Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thoughts While Traveling (Part II)

2. Hemingway, Old Key West, Cuba. I was in this enormous fishing store the other day, and there in the middle was the fishing yacht PILAR, made famous in Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". It had become a minor Hemingway museum, with lots of pictures, posters, portraits and the like festooning what was still (it was a 76 year old boat) a beautiful vessel. Looking at all those pictures of Papa, I envied him...that he got to experience Key West and Havana in the 30's/40's/and 50's--places that are now mere remnants of their former coolness. Kitschy and done up, the Florida Keys stretch out before you as a monument to the strip mall, spliced together with thin bridges and state parks. Havana may still have some of the old charm, but my sense is that 60 years of Communism has taken some of the bloom off the rose.

Where are the "way cool" places today, places where 50 years from now people will be saying "I wish I experienced that?". If I knew where some of them were, I'd visit them now. I'm not looking for "cool" as in "popular" or "pretentious"--I'm thinking about it in terms of uniqueness and stylishness, places where there is a vibe that seemingly belongs to that place and that place alone. If any of you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

3. On my failings as a father, sort of
. Many of you know that the Kitten has two little girls, one 9 and one 7. Their Dad died when they were both under 2, and I guess at this point, I'm about as close to a father as they've ever had...though that isn't saying much, as I've found yet another thing that I really don't think I'm too good at. I grew up in a family with four brothers and a sister--we basically had someone to play with ALL the time---and that person was almost NEVER Mom or Dad. They just didn't DO that (at least not to my memory--though my family is free to chime in). Mom and Dad raised us--they occasionally did things with us, but the bottom line around our house was that the kids occupied themselves, and that complaints about being bored were met with statements like "read a book", something that I took them up with quite a bit. I now find myself utterly unprepared for a society in which it appears to me that most people expect that I am to be the playmate of these two lovely girls. I know I don't rise on the Kitten's list when i tell them "play with your sister" or worse yet, say "absolutely" when they ask if they can watch TV. I have no model for this role, I have no sense of how its done--worse yet, I'm not sure I have any desire for it. I couldn't WAIT to grow up when I was a kid (ask my brothers). I started drinking coffee when I was 8. I watched the Republican National Convention coverage on TV when I was 7. Plain truth is, I wasn't too thrilled with life as a kid when I was one--there was SO MUCH MORE out there for adults....and now that I am an adult, doing "kid" things now is even less thrilling.

Was in the Keys this weekend with two great families, each with a modern day giant of a Dad at the helm (I had huge Woody Allen like bouts of patrimonial inadequacy). The ladies left us to go shopping about midday today, and the three of us found ourselves sitting around a table enjoying a conversation. Toward the end of the conversation, one of the guys says to the two of us, "well, we probably ought to go and find something for the kids to do--they're awfully quiet up there--I'll bet they are watching TV." The wheels began to turn in my brain immediately. I said none of this aloud (of course--I'm not a Dad--I have no standing), but I thought, "Wait a minute--there are six children here between the ages of 5-9. I have a feeling that if properly motivated, they'll entertain themselves in fine form." I was enjoying this moment of adult conversation, and I couldn't see why it wouldn't go on for a good bit more of time. But this is not the way of modern fatherhood. The modern father sees television as much as an evil as his spouse does. The modern father creates treasure hunts, organizes games, builds forts....and the like. I'm sure my Dad did this stuff--but what made it special is that he RARELY did it. He was busy doing DAD things. Are there "DAD" things anymore?


Anonymous said...

I particularly enjoyed this post, not so much in what you said, because as always that is important :), but more for what I thought. There is no one path for the parent or the kid. They both must find a rhythm. For me I enjoy thinking like a kid with my kids, and sometimes being a kid, keeps me young, gives me perspective.

Overall, I like the theme of blogging while you travel. When is the next trip?.....

Anonymous said...

Are your parents still married to one another? If so, did your mother work full time when you were young?

Today's helicopter parents are so smothering because so many of them grew up in broken homes or were latchkey kids, that they go overboard in getting involved in their own children's lives.

Smoothfur said...

Commenting on both Parts 1 and 2 of your Thoughts While Traveling posts.
Part 1. It has become unacceptable in our once great and free nation to present honest criticism and when done, one cannot expect one's comments to be received in the manner in which they were intended. Open and honest debate is no longer practiced.

Part 2. I recall as a child of the 40s and 50s that our parents were almost never involved in providing entertainment for their children. We were left to our own devices to find and enjoy our own modes of entertainment with the ever present Sword of Damocles of parental displeasure hanging over our heads serving to temper our decisions about what kind of entertainment we chose to enjoy.

I recall groups of us young boys going to a vacant lot (no formal baseball diamonds) to play baseball.
We would choose up sides, with the ultimate loser getting me on their team. I was a terrible baseball player. But no matter how poor a player one might be, we all played and we all suffered the criticisms of our peers without any noticeable long term psychological damage.

Organized youth baseball (Little League and Pony League) as we know it today came about in my town when I was in my mid teens and I did not participate. But I recall attending games then and years later to watch my younger brother (eight years my junior)or my son play and I was struck by how parental and other adult participation had taken away all the fun from what had once been a "GAME" played for the pure enjoyment of kids. Bottom line, leave the majority of childhood entertainment to the children.

Anonymous said...
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Dan said...

Ouch, I hate to follow a post from your dad!

Coffee at 8 years old? So it's true what they say about it stunting your growth.

Your youth sounds a bit like Alex Keaton's.

Take the same approach with the Kitten's daughters that Nick Naylor did with his son in "Thank You for Smoking." Travel, Admiral's Lounges, blogging, rubbing elbows with titans of industry, etc. Oh yeah, bring some crayons.

We were pretty much on our own while my parents played cards and drank beer for hours on end with friends and neighbors. However, my dad still played catch with me, took me fishing and hunting, showed me how to fix the tractor, and helped me build a train set. However, if he ever felt like NOT doing something, he just said, "No, not now," and I got over it. (and then I usually went and teased my little sister).

I'll assert that parents today accomodate almost every request from their kids when it comes to parent-child activities, most likely due to the guilt they feel from the long hours spent working. Can't say "No" to them, since spending 80 hours a week at work makes the parent feel like his/her child has had the equivalent of 80 hours of "No, not now," for the week.

Look at how many digital video cameras are present at little Zach's / Taylor's / Dweezle's 2nd Grade Winter concert. Parents obsess with capturing some 3 minute song so they can make a deposit into the "I Was There" account and try to balance the ledger against the 80-hour "I Was Absent" debit column.

Sounds like Generally Accepted Accounting Principles....for helicopter parents.

The Conservative Wahoo said...
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Anonymous said...

The one time my Dad played along with me, I think I ended up with seams of a baseball indented in my forehead and a permanent loss of short term memory.

I am not a father, yet. I have to say though, if my father should ever hear me talk of finding a rhythm with my own son, I hope he kicks me in the junk.

Parents who are finding their "own path" with their children are the ones who pretend ignorance that their children are kicking your seat from behind or who knock things down in the grocery store that they shouldn't be touching in the first place. They are the ones who have caused the transformation of the old adage to "Children will be heard before they are seen."

Goldwater's Ghost said...

The point of last paragraph is a source of ongoing struggle with the Goldwaters. My thoughts are: 1) you can NEVER watch too much television, and 2) if six children aren't making a sound, why the need to rile them up? If you absolutely need to, you try to time it for about 15 minutes or so prior to the ladies return, so it looks like you've been involved the whole time. You score points for "quality time with the children" AND you don't look like you've been sitting around "doing nothing" for the past two hours.

Doc Milnamo said...
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Doc Milnamo said...

(Repost - had to cleanup the spelling mistakes)


I'd like to comment on your Part 2. It appears we had the same experience although I'm a little younger (born in 1959). I recall as a 5 and 6-year old playing elaborate games of War. It was always WWII and it us the Americans vs. the Germans (we concentrated on the European theatre of operations!). We made forts, had chains of command, and the entire neighborhood played. This way everyone's yard was part of the battlefield. Mom and Dad didn't officiate, or watch. Dad was at work and Mom was at home and it was the glorious summertime. We even had mortars except they were what we called "dirt-bombs" or dirt-clogs. This 6-year old could throw let me tell you. We made our own fun. There were two funny things I remember about playing war in those days: 1) the German side always lost 2) everybody wanted to be a German because they had the cooler uniforms (even though we didn't have any).


Anonymous said...

Your instincts are spot on, but you were correct to not object to the other parents' concerns.

Not all parents subscribe to the "helicopter" method today, however, are often chided by those who do. I will never forget a new neighbor questioning my decision to let our 10-year-old daughter take the city bus home from school in the afternoons -- a whopping 3 miles all the way from Georgetown. In 4 years, the worst that has happened was she got wet when she forgot her umbrella. (This parent does, however, leave the local news on ALL day for her kids to see, and be aware of all the fires, murders and rapes.) Other friends I know have questioned that I allow our 11-year-old son to build forts with his friends in the woods behind our neighborhood park. Most often with random, sharp tools in hand, there's a motley crew of boys heads out on Saturday morning, rain or shine (and without a cell phone) to work on whatever it is they are doing. They have some great stories that I'm sure I won't hear for 20 years -- perhaps great fodder for aspiring fiction writers. In our house, the word "bored" better refer to a piece of plywood unless the child is ready for menial tasks typically left for the mother (whether working or not); compared to another neighbor's typical response to take the kids to buy some new game or packaged craft activity. We also have a hard and fast rule that the TV and any video games are OFF unless (a) the kids have played outside for a "long while" or (b) it's both cold and raining.

Yes, parenting is not equivalent to entertaining. Yet, there are times that parents and kids can have fun together too...building sandcastles and jumping waves, skiing, cooking, gardening, playing cards, watching Dallas Cowboys football games. How about sitting together for dinner on a very regular basis -- and enjoying each other's individuality? With no distractions, it's amazing to hear what the kids experience and think.

The most important role a parent can play is teaching the child how to become an independent, responsible, thoughtful adult. Giving them space to explore, create, and yes, break things and make mistakes, is how they learn to be self-reliant.

Next time, go ahead and make the suggestion to see what happens if the kids play by themselves. Sneak and take a quick peek to make sure they haven't begun deconstructing the house...but perhaps unplug the TV first.

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