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TODAY IS ONE of those days some people call a "Hallmark holiday"--Father's Day, Mother's Day, Secretaries' Day--all created so people have to buy greeting cards or neckties or flowers or whatever as a way of saying thanks to the people who are so important to us that we shouldn't need a special day to say it.
Of course, I would appreciate a rock if it was a gift from my kids. In fact, I have gotten a rock--I mean paperweight--at least once.
But suppose we turn the tables on Father's Day. Having been a father for more than nine years, I think Father's Day should be a special opportunity for fathers to express their appreciation to those who make them fathers: their kids.
So let's cut to the chase here. I know other fathers may take issue, but I'm afraid I have to lay claim to having the best kids. That's my opinion, and since I write an opinion column, I get to say that. I also did some research. I checked with my wife, and she agrees, so it must be true.
Anyway, that hardly means that we have the only great kids, or that my kids don't frustrate me or make me angry once in a while. For example, why must cooperation turn to intransigence when we need to be somewhere and we're already late? And can anybody tell me when they'll grow out of KST (Kid Standard Time) and figure out that five minutes is not the same as an hour?
I know that the years during which they will actually drive me crazy are yet to come. Fathers just need to remind themselves, over and over, that fatherhood is a learning experience from Day One on, for all parties concerned.
But back to my kids. Michael is 9, and Megan is 7. They had wonderful child-care providers in their early years who deserve credit for helping to make them happy and well-adjusted kids.
M&M, my shorthand for them, just wrapped up third and first grade, respectively, at Courtland Elementary in Spotsylvania. I always get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I go there, and think that if I were a kid, it would be a great place to go to every day.
With all the responsibilities that come with adulthood and parenthood, watching the kids grow to this point has been a challenge as well as a pleasure. Videotape is allowing us to watch them grow up over and over again--without the day-to-day hassles. I would suggest that if you have videotape of your kids, you take time to watch it. We've been making these tapes since 1995, but only recently did we start taking a serious look back at them. I'm amazed at how easily memories of what the kids were like just a few years ago can fade. Hearing them talk as they once did is great, and seeing the early stages of today's personality traits is priceless.
No doubt parents everywhere set out to be good parents. We've always striven to make sure our kids know they are loved, that they feel secure, and that they are free to talk to us about absolutely anything that's on their minds.
In return we've been rewarded with kids who are bright, funny, poised, open-minded, and considerate of others. They even get along with each other most of the time.
Still, I often find myself wondering how, out of all the kids in the world, we ended up with such terrific ones. I think it might have to do with reading--reading and the other activities in which we've encouraged them to involve themselves.
From their very earliest days, we--my wife much more than myself--would read to our kids every night before bedtime. Extremely rare was the night we didn't. As a result, they have found an appreciation for books that we hope will last their lifetimes. They read above their grade levels, and choose to read for the sheer enjoyment of it.
We're also careful about what and how much television they watch. It's generally limited to sports events, suitable movies, and programs that have some redeeming educational quality. Most days they see no TV because it's such a low priority there's no time for it.
There are no video games or Gameboys at our house, but the kids are free to use the computer with the software we provide.
We've also taken them lots of places and tried to give them a taste of many activities to help them find their favorites, such as Scouts, sports, piano, and Sunday school. The focus will no doubt narrow over time as they grow old enough to discover their own true interests and preferences.
We've impressed upon them that it's great to have a diverse group of friends and to respect their friends' feelings, but that it's just as important for them to think for themselves about what is right or wrong.
Of course raising children is never a done deal. They have plenty of time to make bad decisions. We can only hope that there won't be very many and that they won't be very bad. They are beginning to understand already that they have to earn our trust in their judgment.
For now, I think the best thing for me to do is to continue to enjoy and appreciate them while trying to set a good example. To do that, all I have to do is listen to them, talk to them, play with them, work with them, encourage them, and remind them that they're loved. I'll make a note of that to be sure I fit it all in.
It may be Father's Day, but it's a happy day thanks to the kids. And if they got their chores done yesterday, it'll be an even happier one for all of us.