Thursday, July 27, 2006

Small Talk Topics to Avoid

Making small talk with someone can be revealing and enlightening. Certainly, one can learn to appreciate different ways of thinking. While waiting for a meeting to assemble, I became involved in typical workplace small-talk. It’s raining buckets here today, so that was an easy minute and a half. After that, we lost all contact with common ground.
I was talking with a man I’ve known for a while, but not very well. He’s the guy you see in the hall or grab a quick cup of coffee with in mid-afternoon. We started talking about sports and the conversation naturally turned to the upcoming Monday Night Football preseason game between the Saints and the Cowboys in Shreveport. I asked him if he plans to go. He said, “I won’t pay money to watch pro football as long as I can watch it on my TV.” Okay, then. I thought my head would explode.
I’ve had conversations like this in Shreveport over a long period of time. This attitude seems to prevail. It’s confounding and disappointing. This football game should be one of the biggest events this city has seen. We will be showcased on national television. This can send a message that this city is dynamic enough to pull off and support an event of this magnitude. But, no: we’re still fifteen thousand tickets short of a sellout. The man who made the comment works less than three-quarters of a mile from the stadium. He literally will not go across the street to watch this football game. It’s important to know that he considers himself to be a sports fan. He won’t support pro football because he says the players make too much money for playing a game. I did not break out my soap box, though. We moved on.
He asked the generic, “So, what’s been going on in your world?” I said, “Working and herding teenagers.” He has a daughter one year young than mine, so there. We had something to discuss. I said something about how scary it is to be raising teenagers and how much trouble they can get into if you don’t teach them well and monitor their activities. He said, “People tell me I’m strict with my daughter. Hell, yeah. If she was a boy I’d be whipping her ass every day. But, she’s a girl and you have to treat girls and boys differently.” Hold on. He’s not smiling. Keep in mind, he’s talking to a guy who’s reluctant to make his son get a haircut, and he’s talking about daily ass-whippings. I got a little uncomfortable. Then, he said his daughter won’t be allowed to wear make-up until she’s sixteen and that she knows she can’t associate with boys and that she’ll be allowed to go on supervised dates when she’s sixteen. I just laughed at my own obvious parental shortcomings.
Maybe I’m na├»ve, but I’ve told my kids that trust is theirs to lose. I’ve told them that I believe they will do the right thing and make good decisions. They have not always done that. When they have slipped up, there have been noteworthy consequences. I believe, however, that they have been honest with us about their lapses in judgment. Recently, someone who strongly disagrees with my way of thinking raised her voice and said, “Stop trying to be their friend and be their f*^@ing father!” I refuse to believe that being a father involves “ass whipping” and making your children miserable.
Except for the hair, which is a fight not worth the energy, our kids are held to standards academically, socially and behaviorally. They know it and with a couple of exceptions along the way, they have lived up to those standards and expectations. When they have fallen short, they have paid a price. We have presented our children with a wealth of opportunities for personal growth. They have embraced some and rejected others. That’s part of growing and learning. I want to encourage my kids to express themselves and live life. I don’t want to shackle and repress them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve resisted being shoved into a mold.
I love my kids for the people they are, for the people they are becoming. I respect them because they are smart enough to make choices with guidance from their parents and grandparents. I also understand they are kids who need parenting. They will make mistakes. They’ve made their share, but they’ve owned up to them. So many of my kids’ friends run and hide from their parents, it saddens me. I hope the other moms and dads out there know how their kids feel about them. Maybe they’re proud of it. Maybe it’s part of “being their f*^@ing father.” That’s not the way I see it. My daughter’s in high school now and she can wear make-up. My son can grow his hair down to his rear end, as far as I’m concerned. I would prefer it if he would wear polo shirts and khakis and have his hair short and parted on the side. But, that’s not who he is. Maybe that’s who he will be some day. I don’t think wearing make-up sends any kind of negative message about my daughter. In fact, if she didn’t, she would stand out in a negative way.
We get along. We have open discussions about fears, disappointments and frustrations. We preach responsibility and accountability. We talk about manners, academic achievement, and honoring your family. We hope we are raising well-adjusted young people who will be happy, productive adults and we’re not using physical intimidation to do it. That’s our way, the parenting path we’ve chosen.
I’ve learned along the way that there are certain things you don’t discuss at polite dinner parties or during workplace small talk: Abortion, public school/ private school, and now parenting philosophies. There’s too much tension, too much emotion involved. It’s too personal. If daily ass whippings work for you, well I don’t live in your house. What else can I say? It’s really none of my business.
Let’s get back to sports. There are plenty of good seats still available for that Monday Night Football game.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! It sounds like you both are doing a fabulous job with the kids! (and I'm sure I would hear from the "old moms network" if you weren't!!)