As a father, what did I change?

OK, Its Father’s Day 2013. I’m thinking about how my time as a father has been effected by my own father. When I think about time spent with my father, there wasn’t much of it. We played backgammon fairly often in his den. He called it by it’s middle eastern name, shesh-besh. We also played gin, the 11 card version with knocking, which he was very good at! And we played Shut-out, a game involving dice, and tabs with numbers on them. He was a good game player, and I became quite good at all these games as well. Sadly, my daughters don’t enjoy playing games like these, perhaps that is my fault, I could never interest them in playing gin or backgammon, which makes me miss those games with my father even more.

I have some fond memories with my Dad. One day he took me fresh water fishing a few hours from home. On the way we picked up a bucket filled with live bait minnows, which we placed on the floor of the back seat of the Cadillac Eldorado. Unfortunately, my father failed to see a set of raised railroad tracks, which came quickly and had a significant incline, so at 60 mph the car flew airborne over the railroad tracks, hit the other side and bounced several times before the shuddering stopped. All the little minnows went flying all over the expensive car. Funny, I don’t even remember fishing at all, all I remember is the flying fish!

Another time he took me on a major deep sea fishing trip on a private boat in Baha, Mexico. We went 20 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, and caught Sail Fish, Shark, Dorado (Mai Mai), and Trigger Fish. The boat captain cooked fresh Mai Mai for dinner, and it was delicious. We stayed on the boat for several days. I only weighed 80 lbs but the sail fish I caught weighed 90 lbs! I fought 3 hours to land that fish. That’s a memory with my father that I will never forget.

There were car vacations to the beaches of Florida, which were fun, but other than that, there wasn’t a lot of daily time spent with my Dad. We didn’t play ball, fix cars, or do much with sports. He worked a lot of hours. However, dining out was his big deal, so I remember going to many of his favorite restaurants. When I moved to Tampa, if he visited we always took him to the Columbia in Ybor, where he loved the Garbanzo Bean Soup, Paella, watching the Spanish Flamenco Dance show, and he always ordered flan at the end. The funny thing is, after my father passed away, I had a dream in which he came to me, and told me he really missed the flan. I think that was his way of saying he missed being together and enjoying a good evening out. Or maybe it was my way of saying I missed taking him out and seeing him enjoy himself. Or maybe it was both.

My father worked long hours. He worked so many hours and travelled so much that we didn’t spend crucial time together. When he was home, he always focused on my school grades, which were not my strength. I was quite bored with school until I entered college. As I grew older, our value systems differed more and more and we grew farther and farther apart. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with cancer that we realized what we had missed and we rekindled our relationship. Knowing he had 6 months to live, our visits and phone calls patched up the rough spots, and we reaffirmed how much we cared about each other. He saved his best stories about his life until the end. He loved telling about the time he solved a business problem for Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. His absolute favorite was how he successfully obstructed the construction of a factory in Mississippi upon discovering that they were violating a contract by putting in segregated restrooms, drinking fountains and lunch areas. In the end, they agreed to remove the segregated areas and make everything desegregated, and in Mississippi in the 1970s that was still considered a rare accomplishment for civil rights. I always wondered why he didn’t share those terrific stories until it was almost too late. I would have enjoyed listening to them when I was younger.

In my own life, as a father, I tell the stories to my kids while they can enjoy them, and I’ve done a few other things differently. I have two wonderful daughters, one in college, one in high school. They are the treasure of my life. I absolutely love them to no end, and always hope for the best for each of them.

One thing I did differently was to never show my children their school grades, at least not when they were in elementary school. Both of them turned out to be fine students despite getting bad grades when they were younger. I simply didn’t care what their grades were, I wanted to know what they had learned, and I was always curious to know whether they enjoy learning it? I treated school as an opportunity to enjoy learning, make friends, and do activities, rather than as a stressful place to compete for grades. When my children came home from school I asked what they did on the playground, did they get a good long recess, who they played with, and what was the most fun to learn that day. In fact, the older daughter thought children weren’t allowed to see report cards. Personally, I believe thats how it should be. My daughters both started out with less than stellar grades in elementary school, a few rough spots in middle school, and once in a while a bump in the road in high school. They survived it. We didn’t focus on grades. We focused on their talents and strengths. They both became great students. The older one earned a nice academic scholarship to a top ranked university. The younger one has been on the high honor roll taking AP and honors classes.

After going off to college, my eldest called me to thank me for never focusing on her grades, that it was one of the greatest gifts I had ever given her. She realized that other students didn’t have that time period of being unconcerned with grades. I recommend this gift to all parents, it is something you can give your children.

One area I want to do better in is spending more quality time with both my children, even as they get older. One of the things we love is horses. It’s an interest I share with my daughters. We also like camping. It’s been a while on both of those activities. So today, on Father’s Day, I feel inclined to plan more camping, horse riding, a few more day trips to the beach, and perhaps a few board or card games if I can convince my daughters to try them!

Is there something you do different with your children?

Happy Father’s Day to all of you!

3 thoughts on “As a father, what did I change?

  1. Jonathan,
    I enjoyed reading your Father Day Memories, and it certainly brought back many fond memories for me. I like your fathering approach and your love for your children. I too often think about your Dad and visit his grave every time I go to visit Sam, and so does my son Jack. Have a good day and send me an email!
    Fondly, Lici

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