Children observe and know their parents more so than parents analyze their child. That’s the way it is due to the positional power difference. When a person has more control, the figure with less autonomy can’t help but scrutinize who is dominant.
It’s easy to forget that dynamic as a parent since so much is happening. Many plates are spinning, especially with four children.
I was recently reminded of my influence as a parent when my daughter Jillian, 22, spoke of my take on soccer, which I was never crazy about. When my children were young, I joked that soccer wasn’t a sport. I cracked that it was an activity and couldn’t be a real sport since the ball has spots.
Jillian, who didn’t play soccer, revealed to me that she took my word as gospel and told friends just what I said to her. “They said, ‘What are you talking about? Soccer is a real sport, and it’s great.’ ”
My son Eddie, 18, elected not to play soccer, with the exception of when he was 6 years old. “You never said to avoid playing soccer, but, because of your attitude, I didn’t want to play soccer,” Eddie said. “Fortunately, there was baseball, ice hockey and football for me.”
When Jillian was at a party while a junior in high school, an Adam Sandler film was screened. “Oh, I can’t watch an Adam Sandler movie,” Jillian told her classmates.
“Again, they said, ‘What are you talking about? This movie (“Happy Gilmore”) is really funny. Adam Sandler gets punched out by an old guy (Bob Barker).’
“I explained that movies written by Sandler and his friends are the lowest common denominator. It’s like going to McDonald’s and eating McNuggets. It might feel good for the moment, but you’ll feel lousy later.
“I heard you saying that, and I remember when you interviewed David Spade and asked him about the secret of Sandler’s success, and he said, ‘Adam just keeps throwing stuff on the wall, and some of it sticks.’ I remembered all of that and regurgitated it to my friends, who looked at me like I was from Mars.”
All of this blew me away since I’ve been lulled to sleep as a parent. Maybe my kids pretended to have attention deficit disorder. Were they listening all this time? Or is it selective listening? They tend to not hear orders, such as take out the trash or clean up your desk.
Even some of the articles I crafted connected and resonated with Jillian. A few years ago, I wrote about the ubiquity of Justin Bieber, and it started an argument with Jillian and her then best friend, Ella, who worshipped the Biebs.
“I read what you wrote, and I remember saying to Ella, ‘Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good.’ Ella didn’t understand what I was saying, and she told me I was wrong. How could I be wrong, I told her. My dad told me this.”
Fortunately I’m not the only dad to mess up their children. Eddie was friends with a home-schooled neighbor who adored his dad. There’s nothing wrong with that unless that idolatry goes too far.
“I remember when he told me that his dad was the smartest person on the planet,” Eddie said. “I then asked him, ‘Then why does your dad drink Diet Coke?”
‘Because it’s good for you,’ was his response. He then said. ‘If it wasn’t good for you, my dad wouldn’t drink it.”
For the record, the dad who voluntarily consumes aspartame is one of the world’s top mathematicians.
The fizzy drink swiller, who teaches at an Ivy league university, is invited to think tanks at prestigious colleges around the world. However, he’s socially inept. That has had an impact on his sequestered children. We learn what we experience and from our surroundings.
That takes me to driving. It’s wise to abide by the rules of the road for safety while you’re behind the wheel and for drivers of the future. I’ve taken some occasional liberties while driving. I had no idea that my children were taking notes.
“I learned about all of the things you can get away with while driving while watching you,” Eddie said.
That doesn’t explain what I experienced over the summer at 1 a.m. I woke up somewhere in the middle of Montana with Eddie whizzing through the Big Sky state at 110 mph while glancing at his phone. I was awake for the remainder of the trip back to Spokane.
I was never so reckless. “You never drove like that,” Eddie admitted. “But you do get away with some things when no one’s looking. That’s kinda what I did that night.”
That statement prompted a long talk about risk and responsibility while on the road.
My take on pop culture, which is what I’ve written about for a quarter century, has impacted Eddie.
“I didn’t like the movie ‘Elf’ because of you,” Eddie revealed. “I remember how you talked about how much you liked everyone in the film, but it was ruined for you by Will Ferrell because he’s so over the top in ‘Elf’ and well, everything, and I agree with you. I can’t watch Will Ferrell movies, either.
“And then there’s music. I remember when you were dissecting ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and much of what Bon Jovi has written, and you talked about how formulaic that type of music is. You never said not to listen to Bon Jovi, but, after understanding what you said, I just knew that type of music wasn’t for me.”
When I attend sporting events, our seats are usually close to the action. However, there have been occasions when we had to buy cheap seats to benefit my sons’ ice hockey teams. Ever since I was a kid, I would move down from the rafters to prime real estate by sneaking past ushers. When my son Milo, 15, attended a professional soccer game with his friend and family a few years ago, the seats were in the nosebleeds.
“We’re not going to sit here the whole game, are we?” Milo asked his friend and his father.
“Yes, where else would we sit?” the father said. “These are our assigned seats.”
“But we can sit downstairs,” Milo said. “People don’t show up, and, if they do, we can just move to another location.”
Milo’s motion was denied, and he witnessed the game from the heavens. “It was awful,” Milo said. “I thought about what you said about going to games and having a good suit.”
What I’ve stressed to my children is that I would rather splurge for one game and buy great tickets as opposed to attending five contests sitting in the stratosphere. My view is that it’s akin to having one great suit as opposed to five bad outfits.
Jane, who is 11, is a quiet contrarian. My little girl has consumed what I’ve uttered about soccer and questionable pop music and embraced the sport and lightweight tunes. I understand it. I did the same with my father. When my dad, who served in the Army, rooted for West Point’s football team, I cheered for Navy. My dad preferred bowling and golf, and I never had affection for either sport – or perhaps I dubbed them activities.
But I’m becoming more tolerant, and I’m watching what I say. It’s taken a while, 22 years, but who’s counting, for me to be aware of everything I utter and engage in around my children. I’m trying to be positive. I told Jane the other day that I’ll no longer rip soccer.
“I’m shocked, Daddy,” Jane said. “Why are you fine with me playing soccer now?”
“Because I finally found a sport I Iike less than soccer, which is field hockey.”
“Here you go again,” Jane said. “You’ll never change or understand. But we’ve accepted you for who you are.”
I explained that I was joking about field hockey. “Enjoy whatever you want to participate in as long as you are active,” I said to Jane. “Did I say or do anything wrong?”
“Not yet,” Jane said. “But I know you will. It’s only a matter of time.”
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