May 7, 2012

"I'm Telling You For The Last Time..."

Traveling cross-country, we rolled into a Holiday Inn “Holidome” on an endless stretch of interstate somewhere in Kentucky.  I’m sure Holidomes seemed like a good idea when the genius marketing guys first came up with it.  “The entire family can play, refresh, and relax in an indoor pool playground just feet from their hotel room.”

In reality, the cavernous pool enclosure in an echo chamber magnifying the sound of eight year olds squealing for hours on end while weary travelers try desperately to get just enough sleep to not be road hazards behind the wheel the next morning.  Not one of America’s better ideas.

Nonetheless, around 8pm, I accompanied our three oldest young boys to pool.  The boys played enthusiastically while I urged them repeatedly to not make whole lot of noise.  Finally, I called the boys over to me and began a Socratic dialogue that went something like this.

Me: Hey guys, I want to talk to you about why I’m asking you to keep from getting too loud.  Look around.  Tell me, where we are? Boys: In a hotel, Dad. (Duh! is implied here.)
Me: And who is in all these rooms?
Boys: (incredulously) People.
Me: That’s right. Do they live here?
Boys: No. They drove here like us.
Me: And what will they do tomorrow?
Boys: Drive some more.
Me: And they are not out here in the pool playing, so what are they doing in their rooms?
Boys: Sleeping?
Me: Yes, sleeping or just trying to relax after driving all day and before driving a lot more tomorrow.  And that’s why, I want you to play as hard as you want, but just don’t yell out, because, if it was me inside one of those rooms (and oh, I desperately wish I were right now), the noise from the pool would make it hard to rest.

Now, here’s the rest of the story.  In Kentucky, all hotel pools are required to have a lifeguard on duty whenever the pool is open.  Even though we were the only family in the pool that evening, the lifeguard dutifully looked after our souls.  The lifeguard also clearly heard my entire discussion with the boys.  When the boys went back to splashing around, the lifeguard said to me, “I’ve never heard anyone explain that before.”

That’s a sad truth.  As parents, we get caught up in the moment and trying to herd cats… I mean children by barking instructions or commands.  I frequently talk about doing the “heavy lifting” of being a dad.  This is exactly what I mean.  Sometimes, it takes a whole lot more work to explain a principle than simply command a practice.  

Telling a child what to do is a lot like “giving a man a fish” – it only lasts for the moment.  When my kids are outside the considerable range of my voice, I still want them to be good citizens who are in the habit of regarding the well-being of others.  To do that, I have to shape their conscience more than guide their feet and guard the tongues.

I want to add one more scene to this story, the last one I’ll post before Mother’s Day this year.  While I did the “heavy lifting” of splashing in a pool with three boys, my dear wife tended to our one-year old with croup.  She’d alternate between holding him in front of the air conditioner blast and standing in a steamy shower with him.  She did this for hours until both mother and child fell asleep from exhaustion. 

Mommas never grow weary
of napping with da bubbas.
Dads, every day is Mother’s Day.  When it comes to sacrificially nurturing children, my experience is that a sane and healthy mother will do more in a single day than most dads do in a week… maybe more like a month.  

Do some real heavy lifting this week.  Have your own Socratic seminar with your children about how precious Mom is and brainstorm ways to truly celebrate her.  Teaching your children to honor their mother is the greatest thing a dad can do.  That’s why… It’s Good To Be The Dad.  

Clark H Smith