As I prowl through the tangled jungle of parental advice literature, I can no longer sugar coat my flaky approach to fatherhood. I'm forced to admit... I'm a Tony-the-Tiger dad.
You see, I'm dedicated to raising my two children to become human beings, flawed and imperfect creatures with feet of clay, just like me... and everyone else I've ever met, despite some who argue endlessly to the contrary.
For me, the poet Alexander Pope said it best in his 1734 An Essay On Man by observing that mankind is, "Born but to die, and reasoning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks too little, or too much; ... Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled; The glory, jest and riddle of the world."
For those of you still with me, I believe none of us is in possession of the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the sweeping panorama of parenthood, we're all winging it, flying by the seat of our pants, soaring one day, crashing the next, doing what we can and hoping for the best.
Of course I'd love for my children to become accomplished, hailed, high-achieving pillars of society. Wouldn't that be grand? But my most heartfelt wish is for them to be happy.
Happiness is underrated nowadays. It's being swept aside in our uber-competitive society's frantic rush for success. Yet happiness, contentment, and fulfillment are healthy states truly worth achieving. All said and done, isn't some degree of happiness what you really desire?
Fat incomes and lofty social status do not necessarily breed happiness. I've met many highly-degreed, well-heeled individuals who are simply greedy heels.
And high demands can have consequences. Many of our super achievers are truly miserable, burdened with never living up to the impossible standards someone, often misguided parents, chained around their necks. I don't want my kids spending years in psychotherapy because they picked up the wrong-headed notion they did not live up to my expectations. What a selfish ogre I'd be for encouraging that.
I will not leash my kids to some torturous push-punish dynamic so they can prance around some arena for a "best in show" ribbon. I do not want my children to live for me or to be a reflection of me or to become a culmination of my dreams.
I want them to live their own lives, find their own paths, become what they decide is right for them. It's my job to introduce them to the variety of options out there, and nurture them safely along the pursuit of their individual interests.
The world offers abundant opportunities to create happy, fulfilling lives through charitable and spiritual work, sports, hobbies and clubs, travel and study, self-reflection and artistic endeavor, friends and family. A large part of my parental responsibility is to model the many paths to happiness... by volunteering, giving back to the community, sharing limited resources, helping those in need, doing unto others.
If my children grow up to be genuinely happy and content with their lives, whatever they may do for a living, that'll be just fine with me. In fact, it will be a measure of my success as a parent.
Both our kids know they are unconditionally loved. They know we have their backs. This provides them the self-assurance to explore, fail, try again, and keep exploring.
We let our son quit piano lessons. He hated them. I, too, hated piano lessons when I was a kid. I remember watching the neighborhood kids playing basketball outside, and how I ached to join them rather than practice the exercises in my John Thompson piano book. My father and my piano teacher told me I'd later regret it. Bless them, they were wrong. I have never for one moment regretted it. In fact, it was one of the first major decisions I made for myself, a major step in my maturation. I still play basketball. I enjoy listening to talented pianists.
Yes, I sometimes allow my son too much time on his video games. And I can overindulge my daughter at the first drop of her tear (the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen). But I know tough love and how and when to employ it, and my wife and I stand firm when it comes to matters of import such as safety, health, education, and how we treat others.
Do I cheer and hug our kids when they participate, when they compete but do not win? Yes, with vigor. It's not that I don't know the difference between coming in first or last, between winning and losing. It's because childhood is really an exploration celebration on life's training ground.
I'm a Tony-the-Tiger dad because my children are going to know to their very core that someone in this crazy, uncertain, glorious and dangerous world knows and shows them that... "They're Grrrrreat!"