A Final Thought: Father's Day


By Mitch Allen

When I was a kid, my father taught me how to clean a fish and shuck an oyster, how to sharpen a pocketknife and a lawnmower blade, and how to change the oil in a Buick. He taught me how to throw a football in a perfect spiral and smoke a pork butt using hickory nuts.

On Father’s Day, we celebrated him with new socks and underwear (he didn’t wear a tie often) and funny greeting cards about bourbon whiskey or leather recliners.

In those days—the late-1960s—the rules for being a dad were simple: be strong, be present and be kind in your discipline (to the extent that is possible).

I cannot imagine being a father to a young boy these days. What do you teach him? 

Fishing is unsustainable; oysters can make you sick; there are many places where you cannot even carry a pocketknife; it’s difficult to dispose of used motor oil properly; football can increase the risk of dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE); and eating a pig is arguably both unhealthy and cruel.

When I look at my grandsons—now ages 2 and 3—they live in a different world. They can pick up a smart phone and Facetime with me instantly or open the apps and play games for hours, endlessly pressing and swiping their tiny fingers on the screen. And my sons-in-law have different rules about gender roles. They cook dinner and do laundry and watch the kids as much or more than do my daughters, who, by the way have no problem asking me to ditch work and babysit. If I would have asked my father to skip work and babysit my kids, he would have looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon (“tlhIngan Hol vIjatlhaHbe’”).

I mentioned this idea to a friend recently, and she replied, “Too bad you never asked your father to stay home from work and babysit. It’s sad you never gave him that chance. Look what he missed out on.”

I never thought about it like that.

When young people ask me for parenting advice, I usually say, don’t worry about it. Just be yourself. Our children rarely listen to us anyway, but they never fail to imitate us. So, teach your kids by example. Just be the person you want them to be.

Years ago—when my daughters were in their early teens—it dawned on me that their expectations of how men should treat them were going to be largely driven by how I treat them and their mother. At that moment, I started being more gentlemanly, including opening the car doors for my wife and daughters every time we went for a ride. 

Soon, though, that seemed a bit sexist, so I started opening the car door for all of my passengers regardless of their gender. No one complained, not even the big, pig-smoking, knife-sharpening, oyster-shucking dudes. They just said thank you.

I had it easy as a father because my wife was the daily disciplinarian and I stepped in only for the big stuff—like makeup, mini-skirts, boys, cars, and dance clubs. 

When I was a young father, the new parenting rule was simple: 

“The best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.” 

I lived that advice, but I admit it was a bit of a copout. Did it mean that I didn’t have to do the laundry?

But I did do the laundry—sometimes—including the day I found a tiny slingshot in the hamper, only it wasn’t a slingshot.

It was a red thong. 

In that moment I recalled my own father’s favorite advice: 

“Never trouble trouble ‘til trouble troubles you.”

So I washed it, folded it—and kept my mouth shut.


Categories: Smart Living