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Dad 2.0

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Thoughts on the Fact that I Used to Have Kids ---------------------------------------

My children are fine, alive and well. They’re just not children anymore. I have twins, a son and a daughter, who recently turned 21. When they were crossing over from infant to toddler, I stopped full-time work and started freelancing to become the primary parent. The journey of raising them has been the most incredible experience of my life. I’ll admit I went for the Reader Hook with my blog post title above. With all we’ve been through, their recent birthday more accurately introduced a version of me closer to Dad 42.0, but I haven’t been counting.

Of course I didn’t raise them alone. Although their mother works on a schedule that's challenging to say the least, she has always been involved. The switching of traditional gender roles never really bothered me at home. Elsewhere, however, it could get annoying, whether it was their school organizing something “for the moms … oh, and Michael!” or my taking silent-yet-serious offense to someone calling me “Mr. Mom.” I can’t quantify how much I loathe that phrase. I’m pretty confident in my guess as to how many times my wife has been called “Ms. Dad” at the office.

But I'm not here to complain. I'm talking about how my role as my kids’ teacher and guide has changed, and what those changes mean to me. For the record, my role as entertainer/comedian has returned to probationary-active status after a rocky period during the teenage years. (I do miss cracking up the four-year-olds.)

Max and Sophie go to college on the east coast. My favorite trivial point from their milestone birthday is that Max finished the year and came home to Pasadena, CA the day before. As a result, Sophie turned 21 three hours before he did. She texted him pictures from a bar. Happy to report Max was able to wait it out without incident.

Sophie is a political science/environmental science double major at Boston College. She’s a very conscientious student who is not thrilled about the world she’s inheriting from past generations. Although she is a procrastinator with Hall of Fame credentials, she always gets her work done impressively and has the GPA to prove it. She is a student like her mother was: show me the hoop and I will jump through and collect my A on the other side.

Max is also a good student who is very much in tune with the politics and culture of the day. His approach to higher education is more like mine was, meaning his enthusiasm for any assignment is directly proportional to his interest in it. Thankfully, his chosen field in fine arts is conducive to such leanings. His college career at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved from oil painting to ceramics to 3D computer animation, the first two disciplines undoubtedly helping him on his way toward mastery of the third.

Dad the Teacher

I remember Max’s preschool teachers freaking out at pickup one Monday, both of them rushing toward me, one holding out a piece of blue construction paper. They were eager to show me Max had written his name at the age of two. I just smiled and nodded. Sensing they were confused, perhaps even disappointed, at my lack of ecstatic shock, I told them: “I taught him that over the weekend.”

I was a preschool teacher for a few years in my relative youth, so my experience with kids around 3 and 4 goes far beyond my twins. I really do like seeing the world through their eyes. It’s not just more innocent. In a lot of ways, it’s more interesting. To understand, you only need to have a kid tell you about a drawing he or she did.

These days I feel my kids teach me more than I teach them, and I don't mean they're teaching me about Rihanna or Harry Styles. (Yes, I know who both of them are.) Sophie teaches me about sustainability policies and what certain companies do and don’t do. She’s also showed me the ins and outs of her roles as Communications Director and Events Director of the political club she’s in, getting Boston's mayoral candidates and a member of the U.S. Congress to come speak at her school. Max taught me how a kiln works and about the Uncanny Valley. (Look it up.) He is currently being patient with me as I ask inane questions about Blender 3D animation software. (He’s also teaching me how to regrow my hair, but that’s a blog post that won’t get written.)

I used to be a copywriter for the merch division at Disney. When I went freelance, I added other major movie studios as clients. I never climbed the professional ladder. (Or as I like to think of it: I avoided having to climb the professional ladder.) When the kids were old enough, I returned to work and discovered this thing I did at an expert level, convincing consumers to buy stuff that will someday end up in a landfill, didn’t appeal to me at all.

My adult children validated my feelings on this topic. Their Generation Z is a fascinating mix of awareness and steadfastness when it comes to doing what they see as right. They take the effects of global issues personally in ways I and my peers never did. In a sense, they taught me it was okay to walk away from that world (again). I did and wrote a novel while freelance editing other people’s fiction.

Dad the Guide

When they were in elementary school, I came across a fascinating prediction I told many of the other parents. I wish I could remember the source, but rest assured it was reputable journalism. The piece claimed that roughly 50% of kids their age would grow up to work in industries that didn’t exist yet. That always stuck with me because it validated a tenet of my parenting philosophy. The idea that I was going to fully prepare them for the world they would one day enter was (and still is) nonsense.

I spent years guiding them through their little lives at school and helped them navigate their relationships with teachers and friends and other kids who weren’t so friendly. We all existed on this kind of common denominator plane. As they got older, I found myself able to guide them less specifically. I became like a tour guide in Paris. Which would be cool gig, only I’ve never been there. I have a few ideas about what I should show tourists (the Louvre? The Eiffel Tower?) but I don’t know where anything is. I’d have to look it up along with them. Although it wouldn't be a tour anyone would pay for, my kids and I would be resourceful together and make it fun.

I've always made a pointed effort to praise them for their resourcefulness. I taught them how to be resourceful and encouraged the practice at every turn. If I were a “helicopter parent” about anything, it was that. Whenever they could figure something out on their own or with minimal guidance from me, that was a big deal. Why this emphasis? Because they were headed for a world far more unknown to us than Paris.

These days, our conversations are about what their jobs and careers might be, but the mantra about resourcefulness is the same. They both have an entrepreneurial spirit that I'm more than happy to support and nurture. I truly feel those are the Gen Z kids who will be happiest. Will they also be the ones who “get ahead?” Maybe in some ways, but that’s all subjective and based on countless variable factors. Of course all parents want their children to succeed. I just think the resourceful kids will navigate the world more easily.

In his popular TED talks about the failing mission of U.S. schools, the late, great Sir Ken Robinson told us that educational systems were created in a time when the industrial model was dominant. The problem is that model hasn’t worked for a long time and certainly doesn’t work for the world we live in today. Think of a factory churning out widgets. The goal is a streamlined, methodical process of conformity that adheres to strict, preset standards. That sounds terrible, but I just described virtually every classroom in the country. In this model there is a particular emphasis placed on each widget’s date of manufacture (i.e. each child’s age). Why do we continue with such a counterintutive, counterproductive system?

The correct analogy, as Robinson points out, is agriculture. The purpose of an educational system is to create an environment and the conditions that allow the best chance for a child to thrive and flourish. Doesn’t that sound better?

This thinking also applies to parenting. Before the twins were born, we had parenting books lying around, so I read them. But I did so the same way I watch a FOX News clip someone posts on Twitter. I want to know what the “others” are saying. Those with whom I don’t see eye to eye. It never occurred to me that a book could tell you how to parent a child, let alone one who isn’t born yet. There is no undertaking on earth more organic than parenting. Agriculture, remember?

The situations with children are constantly changing, and each one demands (with varying degrees of urgency) a response or solution. Was it “double” with twins? I have no idea, but if you’re searching your memory for the bullet points in chapter 33 of that book you read during pregnancy instead of making choices in the present moment, you have already missed the bus. There’s no sugar-coated way to say that.

I've been extremely lucky to have had so much time with my kids over the years. Proud doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about them. I know I can still teach them something or give them advice about a pending decision, but teacher/guide is not my role in their lives anymore. I used to tie their shoes and drive them everywhere, too. Everything moves forward and changes. And as they enter this unknown world, I’m grateful to be able to share the adventure with them.



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