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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Of Life and Lessons

Traditionally it is mothers who are responsible for teaching children. If someone has good manners, is gentle, has good personal hygiene, knows how to give gifts, is courageous, and knows how to love another it is because they had a good mother. So what is left for us fathers? Traditionally our major responsibility is to provide financially or physically for the family. Put this way being a father sounds far more like a support role than anything else. The mother's role has far more effect on the real quality of a child's life than anything the father does.

So how does the fact that there are more women in the work place than men today affect the future or our children? It seems like something has to give somewhere. Either women have to work extra hard to fulfill their role as nurturers, or fathers have to step in much more on the “nurturing” role, or children are just going to have to do without the nurturing. I fear that the third option is winning. This does not bode well for the world.

There are many cases where option 1 is in play. Working women all over the world do step it up and give as much nurturing as they can in addition to their jobs or careers. But as wonderful as a woman can be, she is still just a human being. The decrease in the amount of time she spends with her children and the increase in the fatigue she feels cannot do anything but decrease the amount or quality of nurturing she can give her children.

Is there no chance for option 2? None. Zip. Nada. Oh, fathers can have a huge effect for good in a child's life. My father was a wonderful example of hard work and service. By example he taught honesty, faith, and perseverance. But as mentioned he did all this by example. When I stole the candy bar it was my mother who took me back to the store to make things right. When I broke the windows in the empty house next door it was my mother who instilled respect of the law in me. It was my mother who taught me how to live clean. It was she who taught me how to interact with young women. It was she who encouraged me to try out for sports and for band. Why was it my mother who did all these things? Frankly, it was because she was one who was there when these things needed to happen. My father was off earning a living for the family or was just not tuned in to these needs in my life.

I love my role as a father. I love spending as much time as I can with my children. We go for walks. We go for hikes. We go on trips. Each of them comes to work with me on their own day or days during the week. I like to think I am good for my kids in one way or another. However, in those infinitely important little areas that have so much to do with the inner quality of a child's life I am blind, inept, or just misguided. For instance, recently my six year old daughter was in a position where her underwear was sticking out above the top of her pants. We were in the privacy of our own home and the opportunity was there so why wouldn't I give her a wedgie? Without a second thought I grabbed and gave what I thought was a gentle tug. Gentle or not the deed was done. The effect was completely different than I expected. She didn't yell, “Daaaad!!” She didn't run to tell her mother (thank heavens). Instead my little six-year-old looked me directly in the eyes as she reached down and made adjustments. The look in her eyes was definitely one of disapproval, but it was that edge of disappointment that struck me so forcibly. She was disappointed in her father for treating a daughter of God so ungracefully. Then she turned and walked off without a word. The look she gave me haunts me and shames me to this day. Her mother would never have done such a thing.

It wasn't long after “the wedgie” that I again showed my ineptness. I was at the shop where my thirteen-year-old daughter was helping me that day. To test the video and sound on a computer I was repairing I went to YouTube and clicked on the first video I saw. It was one of those videos where someone is speaking directly into a stationary camera and all you can see is there head. The head I saw was of a very fat girl. Her face was round and her fleshy cheeks pushed up toward her eye-sockets making her eyes look small, dark, and beady. Her nose turned up so I could see two dark holes and her mouth was large. She looked mean and animalistic. Then rock music began to play and she started singing along. The music was hard and rhythmic and her facial expressions followed along. The sight was frightening to me. Alarmed I said, “She is ugly! She is ugly!” My daughter came over to look. I was certain she would be alarmed like me and agree. Instead she said, “Dad.” She said it softly and I heard disappointment in the word. The word—how she said it—stung me. I wanted to honestly explain that I thought the girl was trying to be ugly, that the title of the video set me up, that . . . , but I stopped before I began. My daughter had looked and seen a child of God. Her father had spoken ungracefully and unkindly toward this child of God and in doing so had let his daughter down. Her mother would not have done that.

I will try to do better as a father and a human being to be a strength and a better example to my children. No matter how much better I do, though, so much still depends upon their mother.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Private Moments

In the movies that feature large families such as in “Cheaper by the Dozen” there are often key scenes that emphasize the chaos that can occur with so many children. In truth these movies aren't far off the mark although they tend to make the chaos more humorous than it actually seems to be in a real-life. These movies also often have key scenes where a parent has a meaningful moment alone with just one of the children. In a large family these private moments can have a deep meaning and be as pleasureful as a hot bath after a week of camping. What adds to the pleasure of these private moments in a large family is that these private moments can randomly happen with any one of so many children. With each child being so different each of these moments has its own flavor, smell, and texture—each a peculiar treat.

It wasn't too long ago that I started my own computer services company. By “company” don't think anything grand—this was pretty much a one-man band. At one point, when it looked like my business was going under, I was blessed with an opportunity to accept the contracts to install networks at a chain of tire stores around the state. This was a great opportunity and one that I had to accept for survival. The problem was that I had little experience in installing networks. A greater problem was that I had no partner to help me with these installations. Without a partner I would have had to turn down the contract. In desperation I looked around for someone affordabble who could help me. I had two sons in college who could do the job very nicely, but they couldn't take full days off from school. My focus then fell upon my thirteen-year-old daughter. She was already helping me on some days in the shop and she showed a precociousness with computers. She willingly accepted my invitation to accompany me on these installations.

I was worried at first about what the men working at these Big O Tire centers would think when their installer showed up with a thirteen-year-old girl as an assistant. It certainly wouldn't look very professional. This turned out not to be a problem. They accepted her right away and often gave her pet names such as “trouble.” I think they were charmed seeing this young woman pulling computers out of boxes, setting up workstations, assigning ip addresses and configuring network printers. They treated her with respect.

Over the course of two months my daughter accompanied me on twelve installations around the state. We would start very early in the morning in the van with a ladder strapped on the roof and the back stuffed with tool box, cable, fish tape and other needed accoutrements. Clorinda would study math, science, or literature on the way to the job. We had the opportunity to discuss algebraic expressions, vertebrates, and verb phrases on these mornings. Once at the jobs we would dive into a routine that we developed that worked very well for us. She would find an appropriate place with power and an internet connection to set up and configure the computers while I started scoping out the cable pulls and cutting cable. Sometimes I would find her surrounded by computer equipment squished between racks of tires. Other times she would be on the floor of the manager's office next to boxes of financial records. These places were always a bit dirty with rubber dust covering everything. Clory's hands would turn black and, when she peeked at me from over the top of a monitor I would see black smudges on her face.

When the time came I would call Clory to help me pull the network cables through conduit, across drop ceilings, or under floors. Often she would squeeze inside a cupboard where the cable entered or exited in order to reach it. Her legs would be intertwined with the ankles of the salesmen who were taking care of customers at the desk above her. In one BigO she negotiated the six-inch top of a wall for thirty feet with a drop ceiling below on one side of her and racks of tires on the other side in order to get a cable to the other end of the room. She was able to use steel rafters as hand holds to steady her. There were moments when we were actually able to work together putting the RJ-45 connectors on the end of the cables. This was careful work as we had to put the color-coded wires in the right order (white-green, green, white-orange, blue, etc. ), snip them to the right length and then crimp them securely. When we plugged them into the cable tester and all the lights lighted properly we would look at each other with happy pride.

At the end of the days we would finish labeling the cables, gather our tools and cable, and tiredly strap the ladder back onto the roof of the van. With a two-hour drive home ahead of us we would find a Sizzler or a Pizza Hut in which to relax and eat. After washing the blackness off our faces and hands we would meet at the table and chat aimlessly, yet delightfully, while we ate our food. As I looked into her bright face and gray-green eyes and bask in her subtly animated personality in spite of the hard day's work I figure what a lucky man to have such an experience with a child of mine.