Sunday, June 20, 2010

Professional Dad

This year is the 100th anniversary of Fathers day. Personally, its my 10th. I recently celebrated my 25th year with my company, nurturing it from infancy and helping it grow into a world wide leader. In a normal job setting there is feedback from colleagues and superiors. There are raises and reprimands, prosperous times and recessions. As a professional I am constantly honing, learning from resources to better my career. How does my long work experience help me with my shorter parenting experience? At first glance it seems different in every way, but a closer examination can shed new light on this lifelong trade.

When your baby is first born, as the Dad there many things to be done on a clerical level, making sure all the paperwork is correct, various registrations and notifications need to be completed, after all, there is a new life in the world and people want to know and celebrate. I remember calling my family and friends in the wee hours of the morning to tell them the good news, and making sure I call the insurance company as soon as possible to not have any lapses. I went into administrator mode to dot every "I" and cross every "T".

Once the baby is home, everything is a process, a learning curve. People offer up their experiences and critiques, quick to tell you what is right and what is wrong, but ultimately you need to do what works for you, your wife, and your child. I get into a rhythm, juggling home chores, baby duties and making sure my wife is not overwhelmed. All while working an enormous amount of hours on a project at work. Multitasking is a concept I needed to master fast and furiously, as well as functioning effectively with sleep deprivation. Out of these insane times, my son and I did form little routines that to this day still thread into our quality time.

At two years of age, kids are starting to vocalize their ideas and form their personality. The art of negotiation is practiced at this time. My biggest negotiation battle with my son was when we were in a little town outside of London. We strolled into a quaint little toy store and he ran immediately to a spinning rack of miniature cars and trucks. At two years old my son was obsessed with matchbox cars. He would line them up on the window sill of our apartment, it looked like the Long Island Expressway at 5:00 in the afternoon, the worlds longest parking lot. He would meticulously move one car up, then the one behind up, then the one after that until all one hundred cars moved that one inch, then turn them all around and go the other way. One time I moved one out of sequence and I thought my son disowned me on the spot. Back in the store, my son started spinning the rack looking for cars he needed for his collection. He picked out the four he wanted and that's when I made my first negotiation blunder, I told him he can only get one. To this day I have never seen my son get so hysterical. He was so loud, we were asked to leave the premises. Outside I sat him on the stone wall and tried to state my reasons, none of them were good enough to him. My son is now crying, his face a sweaty mess and is as red as a cherry tomato. Groups of elderly English ladies all dressed for afternoon tea came up to see if the young lad was hurt, which would just make the screams escalate. After a while people just crossed the street to avoid the wails. Soon the screaming wore him out  and we slowly made our way to meet my wife who was shopping for other trinkets. When he saw her he dashed off into her arms, happy to escape the mean man, that being me. Needless to say while my wife and son enjoyed an afternoon treat at a local cafe, I went back to the toy store and transacted the re-negotiated agreement, purchasing three of the four vehicles. Crisis over.

I think around age four is when children need to realize that things do not grow on trees. The concept of budgets and ROI start to make their way into the conversation. My son would ask me if we can go get a Lego set or an accessory he needed for his car track, and my first response would be, "Are you sure you need that?" "How many times are you going to use it?" Like I needed him to present a spreadsheet, amortizing that particular item year over year during a budget meeting. My wife and I spend years explaining the value of money, respecting that we work hard for it and we simply cannot get every little thing he wants, and a sort of glossy eyed look would stare back at us, ending with a response of "What do you mean, can't you just go to the bank and get more?" We would give our son two dollars to get ice cream, he would come back as happy as could be, licking his cone and holding no change. Money was just a piece of green paper, he seem to think, "Hey I can make that with strips of paper and markers!" For some reason my bank did not accept the red and green bills with the face of Buzz Lightyear glued on, but I liked the initiative.

By ten years of age, All that advertising kids have been exposed to on television, in print and on the internet, finally trigger into what kids think is a necessary part of their persona, and a dynamic part of their social graph. They are the up and coming consumers deciding the next new fad, next hot artist, the next big thing. I spent two days on the internet shopping with my son for a certain pair of Nike Shox, only to find out after he got them that they were cheaply made and not that hot of a style anymore. A full week gathering different shapes of Silly Bandz, then he decided they are in fact silly and did not wear them anymore.  Clothes with cartoon characters and fictitious sports leagues were out of bounds, only authentic, athlete approved gear need apply. I do take comfort in the fact that while he likes the trendy stuff, knows when enough is enough.

Children are big business nowadays, and keeping up is a struggle. Doctors, lawyers and teachers spend years learning their profession, committing to helping others. Tradesmen spend time honing their skills, perfecting their craft. Firefighters and policemen train endlessly to make sure they are there and ready when duty calls. None of these careers can make you a good father, but a good father needs to be all of these things all the time, dependent upon on the job training. As tough as it can get sometimes, no one would ever give it up, to hold your newborn child, witness those first steps, to gently let go of the back of the bicycle seat and watch them pedal off, and to clap at that first school performance. Its the greatest, most satisfying job in the world, its a permanent career, a lifelong trade, The Dad Trade.


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