The Gift of Gab

My son and I have done more arguing recently than talking.  I know what he should be doing to better his life but for some  reason at eighteen he does not just automatically say “Ah ha, you are right dad”.  Go figure.

So tonight I asked him to read the “Best Gifts For Kids” post including the entire article so we could discuss it. He agreed (I will explain that little oddity in a minute). I was hoping that reading something written by another parent might give him some insight into what I was trying to do for (to?) him.

It started off slowly but we had a great conversation. For once we both listened as well as spoke. I shared with him how I felt and where I have not been doing a good job of bestowing some of these gifts. He shared many of his feelings about my parenting style as well as what he thought about each of the ten gifts.

When discussing the gift of conflict he pointed out that I certainly did not shy away from conflict. He was, however,  surprised that I felt guilty about not spending time with him. (Both are part of the explanation of this gift.) His retort was that if I felt guilty about the time why didn’t I spend less time on conflict, he would. I responded that I never sought out conflict with him but that my priority was to let him know what I thought was right rather than to be silent  so on the surface we would seem to be sharing a peaceful moment. We went back and forth on this one for awhile.

We also explored many of the other gifts. This conversation was the one of the most intimate and intricate father and son conversations we have had in a very long time. It was worth far more than the $15 it cost.

Yes, there was a reason he agreed so quickly. A couple of months ago he committed to, at my strong request, reading for 1 extra hour per week and then discussing with me what he read. He did that twice and then stopped. I finally got tired of the excuses and stopped his allowance until he read– and talked. At the beginning of the night he was two weeks in arrears and beginning to have a cash flow problem. I offered him a quick 1 week catch up if he read the post and the article and discussed it. I try not to bribe but we needed some reconciliation. The gamble paid off big time. (And he is still a week behind.)

So  based on tonight’s experience I am adding one more to the extended list of gifts to your kids. The gift of gab–with your parents.

Best Gifts For Your Kids

No, this is not about which iPod, new phone, new car, expensive trip to get your child. It is not about how to make your child like you more. Being your son’s or daughter’s “friend” is not in my top 5 of what they need. (BTW, not trying to be your child’s friend is probably the best way to make it happen.)

I saw this list on a website for people in the north shore of the Chicago area. This is generally an area of well to do parents. Often Filthy Rich. Check out the full article here, it is well worth the click. The 10 gifts presented by these authors are:

1) Gift of Your Time, Presence & Connection

2) Gift of Feelings

3) Gift of Unconditional Love /Acceptance

4) Gift of Empathy

5) Gift of Limits & Boundaries

6) Gift of Boredom

7) Gift of Struggle & Disappointment

8) Gift of Conflict

9) Gift of Chores and Responsibilities

10) Gift of Mistakes and Imperfection

I would add the gift of intellectual curiosity and gift of imagination. Other than that I found this to be an excellent list.


What a weekend. I spent Friday night being entertained by a brilliant young actor in his first stage role followed Saturday by a veteran performer who sang and danced like she has been on stage from birth.

And all this talent lives in my our house.

My son D took auditioned a few months ago for his first theatrical production. Everything outside of school has been athletics. I was thrilled that he stepped out of his comfort zone.

The play is Bye Bye Birdie. Honestly since he had no acting experience, no formal dance lessons and while he sings constantly in the house only about half the notes are in tune. Our expectations were that he might make the chorus. Not my son.

Hugo Peabody. For those who have seen the movie this role was played by teen idol Bobby Rydell. He is the boyfriend to Kim MacAfee, played by Ann-Margret. This is the fourth biggest male part in the play.

In this production, Hugo acts and dances but does not sing. He does do a handspring early in the first act. With D  burning the candle at both ends, starting most days at 6 am for baseball workouts and finishing rehearsals at 11 pm, for weeks now I was not sure how he would react to the pressure of opening night. What pressure. From his first line to the handspring to his dance with Kim (including a lift) and every other moment on he was on stage he was on fire. 

I know I am playing the role of the adoring parent but those that know me know that I am prone to brutal honestly and can be a touch critical. There was nothing to criticize, just a performance to enjoy. He delivered his lines with the air of a jealous high school kid, which is what his character is. He moved naturally across the stage and executed his dance number like a pro.

Right up there with the joy of watching my son was watching my son with a bunch of his buddies. Joey, Richie, David, Asher, Jon, and Mark and several others have been hanging around our house for years and years. What fun to be seeing them all act and dance on the same stage.

Several parents came up to me after the show, as well as one couple in a restaurant the next night, to tell me how well he did. I am proud. I am happy for him. He may or may not avail himself of opportunities to be on stage again. As one who believes in multi-faceted people I hope he does. And then I get to go to another show.

And this was just Friday.

Friday night people were asking me if my wife was at the show as well. No, my wife was in a performance of her own. Fortunately her show started last weekend and ends this weekend. D’s started Friday and runs next weekend as well.  So she will see the remaining 4 performance of his show–like a true mother. (Tickets still available if you are interested.)

Saturday I saw the closing night of my wife’s show.  Evey year The Women’s Club of Evanston produces a musical comedy review as a fundraiser for a local charity. My wife has participated for about 10 years. This year’s show was titled “Not Tonight Dear, I Have A Haddock”. Thirty three numbers in all.

My wife starred in such numbers as “Brain” in which she was a beautiful Zombie and “Fugue For Cyberchondriacs” in which she plays a nurse to people who self-diagnoseusing the Internet. She had a singing solo in “We All Live In The World…” in which people wistfully remember the days before recycling. Unfortunately she had some of the worst lyrics to sing including the words, verklempt, monkey snot and toe jam.

Overall, the lyrics were clever, the singing of high quality, the men had their annual dress as women number and the laughs came frequently and the dancing dazzled. Not bad for a group of amateurs.

At one time during the weekend as I told the story of my talented family a comparison was made to the Von Trapp family of Sound Of Music fame. That must make me the odd “Uncle Max”. No on stage talent in me.

Fortunately I will be able to retire as soon as talented my wife and/or talented son are discovered and become stars.

Window Washing: A Life Lesson?

I try to be a responsible parent and to pass on a sense of responsibility to my son. My son at age 17 tries to be independent and in control of his time and actions. Sometimes these “tries” intertwine.

Near the end of the last school year D got a ticket while driving. I was not mad. He rolled through a Stop sign, who among us have not. He got caught.

It did lead to a large fine for which I wrote a check ( the county does not take credit cards even in this Internet age). I told him he would have to work it off. At the moment he was sincerely apologetic and agreed.

We put in 32 new Pella windows last year. It was time for them to be cleaned. There was no pressure to begin until school ended. He had a heavy class load and baseball. June 13. School ends, the clock starts ticking and the games begin.

Better, and much longer, than the Olympics these were The Father/Son Games. Sometimes a battle royal, sometimes a game of strategy much more intricate than chess, sometimes like WWF Smackdown. Since I have a son who is a good kid this never became about whether or not the windows would get washed. It was all about when and who decided when.

I prefer a high degree of certainty. I plan. A schedule. I never expected that he would start Day 1 and work until they were done forsaking all else. He wanted complete flexibility. After all, he had the entire summer. What’s the rush?

Parental push here WHAM.  Son sidestep there. POW. Suggest that he put together a schedule. WHOMP. You didn’t say by when the schedule had to be done. BANG. On and on it went.

With a 17 year old boy there is an art to knowing when to push and knowing when you will get more by backing off. With only a year left until he goes off to collage, I ain’t no Rembrandt. More at a paint by numbers level.

All the windows got washed with more than a week before school started. In fairness to D once he got rolling he took the initiative and worked on a few almost every day. As I said, he is a good kid.

Who will I give life lessons to next year? Who will give them to me?

Fathers Day 2009

(I am very behind in my writing so bear with some late news.)

Let’s start with the positives. I have a son who is basically a good kid, can be sweet and loving, and generally works hard. He stays out of major trouble—no drinking, drugs, arrests, etc. He is fun, funny and very well liked by kids his age, adults and little kids. Many people are not able to say those things about their children. I am.  

He can’t completely control the fact that he is a seventeen year old male with all the pressures, angst and hormones that come along with being that age. And yet….

I am looking forward to Fathers Day 2009. I am working on forgetting 2008. There were some things on the plus side of the ledger. We went out to a nice breakfast at a place we had not tried before. We saw the Hulk which I chose over Indiana Jones. I got some very nice cards and some presents as well. (Back to those cards later.)  I was with my son and wife from morning through night.

However, the one thing I wanted most I did not receive. I wanted a great day with my son. In an earlier post I commented that my sweet son had showed up at an unexpected time. On this day the expectations were high and missed…by a mile. The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that his best that day consisted of indifference and at worst he complained, argued and wanted things done his way not mine.

For as long as I could I took a calm approach hoping the tide would turn. By mid afternoon I lost my cool. The message still did not get through. At the end of the day I went to my room rather than continue to be with him. He later came up and apologized. He was clearly sincere. I felt a bit better.

Back to the greeting cards. He must have had some premonition that Fathers Day was going to be trying for him. On both cards interwoven with some very nice sentiments he wished for me a happy day and “hopefully I will not get on your nerves.” Irony defined.

Why Kids Curse

Last week NPR had this segment on why young ones curse.

There is a very simple answer. Because they can. Yes, it is not just that they heard mom or dad spew invectives when they were cut off in traffic. They can. Its fun.

Or as my philosopher son said to me many years ago. If G-d did not want us to swear then why did he invent the words.

On 48Facets radio this would have been a very short segment.

Duck, Duck, Goose

It is hard not to enjoy watching young kids be kids. While hanging out on the beach at our Mexican resort I was treated to watching a group of 2-4 year olds play the timeless children’s game Duck, Duck, Goose. This resort had The Adventurer’s Club where parents in need of a moment to themselves entrusted their kids to resort staff dressed in the garb of a jungle adventurer.

The one I saw had the kids form a circle (no easy chore) and gave a short explanation of how to play the game. Clearly some of them were too young to get the rules and strategic intricacies of DDG. Yet somehow there were smiles and giggles all around.

Sometimes the Goose would get up and just stand there. Other times the G would follow the one who tagged them. My favorite was when one little girl who was not going to be the first around the circle took a short cut through the circle and calmly sat down in the open spot. Her stunned playmate paused for a second and then just started around the circle again patting heads while saying, “duck, duck, duck…”

I began to wonder what it would be like if adults played DDG. I imagine a bunch of aggressive, competitive men and women standing around before the game swilling Red Bull. Then a few would be doing some stretching, adjusting their pads and tying their $200 specially designed DDG shoes (kind of like running shoes but with a special edge to help you get to your feet faster). Each person would be eyeing the other contestants looking for the weakest and strongest competition.

Once the game begins they play to win no matter what the cost. People diving head first to hit the open spot. Elbowing or tripping an opponent is just part of the game— “you don’t like it, find a baby’s game, Sucker”. Oh yeah, lots of name calling.

By the second or third round, Survivor-like alliances begin to form. I will knock out Paris if you “accidentally” trip Thad as he passes by. A little blood is part of the game. Fortunately there is an ambulance and full medical staff on alert.

By the end there is only one winner. As it should be. The DDG trophy is awarded by the league commissioner. It is a gold plated statue of two little water fowl chasing a larger one.

Oh to be a kid again.