MANILA, Philippines – As parents, we naturally want what’s best for our children. We also have a natural tendency to assume that what is best for us will likewise be what’s best for the kids. So we do everything we can to chart their destinies for them.
This strategy may work out well sometimes; the parent introduces his or her favorite activities to the child, the child responds well to them, and everybody is happy. Examples of this abound in politics, sports, the arts, medicine – I’m sure you can think of parent-child tandems in which both excel at the same thing. That’s great!
But what if this isn’t the case? What if parents force children into things that they actually aren’t inclined towards? Then things can get pretty interesting…
Memories of my dad
I speak from my experiences with my own father.
While growing up, I admired the way that he was such a handyman around the house. It seemed like he actually enjoyed such things as stopping leaky faucets, replacing loose hinges, and repairing broken couches and beds. Whenever required, he would pull out his trusty tool set from his cabinet and just get to work. It certainly made for a more efficient household.
It’s a habit that I’ve brought with me into adulthood. Although probably not as much of a handyman as he was, I do keep screwdrivers, pliers and other basic tools within reach just in case. He provided a model of what I believe is a basic skill set every father should have to ensure that basic household needs are taken care of. I am thankful to him for that.
That’s one good example of a skill successfully passed on from one generation to the next. But unfortunately, not every transition was as smooth between us.
In his younger years, my dad was also as athletic as they come. He was successful at all kinds of sports: tennis, golf, swimming, bowling, basketball. We had a room in our home with walls lined by shelf upon shelf of trophies and medals from the competitions he had won over the years.
My brothers and I were introduced to all these sports at a young age. I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad decided to do that because it was what he thought was best for us. Or maybe he was just fulfilling every father’s dream to build memories of fun times with his sons. Whichever the case, suffice it to say that I am not what you would call a “physical specimen” (although arguably, “blob” is a specimen), so I didn’t really take to these sports very well (that’s actually putting it very lightly…I sucked!).
I was eliminated from my very first tennis match with a flurry of double faults and a dismal final score (something like 6-1 or 6-2). The only golf trophy I have ever won in my life was one for best attendance at a summer golf class. And I am still not confident about floating properly in water. The only sport I truly took an interest in was basketball.
To this day, I firmly believe that I would have had an outstanding future at hoops if not for my highly superior vertical leap of 3 inches. Alas, at the age of 40, my sky walking days are over. Today, I can only jump all of one and a half inches off the ground.
What I did find myself more drawn to growing up were books and music. Since my dad was never into reading and the music we were both into in my younger years was generations apart (although I did learn to appreciate the music of his era much later), we didn’t really bond over those activities, either.
I would imagine that he was caught by surprise by all this and probably thought to himself, “What’s up with my son? He hits tee shots by rolling them down the fairway (if he hits the ball at all) and runs so slow he couldn’t overtake a rock. That’s impossible! All boys should be good at sports.”
Sorry to disappoint you, Dad, but your son definitely doesn’t fit the bill.
He never openly said anything, but now being a father myself, I fully understand that not being able to share his interests with me must have caused some amount of pain and regret. I therefore appreciate the fact that my father never complained about awkward backhands, golf balls dunked into water hazards, and a son who can’t leap over a piece of paper to save his life.
Instead, he silently allowed me the freedom to explore and find out for myself what I am truly interested in. And when I think about it, he may have been of more help than I originally thought because I found out what I was not good at through him. So, even if not by the most conventional means, my father did provide me with a great start. He let me try a few things first, was compassionate enough not to force the issue, graciously stepped out of the way, and allowed me to ultimately discover myself.
My turn to be dad
Fast forward several years to when my son was born. I was really excited about being given the chance to raise my own child. So what did I end up doing? I bought a lot of children’s books for him and constantly had children’s songs playing in the house (do you sense a pattern here?).
He enjoys music a lot but books, well, not so much. To my surprise, though, he absolutely loves the water and was swimming on his own (at the deep end of the pool!). Fortunately, my wife is a great swimmer because I would never have introduced him to the sport at all. Only after some honest to goodness reflection did I realize that, just like my father, I was projecting my own interests on my son without allowing him to actively seek out his own.
Even with a father like me who often fails to see behind the huge blinders over his eyes, my son eventually had a great start as well and found what he enjoys doing. This highlights how resilient and clever children are, doesn’t it? Sometimes, I feel like we don’t give our kids enough credit. They are really smart, resourceful, and capable of great things if only we, as parents, would fight off the natural tendencies (which we sometimes rationalize as what we think is “best”) to limit them. We should just give them some room (and time) to blossom into great human beings.
Before you award me the Best Homer Simpson Impression award, there is one thing that seems to be going well. I was tickled pink one day when I saw my son enjoying himself playing with a toy tool set. As I watched him bang away at an imaginary nail with a plastic hammer, I thought to myself that maybe, some things in life are just meant to be. His lolo would have been proud.
Keep an open mind about what your kids want. Release the reins a bit and let go. And just like I was, you might be amazed that with a little more supervision and modeling of ideal behaviors – plus a little less forced indoctrination – our kids will eventually develop the maturity to define their own dreams and measures of success. And hopefully, we one day come to realize that surprisingly, the best starts possible are those that we don’t create entirely for them in the first place.
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About the author
There is the helicopter parent, the negligent parent, and then there’s Michael Gohu Yu. A doting father one minute who transforms into Homer Simpson the next, his writing on parenting reflects themes ranging from the humorous to the heartwarming. Whichever the case, though, he always aims to entertain parents of all ages.