Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fathers and Dads

With the release of his new film, Will Smith is on the interview circuit with his son, Jaden, who plays his son in Pursuit of Happiness.

When asked about his children and his parenting, Smith said he and Jada "View themselves as guides rather than disciplinarians. "We feel that we are partners in their life, but they are responsible for the lives."

He goes on to say "Something we noticed in our upbringing and specifically in the black fcommunity coming out of slavery in the United States - children were dealt with in the master-slave relationship. We're trying to break the cycle of 'beat them when they do something wrong.' If you get them used to a master-slave relatiohnship, when they leave your home, they're going to be looknig for a master. We want them to be looking for partners."

The Smiths commented further that they believe the 'industrial era traditional education' most children are subjected to doesn't address certain core skills, "First and foremost [being] their ability to communicate with people. The quality of your relationships and the quality of the groups of which you are a member are more important than the Pythagorean Theorem could ever be," said Smith.

To all this, I say a hearty YAH! Followed by, can dead people read or hear the news?

My father passed away 3 and a half years ago. We had a deep relationship but not necessarily a good one. Sadly, my dad was brought up in a very protestant, children-should-be-seen, depression-era home.

He was a very smart man, but, in my opinion, for what it's worth, not always wise. He could not, or would not, acknowledge that my way of doing things wasn't necessarily wrong; it was just my way. His attitude towards me really badly affected our relationship. When he was dying, I said sorry for having been a crappy daughter. That made him cry, which I was sorry about, but it was the first time he ever said "You aren't a crappy daughter." He did say nice things to me and often about me (he very regularly forwarded my writing and other tidbits to family living away) but often the things he said directly to me came with an implied or stated "but."

I have step siblings. They lived with my dad and my other sib and I lived with our mom, who also had 'that' kind of childhood. I'm the eldest in the original family and second eldest in the blended family

I was then, am now and will always be the 'wild' one of the family. I never conformed; I didn't buy in and I didn't stick around when the crazyness got to be too much. My dad, although he meant well, critisised me endlessly about everything, but particulary about how I raise my kids and about my partner.

Between me and my three sibs, we have 10 children; 8 girls, two boys. The youngest will be 12 shorty and the eldest will be 26. Two of us are married; one is recently divorced and I am in a long term, non legalised relationship.

From eldest to youngest, here's what's going on with the kids:

The eldest has been bulimic/anorexic since age 12. At 15 years old, she was dating a 25 year old and was living with a friend in another town. By age 17, she was working, underage, in a bikini bar. She did not complete highschool. She has an amazing talent for music and songwriting; she has an album ready to be produced by a known producer but she will not tour nor will she take hold of her talent. She spends much of her energy being angry at her family members rather than being successful and throwing that in their faces.

The next oldest has graduated from University with a honours degree and is working for a national company. She has had three boyfriends in her entire life. She was with the first a year; the second she was with 2 and a half and the third 3 1/5 and going strong.

Number three kid is in third year university and has honours marks. She is a director with a radio station and has about sixty million friends. She is experimental but pragmatic. She has paid for all her schooling and residence out of her own pocket and that after travelling europe for a year following high school, also on her own dime.

Number four is in first year college and has good marks. She has participated in loads of pursuits but has stuck with none until college, which she loves. She has travelled for two weeks at the expense of a parent and a boyfriend. She spent a week living with a total stranger -male, aged 29 - in Paris. All is well with this kid though.

The fifth grandchild left home at 17 and is living with her boyfriend. She has an interesting job in entertainment. She does well in her work. She completed highschool but likely will not go on. She will probably be quite successful in her field.

Number six has just completed six years of competitive dancing and is finishing secondary school. She speaks three languages. She is going to the orient for the holidays and has been all over the world already, with friends and family. She will be going to university in another city, in another language, starting in September '07 and will attend on full scholarship due to the second language.

Next, number seven, has had a very disturbed childhood with little direction. Super smart and fearless, he has been sucked into the world of drugs and gangs and is currently living out of the city in a secure school setting. Thanks to some adults with a lot of focus, he's now excelling in school and will complete two grade levels in one year, all with honours (which is the requirement for graduating).

Number 8 is a wild child who lives at home but is never there, dates much older men, drinks too much, hates school and detests one of her parents. Scary. Chamelion

Number 9 is struggling with promiscuity, alcohol, drugs and boys. She is currently home schooled, ostensibly to keep her out of trouble. She wears tons of makeup - like Alice Cooper.

number 10 is also home schooled because of illness - except there's no illness. He played sports for a while but a pulled muscle was labled a hernia, so that was over. This child really believes he sees ghosts.

Mine are the grad, the university student and the dancer. No problems, no drugs, no promiscuity, no moving out, no dating paedophiles. Lovely kids. I'm so proud. I am essentially a single parent, although my partner has been a steady influence on my kids. He does not live with us but is here most of the time.

I hadn't ever put it into such eloquent terms as the Smiths have, but how they raise their kids is how I hope I've raised mine - as a partner who discusses with them the direction they're going, the things they're doing and the mistakes they might make, not from the point of view of master/slave or boss/employee, but as someone who knows their kids are separate, thinking humans with goals and dreams and wants and minds. Sometimes I'm wrong about things and that's ok with me. They know I'm falable. It hasn't hurt them a bit for me to be human and apologise when I screw up.

Yes, there are times when I've put my foot down and said "NO WAY" to something or some behaviour but that is accompanied by "Here's why there's no way." Once, I made one of my kids sit at the kitchen table all night because she would not tell me where she'd been between the party she was allowed to go to and the sleepover at her girlfriends (didn't happen; we brought her home). She finally broke after sitting there for 8 hours over night and she was grounded for the rest of the summer, but she got the message.

My parenting style and lifestyle has been endlessly criticised by everyone in my family and yet, my kids are doing wonderfully.

As for my dad, I think I must be moving into a new stage of mourning. I miss him but lately, I've become angry that I cannot sit him down and say "LOOK!" Look at what's going on! I'm the crazy wild kid with all the weird ideas and there are my wonderfully successful, lovely kids out there doing well, making friends, getting on and having a great time doing it and there are the other kids, struggling a bit in some cases and totally lost in others.

I'm the one who was roundly chastised for getting rid of an abusive spouse - because he was a suit and a christian so couldn't possibly do what the police report said he did. No comments were ever made on the drunk, shiftless man my sister dated and who gave her herpes... nor were there ever comments on why her 17 year old was working in a strip club at 17, but my daughter caught shit for discussing her views on censorship. She's against, for the record.

If I could have five minutes with my dad, assuming he is aware of what's really going on, and assuming, as he's dead, that he's been enlightened and can now see everything without bias, I would ask him why he subjected me to a life of slavery; why he could not accept how I did things and why he would never acknowledge that I was actually doing a really good job. And I'd ask him why he was so hard on me when other of my siblings could have used a HUGE tune up! Who lets their 15 year old date a 25 year old???

In a way, I guess it doesn't matter; my kids are my best advertisment: but it still stings and aches and I've always had a difficult time making friends out of the people who are in authority in my world - or at least until about 2 years ago.

About Fathers and Dads, nearly any man can father a child - too many do. It takes one hell of a man to be a dad. See Will Smith above for reference. If there was a law that stipulated that any man who fathers (not including sperm donors- the real kind), must also commit to being a dad and a dad that raises his kids, not forces them to grow up according to his rules. My Step dad was that man.

Learn from your kids!

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