Though I still feel and act like a child, I guess I would consider myself a dad. My kids are going on 0, 2, 4, and 6, so that gives me like 12 combined years of experience raising infants and toddlers. I can change a mean diaper. I can also impress my kids by jumping over a fire hydrant. But as they get older I’ll have to think of newer, better ways to convince them that I’m cool, and worth listening to.
In high school I taught gymnastics to preschoolers every afternoon. As with my own kids, I could get their attention and get them to try a new trick by doing it myself and making some kind of rocket laser-beam noise as I went. Then, I started working with 6-year-olds. To keep them from poking each other to death, especially toward the end of class, I had to do an occasional back-flip.
Finally, my senior year I taught 12-yr-olds, boys, who didn’t actually want to be there. No trick was cool enough. But, I think they learned to listen and to trust me when I said things like “keep trying, you can do it,” or “leave him alone or I’ll pull your ear off,” once I told them about my dirtbike wrecks and recent paintball battles. Once I established my kid cred, I wasn’t just their teacher or coach, I was in the club.
Unfortunately, parents and kids often establish separate clubs – the old fogies and the little whippersnappers, each having its own definition of what’s cool. So, we never really understand our parents, and what they did for us, until we put on their shoes – the parent shoes. In a similar way, we might not understand how cool they were, looking back, until later, when we redefine the term to include “makes ridiculous sacrifices for ungrateful brats.” But this isn’t about appearing cool after the fact, as important as that may be. It’s about being cool during the fact, and getting in the kid club while it still exists. Actually, it’s about my dad, and the outdoors.
The outdoors bring the fogies and the whippersnappers together like nothing else can. With dirt, sticks, rocks, bugs, and creeks the activities and the adventures are unlimited. As kids get older, they might need some encouragement and some structure, some equipment or something motorized. But, regardless of age, playing outside is the coolest of family activities – there’s no better context for establishing our kid cred. We’ve got to find something that our kids think is cool, learn to do it, and share it with them.
And so, with father’s day approaching, I want to highlight, and thank, my dad, for mastering this principle of parenting – for our monthly trips to the beach, or into the Sierra Nevadas, hiking, camping, and exploring; for road trips to Yellowstone, Banff, Glacier, Zion’s, the Grand Canyon, and everywhere in between; for teaching me to dirtbike and for still being faster and getting more air; and, most importantly, for being someone I’ve always looked up to. You’ll always have cred on my street.