I am wired to find a sense of purpose. I like to have a reason behind the things that I do. I like having the delusion that I’m here for a reason and am making things better.
I want the same for my kids. Not because they’re entitled to it or because I think they’re here to fulfill some grand plan. What I really want for them is to have a why.
If you’re unfamiliar with Simon Sinek TED talk you should take 20 minutes and watch it.
If you’re too lazy (no judgment), then here’s a breakdown.
Most people know what they do. Less people know how they do it. Even less have a reason why they do what they do.
That sense of purpose, drive, ambition and excellence…I want to instill that in my children.
Over the last few years I studied masculinity and the role it plays in society. In that course of study I came across rites of passages that clearly define when a boy becomes a man.
Here’s a great writeup about masculine rites of passage.
On the surface these appear to be tests and social proof of machismo. To a certain degree they are. I can’t put them in a “those ancient cultures didn’t know what they were talking about” category. They’ve existed for too long and I think that’s giving modern society too much credit.
Instead, I think they were ways to give permission and approval.
I have spent most of life looking for approval to do things. The reality is that I don’t need permission to do anything, I’m an adult. But when did that transition happen?
It could be anything or any time. As I reflect back on all the things that I did, none of them stand out as a clear transition of control into my hands.
The problem is that society is made of asking for permission for everything. The reason for this is to provide safety for children. Which I get. But when there isn’t a transition out of that “asking for permission” phase then we get finger pointing, and entitlement.
The safety net becomes a crutch.
Perhaps I’m projecting my own experience. I am still trying to get over my finger pointing and sense of entitlement.
This last weekend my son turned 8. For Mormons this is the age of accountability. I think it’s a good beginning of this transition into manhood, or adulthood (I plan on doing the same thing with my daughter).
I wanted to give him a sense of transition, that things are going to be different, that he has more responsibilities. For the time being it is my job to take care of him, but I won’t always be around. Eventually he’s going to have to take care of himself, and then a family of his own.
I also wanted to attach this concept to something physical. One of the benefits of these ancient rituals is that they have a physical component they aren’t just something that is intellectualized.
For his 8th birthday I made him this:
It’s a monkey fist made out of paracord.
This knot was used by mariners to help dock a ship or bring two ships together in open waters. One end of the rope was attached to the ship and the knotted end could be thrown ashore. The ship could then be pulled in.
I explained to my son that being 8 is a big deal. That he needs to start doing things on his own. He needs to start making his own choices.
Sometimes making those choices is hard because he doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be. This knot represents a safety net. That I would always be there to help bring him ashore. This was our lifeline and connection. He’ll be on his own, until he needs help.
Now it’s up to me to start giving the freedom to make his own choices and deal with the consequences (within reason of course).
To add a little drama to the whole event I woke him up at 5:30 in the morning told him to get dressed as quickly and as quietly as he could and meet me downstairs. I didn’t answer any of his questions.
We drove up the canyon to watch the sun rise and I gave them the knot. Then we went for breakfast.
If you’re interested in the making one this is the best diagram I found:
The event had the impact that I wanted. But events don’t mean anything unless the context has changed and there is appropriate follow up.
That’s where the real work begins. Either way I am excited about the steps we’ve taken.
How do you pass on to your kids a sense of responsibility and accountability?
Parenting is Rough
Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s way harder than marriage. Not that marriage isn’t hard but, I know that Jocelyn is an adult and can take of herself. My kids are just kids.
I’ve had a couple experiences with my son the last couple of weeks that have re-solidified the importance of my role as a dad. I’ve written about it before and will likely write about it again.
On Tuesdays and Thursday I pick Emerson up from Karate, while Jocelyn is up with Norah at swim lessons. For about twenty minutes it’s just the two of us at home. I start dinner, he changes out of his gi and we talk. Until the ladies get home.
Emerson has mentioned how much he enjoys the time with just the two of us. Even though we don’t really do anything.
On one particular day he was very excited about it just being the two of us. While he was changing out of his gi the garage door opened. Immediately he burst into tears. Upset that he didn’t get to enjoy our time together.
I didn’t know what to do. It’s impossible for me to know what’s important to him. Once I find out, I want to make sure that he knows that I know that it’s important to. I try to make it a priority.
I am guessing, like his mom, that his love language is quality time.
A week of so later during this same time we got to talking. Emerson said to me, “I wish I didn’t have to go to school so that I could spend all my time with you.”
In not one of my prouder moments I responded with something like, “Why? I don’t want to spend all my time with you.”
Hopefully my memory is much worse than it was. I do remember that Emerson’s response was very questioning. He wanted to know why.
It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with him. I know that he doesn’t want to spend all of his time with me. He just wants to build a relationship.
I scrambled trying to justify my answer with having to go do work, and make money, which is really just an excuse. I did say that I loved to spend time with him and that I always look forward to the time we spend together.
We moved passed the moment and I am sure that I thought about it a lot more than he did. At least I hope that I thought about it a lot more than he did.
When something like that comes out of my mouth it has to come from somewhere and so I tried to figure out where it came from (I know big surprise). It’s always difficult to discover things about myself that I didn’t expect or that I don’t necessarily like.
I love being a family man. I love being a dad. So why didn’t I say, “I wish I could stay home all the time too.”?
Because I don’t want to stay home all the time. I also love what I do. I love being involved with something bigger than myself. I love working on creative projects that stretch me. I love helping students go to college.
My involvement with those things isn’t bad. Where I think that involvement has the ability to wreck my relationship with my kids is when I fail to acknowledge it. When I pretend to be something that I’m not because I lack self-awareness.
Like anything that is good there is a dark side too. In order for me to have self-awareness I have to see the things I don’t like:
I am reactionary and impatient
I don’t always say what’s on my mind
I can be passive aggressive
I can come across as unsympathetic and uncaring
I have a hard time joking
Those are just some of things that I struggle with. On the reverse side of those coins:
I love just about everyone
I am always willing to forgive and forget
I can pretend with the best of them
I will support anything that you want to do or accomplish
I will apologize when I’ve made a mistake and do my best to correct it
I want my kids to be better than me. In many cases they are. I know that I am providing an example whether I love the example I am setting or not.
After many parenting foibles I hope that my example places them in reality. That when they see me they see me for what I am.
I’m a dude that makes mistakes, tries his best, and corrects the wrongs he makes. At the end of the day that’s all I can hope to be. I hope that’s what they see, and ultimately become.
I talked specifically about my son in this post. He is the most vocal. He takes after Jocelyn. Norah, in this regard is like me, just goes with the flow and keeps things inside. The struggle is getting her to open up and talk about things.
My hope is the same for both of them.