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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 the following technical communication topics: Swagger, agile, trends, learning, plain language, quick reference guides, tech comm careers, and certificate programs. I'm interested in information design, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture and findability, 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. You can also contact me with questions.