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Seeing the World in Clearer, Simpler Ways

Jun 22, 2009 • creativity, general

Last Sunday we celebrated Father's Day. I don't know if this is a global holiday, or if it's just a U.S. holiday, but reading an article in the Father's Day edition from the New York Times made me think about my role as a father.

I am a lot of different things to different people. To some, I'm a blogger and podcaster. To others, I'm an employee and team member. To others, I'm a church member and scout leader. To others, a basketball player. To others, a friend. To my wife, a husband. But to three young girls, I'm a dad.

In the NY Times article, Michael Winerip explains that some years ago, he was putting in 11 hour days with a 2.5 hour daily commute. When he finally arrived home in the evenings, his children would catch just a glimpse of their father before bedtime. Winerip was upset about missing his kids grow up. And his wife felt like her career was suffering due to being off track as a stay-at-home mother. So they switched, and he became the stay-at-home parent to raise their children while she worked.

A while back I wrote about this dilemma in my post Telecommuting into Nonexistent Worlds. If my wife suddenly wanted to work outside the home and could support us, I would trade roles in an instant. But things being as they are, that reversal probably won't happen anytime soon.

But that doesn't mean that, as a father, I can't get more involved in my kids' lives. Winerip says the great barometer of parental involvement is whether you plan your kids' birthdays or whether you just help out.

A few weeks ago, I had a memorable conversation with my eight-year-old daughter (Sally on Jane's blog). Shannon was upset with me for having skipped her brother-in-law's graduation, and for a few days I was in the metaphorical doghouse that all husbands are sometimes placed in.

In the doghouse, I spent a couple of evenings at the park with the kids. One night, I was sitting on a grassy knoll next to Sally watching baseball (the other kids were rolling on the hill), and I started to ask Sally her opinion on a range of dilemmas I was facing, everything from how to get out of the doghouse to whether I should keep doing WordPress consulting to whether I should attend a certain event I didn't want to attend. I had a lot on my mind that day and decided to do a role reversal: rather than be the parent always giving advice, I asked advice from Sally.

To my surprise, she had solid advice for every question I asked her. It caught me off guard at first. She was really smart. What I thought was complicated, she stripped down to the basic question in a few seconds and told me what to do. The wisdom of a child. The questions weren't complicated to her; she didn't deliberate about the dilemmas and weigh pros and cons of each option. They seemed like such simple decisions to her. She even laughed a few times while giving me answers.

In a way I'm grateful for being in the doghouse those evenings, because it changed how I acted as a parent. I still continue to ask Sally for her advice. For example, after I wrote a draft of my Lifelines to the STC post, I felt uneasy about it. The original version was quite a bit more negative. I asked Sally if I should publish it. She asked me if the STC was something I wanted to continue or something I wished would end. If I wanted it to continue, she said I should soften my post. I ended up rethinking some of my points and softening the post, and I'm glad I did. Thank you, Sally!

After this role reversal experience, I feel more respect for my children. They aren't just little people needing my full attention and parenting; they are smart little people who see the world in clearer, simpler ways. I don't know if I ever possessed the same uncanny commonsense when I was a child, but if I did, it's something I would like to regain. Perhaps this is one reward for being a father—having the gift of children to show you what you lost.


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.