vast majority of them benign, respectful and doing it for the love of recontextualizing something old into something new. But there are a lot of people who are making money off David.

Already the remixes are showing up, and getting significant traffic. Many of these remixes have Google Ad overlays and embedded links to other sites as people try to cash in on David’s 15 minutes of fame. In some instances, the video has been downloaded and uploaded to another users account in hopes of driving traffic to that persons website or product. David has become a commercial, and right now there is a feeding frenzy at this Warholian trough.

I’m not casting any stones here at David’s parents. I’m pretty sure David’s Dad had no idea this thing would go viral when he posted it on YouTube. Instead, I think the people who are exploiting this kid to make money are the real problem here.

Not that this would fix it entirely, but one strategy that would help mitigate the risk of commercial exploitation of future David’s is to post your videos on a video sharing site that allows you to add some kind of copyright protection to the video. For example, (and others) allow you to attach a Creative Commons license to your videos that would at least give parents some recourse for legal action. YouTube has no such copyright mechanism.

If you do want to use YouTube but want to reduce the risk of your video going wild, then check out the private sharing options that allow you to share your video privately with up to 25 people.

If you have been reading my posts lately it might seem that I am down on social networks. In fact, I am not. I think that as a society we are better off with social networks and the concept of being open and transparent. But when we use these tools with our kids, we have to temper our desire to share our kids most private and intimate moments with the responsibility we have to respect their privacy and, in this case, protect them from being commercially exploited.

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“It’s hard to respect a man who is not willing to provide”

Oh my goodness, where do we begin with this? This type of world view is so far out of whack with my own that it is hard to take it serious enough to comment on this point of view. But I’ll give it a shot.

Apparently the preacher in the video, Mark Driscoll, is some kind of rock star amongst the evangelical right. But if you ask me (and others), Driscoll sounds like your typical everyday right wing evangelist who, like all the rest, continually use the word of God to justify and advocate their patriarchal ideals that women do not belong in the workplace and that men are incapable of being caregivers.

A man who does not provide for his family is worse than a non believer?

At home Dads are a case for church discipline?

Having a stay at home Dad in your house is a surefire recipe for divorce?

It’s all crap.

Don’t tell a stay at home Dad that they are living a Peter Pan lifestyle. Stay at home with your kids for a few weeks, Mr. Driscoll. Change the diapers, feed them, care for them when they are sick, shuttle them around to practices, comfort them when they have been hurt. Then come back and tell stay at home Dad’s they are not taking responsibility or providing for my family. Tell them they live a Peter Pan lifestyle.

And since when did “providing for your family” become synonymous with bringing home a pay cheque? Is money the only way a man can “provide” for his family? Sorry, that just does not fly with me. I provide for my family in dozens of ways that are much more valuable than simply bringing home the all mighty buck.

I am also getting tired of hearing the comment that somehow parents who have their kids in daycare are abdicating the responsibility for raising their kids and leaving their kids in the company of “strangers”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the kids started attending daycare both my wife and I made it a priority to get to know the daycare workers, and judging from the level of interaction we have with other parents at the daycare, many other parents make the effort as well. I know which of the Early Childhood Educators have kids, which ones have partners and which ones are single. I know what their hobbies are, what kinds of food/movies/music they like, the sports they play. Everyday we see them, we talk with them. They learn about us, we learn about them. I see them around town. These are not strangers raising our kids. These are people who live in my community. These are my neighbors, not strangers. To call them strangers is an insult.

Via At Home Dad.

Reena: A Father’s Story

In the city/province/country where I live, November 14th, 1997 will always be an infamous day. It was the day a 14 year old girl named Reena Virk was beaten and killed by a group of (predominantly) teenage girls. It was a brutal story and one that thrust the issue of girl violence into the spotlight.

This past weekend the Vancouver Sun posted an exerpt of a new book about Reena called Reena: A Father’s Story. It is written by Reena’s father Manjit. For those who have followed the story for the many years it has dragged on (and continues to drag on in the courts, as a 4th trial has been ordered for one of the accused, Kelly Ellard), you will no doubt agree with me that the Virk family has had the pain of their daughter’s death protracted to such a point that it borders on cruel.

Through it all, however, it has been Reena’s mother, Suman, who has spoken for the family. Rarely did you see or hear an interview with Manjit. Now, it appears, he is ready to speak though this book. Perhaps it is to  honour his daughter by remembering her in a public way, but I suspect writing this book was as much a cathartic act as anything.

But this is also the story of being a father, and what being a father means. In Majit’s case, it was being a father while walking in many different worlds where his views often clashed with those around him.The Virk’s were not only immigrant’s from India, but are also Jehovah Witness which meant they not only walked a cultural line between East and West, but secular and religious.

When I’d first come to Canada, I was delighted to find that many husbands and fathers helped with child-rearing and household chores. Back home, such behaviour was rare indeed. Even when I was a college student in India, some people praised me for helping my mother with errands while others thought it was below the dignity of a collegiate male to be doing such menial tasks.

Because it is not traditional in my community for fathers to spend a great deal of time with their children, I was criticized and ridiculed by some family members and friends. The norm was for mothers to look after the kids while breadwinner-fathers headed the household and administered discipline to unruly children.

I particularly remember one occasion when we were invited to a large family gathering in Victoria. The men were having drinks and snacks in the living room while the women and children were in the kitchen, preparing meals, chatting and gossiping. Although I was enjoying the male conversation, my ears were tuned to my one-year-old daughter, who was sleeping in a nearby bedroom. When I heard her cry, I excused myself, picked her up and brought her back to the living room. She shortly fell asleep again on my shoulder.

“It was your wife’s duty to go and get the child and not yours,” said one man who seemed upset by my behaviour. “That is why you married her.”

But how was I to sit and enjoy drinks with the men and not worry about my child? I politely told him that Reena was my daughter too, and that I wanted to take care of her and was under no pressure to do so. The assembled men seemed to assume that I did not understand what it meant to be a real man because I wanted to attend to my child.

I suspect many of us can relate to Manjit. Perhaps not the the extent where we have been verbally told by others that it is our “wife’s duty to go and get the child and not yours”, but I know there have been times where I have felt a similar attitude, but in a much more subtle way. And I suspect that once I am finished the book, the story of Reena Virk will resonate with me at a completely different level now that I am the father of a daughter.

Looking back, I am amazed at how orderly and happy our life was then, how little we ever imagined that everything we treasured could be ripped asunder.

Snapping out of my Dad funk

Feeling like my Dad mojo is returning. Good thing, too, cause I realized I was quickly turning into the kind of 70’s era Dad that Sweet Juniper uncovered in an old forgotten Dad book, the kind of which should probably remain forgotten.

Some things never change, however. I still get tired well before the kids when reading them bedtime stories. More than once I have awoken to the sharp thrust of The Girl’s elbow in my ribs and the admonishment to stay awake and finish If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Thanks RebelDad for the link.

The post I vowed I would never write

When I first started blogging I always vowed I would never write a “sorry for the lack of recent activity” post, but here it is.

For those of you who have followed me for a long time (the blog has been going for close to 5 years), you’ll know that the activity has been way down. And the posts that do make it are often not the best quality. They tend to be lazy posts, with content created by others carrying them.

It’s not that I haven’t had a lot to blog about. I have started a half dozen or so topics, but never finished or published them. Truth be known, for the past 6 months or so, I haven’t felt like a very capable Dad. Most of the posts I write end up up coming out like a verbal spew about how much I am really not enjoying the ride right now, that having 2 kids is hard, money is tight, tension is high, my wife and I never have time together, blah blah blah whine whine whine. And in the back of my mind I practice self censorship thinking who wants to read the self indulgent “oh, woe is me” crap that is the hallmark of some 13 year old teenager’s angst ridden diary?

I’ve been hoping that the shine of summer may have faded my pissy attitude, but so far it hasn’t. We’re coming off a couple weeks of holidays and I am still tense, on edge and really not in a good headspace.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids and my wife. We have a good life, which I need to keep reminding myself of. But I can’t help but feel that I am struggling.

Perhaps it’s a matter of trying to hang on to my own personal identity beyond being a Dad. These days that seems to be my all encompassing identity. And the dangerous part is that I am beginning to resent it. Hence the feeling that I am not such a good Dad.

So, I am taking a self imposed hiatus from blog posts until I can regain my happy place.

My kids deserve better. My wife deserves better, and I deserve better. So, until I can regain my balance, I’ll be continuing this bit of Dad blog exile. But when I come back, I am hoping it will be as a happier, more balanced person. And a better Dad.

“All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them. Pretty ruthlessly.”

My daughter loves to dance. So does my son. Really, what kid doesn’t? And, for that matter, what adult doesn’t love to dance as well? Uh-huh. Wow, that’s a mighty large number of “negatory good buddy” I am seeing out there.

Why is that? At what point do we lost that absolute need to dance as if it were like breathing and if we didn’t do it we would die? Well, after you see this 20 minute presentation by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, you might begin to find out why you don’t dance with wild abandonment anymore.

This presentation was recently named one of TEDTalks top 10 presentations – and if you are familiar with TEDTalks you know that is quite an achievement. In it, Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Not only is the presentation though provoking, but the guy is pretty darn funny as well.