It’s been about a month since most of the United States quickly ground to a halt. As many have said, as a country entered a self-induced coma. Each day is unlike any that has ever been experienced. All the while, like all other parents of young children we have been forced to take on challenges that exceed our expertise, resources, and patience.
Over the weeks I’ve been processing how families, friends and other people in my life have been internalizing their experiences and listening to various “experts” on how to address the issues we face this instant and the issues we should begin to anticipate by the time COVID-19 has passed as a societal concern. And then there are the children. There are so many questions about the children and what this means. What are the academic repercussions? What are the implications for peer relationships? How will the stress and insecurity their families are experiences imprint themselves into their value systems?
Three years ago I came across a riddle in a news article. My kids love riddles even though they can rarely solve them. However, once they discover the answer they are quick to ask every adult who sits down at a table with them the riddle. But this riddle was different. When I asked it to them they got it right, but I got it wrong, for a few seconds.
Here’s the riddle. See if you get it right:
“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate – that boy is my son!”
There’s a lot of stop and go traffic in our city. Our 3-mile drive to school tends to take us 15 to 20 minutes each morning. Needless to say, over the years we’ve been at a traffic standstill behind many cars that are…colorful. Especially the language on bumper stickers.
Over the years I’ve noticed bumper stickers and I think to myself, “I hope my kids don’t see that.” Whether they see it or they don’t see it, they rarely ask about them because they either can’t read them or what is on the sticker doesn’t make sense to them. There is a truck in town with a bumper sticker of a silhouette of a naked woman with her legs spread open and the words “spread the love.” Every time I see it, I hold my breathe and try to figure out what I will say If my children bring it to my attention. As of right now, that has not happened, but this week a different bumper sticker was brought to my attention by them.
During our evening commute, we were stopped at an intersection stoplight. There were about 15 cars ahead of us on the two-lane highway and I was contemplating changing lanes when my daughter asked, “Dad, why do people have bumper stickers?”
Boarding the plane for a recent trip, my daughter inched patiently behind me counting each row we passed anxiously waiting to get to row 26. As we approached our seats she tapped me on the lower back and said, “Daddy, can I sit next to you? Sister can sit next to mommy.”
“If that’s what you want to do, sure.”
We got to our seats, sat down and began digging around for our seat belts. Settling in, I started to untangle my headphones and quickly download some music before setting my phone to airplane mode. My daughter looked out the window curiously. After a minute or so she said, “Daddy, why are most of the people who work in the airport people of color, like the people who drive the carts and at the restaurants and the people on the plane like the pilot and other…whatever they’re called…people who help?”
“The flight attendants?”
“Ya, them. Why are most of them and the pilots white?”
About a year and a half ago my younger sister embarked on an exploration of the family tree using one of the many commercial DNA test kits. Like many others, especially those whose heritage is riddled with the various American storied outcomes of conquest, persecution, and integration, my family was very interested curious to garner a better understanding of our history.
For most adults there is no conversation more uncomfortable than talking about sex and sexuality with their child. This is especially true for fathers with daughters. But why is it so hard?
To start, we live in a society that objectifies women. We grow up watching and listening over and over again to messages that portray women as sex symbols. We are taught that real men are players, sleep with a lot of women, and have the upper hand in relationships with women. We are taught that menstruation is gross and taboo to talk about, and testosterone equals strong and entitled.
Most of the time the children and I are in the car we are doing more stopping and moving side to side than moving forward. I feel the circumstances elicit an unnecessary amount of hostile energy and negativity for my fellow drivers. However, my wife has a different opinion. I rarely honk the horn if a driver is not paying attention or they do something that frustrates me. Slightly more often I will say words such as, “What is this yahoo doing!?” My responses or lack thereof do not win praises by my wife. And the children recognize this.
The other day we were on our morning commute when a driver in front of me did not move after the light turned green. I honked the horn once gently. They still did respond. I honked the horn twice with a little more force. That got the driver’s attention and they drove. As we began moving forward my older daughter asked, “Dad if your car could say words what would they be?
Two hours of each of the first four weeks of my daughter’s second week of 3rd grade school year was spent taking national standardized tests. This was her first experiences with these tests and based on her self-report they were all but enjoyable. Each day I asked her about the test that was taken that day. Each conversation followed a format similar to the following:
According to cognitive linguist Steven Pinker, in his book The Stuff of Thought, cussing—or at least loud vocal outbursts when feeling escalated emotions—is innate. The actual sounds blended together by a person to express their emotions is learned and culturally specific.
I acquired this knowledge after years of telling my wife to be mindful of our children’s ears when choosing to use the sounds of F-CK, SH-T, and B-TCH combined, and shortly after my daughter came home telling us her friend gets to say F-CK at home.