Interviewer: "The wisdom of the Geezers is now something of a legend, and I'm wondering if the group of you can comment on a subject of interest to young men aiming toward Geezerhood some day. That subject is that of fathering children in the modern world. Your commentary frequently borders on the curmudgeonly in tone, so I suspect you have some things to say on the subject."
Mercurious: "Bold, sometimes rabid opinions, really are the territory of the Professor, but you're right, this is one subject the Geezers can certainly comment on.
"Personally, the first piece of advice I'd give young men setting out on the path of fatherhood—and the principle most often ignored these days—is this: Be the adult. Your kids do not need you to be their friend. They need you to be the responsible adult to set their boundaries for them. Far too many namby-pamby men think that being a father means being a buddy. There will be time for that when they grow up, perhaps, but when they're kids, be a genuine adult father to your kids. Handing off to you, Professor."
The Professor: "Insist that your children talk to you. They don't have to like you, they don't even need to respect you (of course, that would be nice) but they need to know that talking to you is a "condition of employment" as far as being a kid. This should be no problem; kids enjoy talking to their parents—when they are young. The difficulty some parents have is caused by allowing an early pattern of distracted communication to develop, in which the parents are too busy to focus upon and talk with their children. This dysfunctional pattern often kicks in at the magical age of three, when (most) kids explode with language and are almost totally uninhibited about their spoken thoughts. Most three year olds have limited things to talk about, and most parents of three year olds are very busy, tired or, usually both. It is easy to let a pattern develop of being together without truly talking. (This is becoming VERY concerning in today's world, where kids—and parents—are equipped with distracting electronic devices all the time.)
"Not talking is a delayed-symptom type of thing: it is not much of a concern when kids are young and their lives are relatively simple, and for the most part played out in the view of parents and teachers. The challenge comes when the child reaches, say, middle school, where an age-appropriate impulse for independence starts to kick in, and social pressures become much more difficult to spot and control. Woe to the parent who has teenagers who are not in the habit of talking with their parents (and I believe nearly the only thing that brings children through some of those tricky "middle years" are habits formed in earlier years when they were more malleable.)
"If the default social mode of the family is developed so that it is more strained, awkward and difficult for kids to sit with their parents in silence, then teenagers will talk; but if the habit is that silence is typical and comfortable, there is no way that a teenager suddenly becomes chatty during those typical teenage emotional states: confusion, in-over-their-head anger or fearfulness, or debilitating, distracting horniness.
"Meals, of course, can be a big help in all of this. Formerly, car rides were a big opportunity. I myself tried to build in a bedtime ritual of having a ten-minute chat over a glass of juice or milk with the little ones before they went off to bed. They had little to say, really, so usually we just went through their day, hour by hour, and I asked them what they did. Value in terms of content? Usually close to zero. Value in terms of establishing a lifelong pattern: (as they say in the adverts) Priceless."
Mercurious: "I have to say, Professor, that the proof is clearly in the pudding. I've seen your interaction with your grown kids, and you've clearly done something pretty right. Yours is an admirable family dynamic, to be sure. What say you, Mr. Math?"
Mathematician: "So the core of the advice from my esteemed colleagues seems to be "discipline" and "communication". I can't say we had either of those in abundance in my childhood. Not that my sisters and I were particularly mute or surly. But our evening meals were not the gabfests the Professor remembers. And as for discipline, well, my Dad didn't try hard to be my best friend but I honestly never remember him even raising his voice to me, or my sisters. And I may have been too much of a milk toast to warrant the occasional correction, but I guarantee my three sisters richly deserved the dressing downs they never received.
"What we did have in my family that made things work was a strong sense of place, or traditions. One felt the need to do things a certain way because that's what we did. Work hard. Study hard. Don't complain. Respect your elders. Hold family dear. Perhaps because my maternal Grandmother lived with us and cared for us when we were very young, my siblings and I all shared that common worldview. When I go out to shoveel another frickin' Minnesota snow off my drively in the barely dawn, I can still her my Grandmother's voice: "A job worth doing is worth doing well. Sometimes I wish her advice had been more like, 'Have another. You can do that other shit tomorrow.'
"My wife and I have tried to imbue our kids with a sense of tradition. We have endlessly talked to them about the rich histories of my family and hers. The kind of stories and traditions that almost every family has. Either that worked or my kids are very good at hiding their transgressions. Not that they are exactly what I'd like them to be. But they have a good sense of who they are, backed by a good understanding of from whence they came. That's about all they really need, which is good because the next generation will likely grow up with considerably less than we had. But that's another topic. For later.
Mercurious: "Well said, Math. The success of your strategies is also clear to anyone who simply looks at your family. In our family, we probably spent more effort on creating new traditions rather than following historical traditions, as some of those felt stifling and onerous. But I'm well aware that our kids have appreciated the life-rhythm reassurance offered by the repeated activities that became our own family traditions.
The Professor: “Nicely observed, Mathematician, especially the observation about tradition. I REALLY struggle trying to understand those people who don't get how tradition works and who, thus, undervalue (or are sometimes actively antagonistic toward) tradition.
Interviewer: “Geezers, any further thoughts? I know you to be immensely opinionated, so surely you have other advice...."
Mercurious: One other thing. Let your kids be kids. Give them the free time and space to explore
Interviewer: "Thank you Geezers....
Mercurious: "Wait a minute....
Dr. Golf: “You said one other thing. Now you’re starting yet another thing.”
Mercurious: “…On the subject of tradition... Tradition seems like a double-edged sword to me, capable of both good and ill. You can argue that tradition was also what prevented first women, then black people, from voting. Also what prevented gay people from having rights. And certainly there are some religious traditions that have been corrosive. Math, you of all people must roll your eyes at some of those traditions. If you adhere to tradition, then must you of necessity believe that change is bad? Tradition, after all, is partly about arch defense of the status quo. Where does "tradition" end, and lazy inertia begin? A complex subject, I think. Tradition is both a human necessity, and sometimes a human foible.
Interviewer...."Perhaps another time, we can explore that....
Professor: "Hold on, hold on. Mercurious doesn't get the last word this time.
"Of course tradition—like all powerful tools—has its down side along with its positive value. My basic concern is when people reject a tool such as this one on the basis of its misuse.
"The Geezer in me is tempted to reject the Internet as a tool because of its misuse in the form of ugly anonymity detached pseudo-communication. Our esteemed Mathematician has developed an aversion to most things religious—to what extent this is related to observing its dubious use in gloomy Lutheran settings growing up in Minnesota is a judgment I am not in a position to make.
"To me the salient concern is: when you know a tool exists that can do what no other tool can, don't you think you should at least learn as much as you can about such a tool?
"As a professor at reasonably selective college, I work with a lot of people possessing a fair amount
Interviewer: "Thank you for that final thought...."
Mercurious: "Listen carefully, Professor. I'm not rejecting the concept of tradition, only asking you to be more precise. You're the one that said tradition is always good, without qualification. So who's being knee jerk?
Mathematician: "There goes Mercurious, getting the last word again. Sheesh. Edit this, dip stick!"
Dr. Golf (to Interviewer): "Welcome to my life. These pseudo-intellectual mutts never shut up."
Interviewer: "Thank you, Geezers, one and all. And special thanks to Dr. Golf."