Sunday, July 5, 2009

Interviewing dad = forever memories

6/17/09 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Father’s Day was created for that guy most of us call ‘Dad.’ It’s a time for kids (and mom!) to show appreciation for the fellow who regularly goes off to work every morning and comes home dog-tired every night. The guy who still musters up the energy to throw a ball in the backyard, give the baby a bath or help with the dishes. Dads are often men of few words. They come into this fatherhood business as rank amateurs. The care and feeding of children was not on their high school class curriculum. Fatherhood? They’re mostly clueless going into the whole thing. Actually, most parents are scared spitless when that first baby arrives. But moms usually get lots of advice from their girl friends. They read books, take classes, and listen to other mothers’ advice to ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that.’ They bond over breast-feeding and potty training tips. Phone numbers are exchanged as perfect strangers say, “Call me if you need me.” Dads … not so much! Guys slap one another on the back, smoke a cigar and silently wonder how in the world they’re going to take care of this tiny bundle that just arrived. Confidence in parenting is not their strong suit. It comes slowly and is different from mom’s natural maternal instincts. Males are cut from another cloth and their learning curve is often pretty steep about this fatherhood business. Sometimes dads seem pretty humorless. They kick the toys off the driveway and grumble as they walk in the door about how messy the kids are. He’s often yelling at the dog chewing on his favorite slippers when his mother-in-law calls. Not to worry. Chaos is normal and so is dad. They both take some getting used to. Most dads would rather demonstrate their love than verbalize it. Unbeknownst to them, they show their kids how to live in the ups and downs of life. As they work out the kinks in their own lives, their actions and attitudes are teaching kids lessons of which neither are aware. Showing up for a ballet recital is an act of love. Praising a lopsided, unidentifiable lump of clay as “a work of art” is a lesson in diplomacy. Hugging the kid that just ruined a treasured collection of 1970s baseball cards demonstrates forgiveness. And calmly listening to the neighborhood kids apologize for breaking a car window during their baseball game models respect. Kids learn a lot from dads who don’t say much. Moms talk about anything and everything — all the time. Kids tune them out. Dads just do stuff. They don’t even know their kids are watching them. Looking up to them. Hoping to someday be just like them. My dad was a good dad and I loved him deeply. He has been gone for many years and I miss him. Looking back, I think that all of us kids took him for granted. We especially took it for granted that we would always have him with us. And now I have so many questions that I wished I had asked him. Many years ago my sons interviewed their two grandfathers for a class project in the 8th grade. They recorded their answers on a small cassette player. The grandfathers were pleased to be asked about their ancestors, childhoods, hopes and dreams. Jeff and John were enlightened and amazed at some of answers to their questions. How about you? Do you really know your dad or granddad? Now is the time to ask him the questions in your heart. Tomorrow may be too late. Here are a few basic questions to jumpstart a conversation. Pretend like you’re a reporter. Do whatever it takes to get a dialog going. You won’t be sorry.
Father’s Day Questionnaire
What is your birth date? (You’re how old?!) What state were you born in? (Where’s that?) What did your dad and mom do for a living? Were you rich or poor or ‘just right’? Name the places you have lived. When you were in elementary school … a. What town was it in? b. Did you like school? c. Why or why not? d. What was your favorite subject? e. At recess what games did you play? f. Did you have homework? g. Who was your first girlfriend? h. Who was your best friend? At home … a. Did you have to do chores? b. What were they? c. What games did you play? d. Did your family go to church or a place of worship? e. Where did you go on vacations? Did you graduate from high school? Did you go to college or a trade school? Where did you meet my mom? Did you kiss her on your first date? What was your first job? How many jobs have you had? What was your favorite job? What is your favorite fun thing to do? If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go? What was your first car? (What’s that?) If you could buy any car in the world, what would it be? What was the best time of your life? If you could live your life over again would you change anything? Do you have any advice for me? (That question will blow his mind!) Dads are a wonderful resource. Help him feel loved and appreciated. Show some interest in him as an individual. Discuss important subjects. Go for a walk. Laugh together. Take time to listen to his stories about old times. Give him a hug. You’ll be glad that you did.
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her via e-mail —

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