Being a stay at home dad means I do things differently, in many ways, than my wife would chose to do them. That means my kids will have a different, but not better, experience being with me all the time than they would with my wife. These differences manifest themselves in all sorts of ways. Everyday chores get done differently and their education is centered around my world view rather than that of their mother. I can’t think and act like a mother any more than my wife can start acting like me. There was a time, when I was new to being a stay-at-home dad, that I tried to emulate the women I knew who were staying with their kids. To a degree that was a good idea. I got some helpful tips and was able to absorb valuable experience through proximity to stay-at-home moms. The more I practiced though, the more confident I became. I eventually gained enough confidence to strike out on my own, to blaze my own path. I couldn’t have done it without learning from the more experienced mom’s. My fathering these days has taken on a life of its own. I am unlike most other stay-at-home dads because, in addition to parenting, I home school. I am also unlike most mothers by virtue of being a man.
No two parents are exactly the same. The advice and experience I expound on this blog may or may not coincide with the values of others. There are many people who disagree with me. A woman friend of mine recently asked me if I knew of activities to do with kids during the day here in Boulder. I said, “Yes, I do,” and I gave her a few things to think about for activities. Judging by the look on her face though, I could tell those were not things she would, in a million years, consider. She was, apparently, looking for museums and parks and regular sorts of things. I was speaking from a more manly perspective. Now, not to be sexist — I know plenty of women who are considerably more manly than me, and I won’t judge if that’s good or bad. But, in terms of parenting, fathers typically do it differently. This all got me thinking of things that fathers like to do with their kids. I’ve heard of father/son activities, and that’s fine because fathers need some alone time with their sons. But, by no means are these activities isolated to only father and son. They can be more accurately described as father/kid activities. The point is spending quality time between father and child, not necessarily mattering if the child is male or female.
Some people take father/son fishing to the extreme. There’s this guy who has decided to fish 50 states in 50 days with his son. I don’t actually fish. My dad took me when I was little and my grandpa also took me. But, I haven’t been fishing in probably 15 years. It’s not something that interests me. That being said I can understand why it is such a bonding experience. The point is not necessarily the act of fishing, it’s what the fishing represents. It represents quiet alone time. Gently paddling a canoe on a misty early morning lake would accomplish the same thing. Fathers occasionally need to be alone with one kid at a time. Out in nature, just sitting, a father and son can communicate without ever talking. Dads like that sort of communication. There is a certain understanding that happens when two people are witnessing the same piece of nature together. My preferred activity to do with my sons is archery. Archery is peaceful and requires concentration. It’s my version of fishing.
Dads like to play catch with their kids for one very good reason. It gives them the chance to teach something to their kids and do something mildly athletic at the same time. It’s an activity much like fishing where all the communication goes without saying. The ball and the gloves do all the talking. A bad throw is obviously a bad throw, and a good one is just that. Kids and dads just tossing a ball back and forth is weirdly relaxing. Throwing a ball is not something that takes any preparation either; it can be done in the few minutes before dinner or on a lunch break. My sister played catch with my dad as much, if not more, than I did. It makes men feel good to do something athletic with their kids.
My dad is good with his hands. He built a house with his dad when he was young, and he build a greenhouse by himself when we were just kids. He’s quite handy. I am not handy. I tried to build a birdhouse with my kids last year and it was a disaster; the worst part is that it came from a kit. Thankfully there are many things to build that don’t require wood and a saw. There’s this article from a father who found peace in building a Legos set with his son. I am not good with brick and mortar or with wood. I am pretty good with computer parts. The time spent showing my kids how things attach to a mother-board is rewarding for me. I get to show them something that is educational for them, something that will serve them later in life, and I get to do it under the pretext of having fun (which it is). Building things is a macho activity regardless of how nerdy the thing being built is.
The more I write the more I’m starting to realize just how lame I am as a manly man. Fixing something usually refers to cars. Again, I’m useless; me and cars have a somewhat contentious relationship. But, like building, it is a time for a father to act out a manly activity and share something private with his kids. There is s stereotype about women being homebodies and men providing. Well, men consider fixing stuff part of providing. It’s almost a cave-man type pride they get when something is all duct taped together and ugly, yet somehow working. It’s sorta like my dog that killed the neighbors cat and brought it to me while I sat on the back porch. Such pride. Yup, fathers need to teach kids how to incorrectly fix things with duct tape and WD-40. That’s about all I can say about that.
Finally, something I’m good at! I can take road trips like crazy. I’m totally freaking awesome at road trips. What’s more, I completely agree that they are excellent family bonding experiences. They aren’t strictly confined to fathers and sons or even fathers and multiple kids. Road trips are a whole family activity. If there is one thing I’m good at, and there might be only one thing, it’s history. I know a lot about US history. Taking road trips gives me a captive audience for my historical ramblings. Granted, I have to shut off the DVD player and confiscate the kids’ Nintendos first. Nevertheless, once I have their attentions, I can ramble on for as long as I like about Lewis and Clark or The Gadsden Purchase or whatever we happen to be driving past. When they grow up they’ll look back on my dreadful speeches with fondness. They’ll tell stories about all the cool things their dad taught them and all the neat and obscure places they visited. No father is complete without hearing, from the back seat, at least once in his life, “Are we there yet?”