A six-pack of advice to fathers with adult children
My father wasn’t one for giving advice. Maybe, that’s because I usually ignored it. He did, however, give me this gem shortly after he retired 30-and-out at Champion Spark Plug. I had asked him why, when he was younger, he didn’t pursue higher education, which he would have liked to do even though he didn’t attend high school.
He responded, “I had to take care of the nest.”
That meant he needed a good-paying factory job to support a large family. It also meant he needed enough time to learn how to build a house and more time to build the house and later still more time to add on to it to accommodate seven children. It also meant he had to learn how to repair cars, washing machines, televisions and anything else we now hire experts to do. He did this, in part, to send all of us to Parochial school.
His words stuck with me and I have taken seriously my job of “taking care of the nest.” I have been a father for 31 years, but, unlike my Dad, I’ve given my children more advice than they’ve wanted to hear.
I can’t say I know more about fatherhood than the next guy and I don’t pretend the advice I’ve given in this column to young fathers at Father’s Day is beyond criticism. But, I do have three adult children who have jobs, who have kept their names out of the police blotter and who still choose to spend time with me after they’ve raided the refrigerator. That counts for something, so take this six-pack of tips in the spirit it’s given—from one man still working at fatherhood to those of you with soon-to-be adult children.
1) Just don’t do it: As much as you’re tempted don’t give unsolicited advice. Those days are over. If you’ve done your job, they’ve heard half of what you’ve told them and heeded a quarter of that. Hopefully, you’ve allowed them enough space while they were growing up to make mistakes and learn from them. Now, it’s their life. Back off. Unless they ask…
2) Give them a shoulder to lean on: They’ll screw themselves and be screwed by others. They’ll lose jobs on their own or through no fault of their own. They’ll be loved and they’ll be left. Be there as you would for a friend. Let them know you know they are hurting and you are there for them when they want to lean on you.
3) Beware bail outs: You are not the government. Your days as the family bank are over. Everyone looks for the easy way out. This is human nature. But, by giving or loaning them money when they are in trouble, you deter them from taking the necessary steps to get their finances straight. Like take a job beneath their dignity, or a second job, or sell some possessions, or go without. Choose wisely the emergencies for which you offer a bail out.
4) Maintain traditions: You don’t have to hide Easter eggs anymore, but there is no better way to reconnect with your adult children than to relive the traditions you shared when they were young. Have cake and ice cream around their birthday and invite their siblings. Go out to dinner at a restaurant you took them to when their eyes were wide and food was an adventure. Go to a ball game or a favorite park.
5) Don’t judge the S.O.: Maybe your son’s significant other doesn’t have a tattoo, a nose ring or a stud in her tongue. Don’t hold that against her, or him. Be tolerant and supportive. Remember the generation gap and how your physical appearance help build the barrier between you and your in-laws?
6) Expand your horizons: Show an interest in their music, hobbies and passions. If they invite you, go, if it’s safe and you can face yourself in the mirror. Adult children provide an opportunity to expand your horizons while walking on their path. But remember you are out with adults, not kids. Treat them like you would your friends.
And, to all you Dads who make a hard job look easy because it looks like you’re playing or doing nothing, Happy Father’s Day.