Rudy spent two days camping with his father last month and then a day with him on bring-your-son-to-work day. The special days didn't include detailed plans, but Rudy remembers a lot about them. Those of us who went to work with our fathers have a special place for that memory.
Rudy told his teacher about it: "Dad's a dispatcher. He says you have to be careful to get it right and to get along with the other people."
Although it was not a spectacular event, Rudy remembers nearly all the details of his day at Dad's work, and the influence of his dad is strong. Rudy's father probably did not intend to teach Rudy anything specific, but during his time with Rudy he was sharing his values and his example.
Rudy's mother has an impact also. Possibly in this case her influence will be underestimated because she is with Rudy a great deal, and the influence is subtle and obscured at times by less pleasant but necessary interactions. Along with the dispositions and attitudes of other adults, teachers and coaches, his parents add to the collection of values Rudy encounters that dominate his attitude as he grows up.
How are you handling this important aspect of character-building? Here's a checklist for parents:
- Are you more often the encourager or the critic? It is tempting to react to the mistakes of others and forget to recognize the other person's successes? The father who chooses the role of encourager improves the family atmosphere and has a closer relationship with his kids. The critic builds distance and an unhappy family situation.
- Are you available to listen or more often in a hurry and distracted? There's more to conversation than just what is said. It sends many messages, including how much one person values the other. Chances to be close to a child or especially a teen are missed when a father is overly talkative about his concerns or silently aloof when his son or daughter has the airways. An available parent will be blessed with available children.
- Are you more often a model of cooperation or competition? Fathers have usually experienced a competitive world and want to provide their children with a strong spirit for success. Yet Rudy's busy father emphasized cooperation so that Rudy would have a social life to enjoy as well as things to possess.
- Are you more often a parent with time available for your kids or a parent with other priorities? The priorities of love are best assessed not by words but by how you share your time.
What values do you want to model for your son, daughter, or student? Try keeping a diary for two weeks to note how you spend your time with your child or teen. What values do you think will come through? How do you model those values? How does the checklist above measure up in your diary?
John F. Kennedy often thought of his older brother Joe as a father-model. In his teenage years he wrote: "If the Kennedy children ever amount to anything it will be due more to Joe's behavior and his constant example than any other factor."
Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.