In a one-on-one interview, Mac stresses that parenting is not about being best friends with a child. "They coddle them. They lie for them. They co-sign for them. Parents cover for their kids, even when their kids are dead wrong. And that’s where the problems come in," he says. "They always say they want to give their kids more than what they had. But sometimes more is not always better. Teachers quit because they can’t teach these bad kids. Police officers can’t patrol the streets anymore.-Interview with Bernie Mac, Ebony Magazine, June 2003
I was born in 1960. When you are 8 or 9 years old and you look at the TV set, men are landing on the moon, anything’s possible. And that’s something we should not lose sight of, is that the inspiration and the permission to dream is huge.-Randy Pausch, Last Lecture, September 2007
When we started this blog three years ago, I don’t know what I expected it would become. Given we used the URL "babykhaund", the singular term suggests we didn’t expect to still be doing it by kid#2. I suppose it has worked well as an outlet for an engineer/businessman who fancies himself as a closet writer, regardless of what his verbal SAT scores may have indicated (I’ve gotten really good feedback on my writing, so in your face, ETS!). It’s been really enjoyable to share the stories about Iris and now Robyn, but it’s also been a wonderful place to reflect on the enormity of being a parent and the respect you gain for the others who do it so well. In two previous entries, I shared my thoughts on two men who served as great inspirations for fatherhood and were taken from us far too early: Tim Russert and my father-in-law. Along with my own health issues, it seemed like I had reached my quota of tributes and sad entries. But when the world lost two more great fathers, I was definitely moved. And as I had time to reflect on their lives and their paternal responsibilities, I realized that these guys were the two distilled sides of me. They couldn’t be more different from one another, but they both represented exactly how I want Iris and Robyn to see me.
Randy Pausch was an amazing person. He was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon until fate intervened. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that was determined to be terminal after his initial treatments, he delivered quite possibly the most famous lecture of all-time. In it, he shares life-affirming values on how to get the most of what you are given. It’s not religious or even spiritual–just one man who was incredibly grateful for the family and friends he was given and found a unique, powerful way of sharing his positive view back to world–even in the face of a terminal illness that would take it all away. I watched the lecture (it’s on YouTube) a week before my surgery and it had a wonderfully profound effect on me (I didn’t even mind the dig he took at Cornell). Randy fought the disease hard, but finally succumbed to it in July.
Bernie Mac was the man. He could rarely open his mouth without cracking me up. Whether it was his standup act, his TV show, or his roles in the movies, Bernie was as cool as the other side of the pillow. While I loved his act, his TV show was my favorite. The premise was that he and his new wife were forced to take in his crack-addicted sister’s three kids and he was thrust into the role of parent. The continuous exasperation and chess match with the kids was always good for a laugh, especially when he’d open a dialog directly with the audience by talking directly to the camera and the address would usually start with "America, these kids are driving me crazy!" Even as he would come down on them, he did it out of love and concern for their futures. Unfortunately, a fatal case of pneumonia took his life and stunned his legions of fans, myself included.
What did these guys have in common? Well, nothing really. They might quite possibly have been polar opposites. Pausch was born into a loving home with doting parents while Mac was raised by a single mother who passed away when he was 16. Pausch was educated at Brown, got his PhD at Carnegie Mellon, and stayed within the comfortable confines of academia for most of his career. Mac was a high school dropout, working odd jobs and literally performing on the trains in Chicago to try to get his big break. Randy was the poster child of parental permissiveness while Bernie was the king of parental discipline. Randy reflected a squeaky clean image, comparing himself to Tigger, while Bernie got a reprimand from the Obama campaign for overstepping boundaries at a recent fundraiser. So how can I look at these two guys and refer to both by saying "I’d like to be more like him"?
Well, in a nutshell, because these two men were the two sides of fine line that a parent needs to balance. The strategy of parenting isn’t hard, but the execution is very hard. If parenting was only about trips to the museum and hugs and kisses, this would be easy. Meanwhile, if all parenting entailed was saying "no" and denying kids everything, well, I might as well have gotten a job as a prison warden. Doing one but not the other leaves you with a severely screwed up kid (for the record, I’ve met both types of kids and it’s not pretty). Randy encouraged parents to let kids to chase their dreams. Let them write on the walls (I don’t think our landlord would like that one). Let them reach the heights of their imagination. Daring to dream is what lets kids turn into adults that change the world. I don’t think Bernie would’ve disagreed with that. But Bernie basically said you’ve gotta keep on kids, know what they’re doing, and don’t let them feel entitled. Letting them get away with murder not only makes them the parents’ problem, but society’s problem as adults. I don’t think Randy would’ve disagreed with that. But the balancing act is a daily challenge that Cherise and I face everyday with Iris and will soon face with Robyn…
Cherise and I ran into this the week before Robyn was born. We took a family trip down to Monterey for a night. Our thinking was that we could have one last vacation as a trio, enjoy the drive down, spend some time on the beach, and then hit the aquarium in the morning before driving back. Well, all pretty much went according to plan until the morning. Iris was in a horrible mood and being completely uncooperative. She was trying our patience, which isn’t a smart thing to do when one parent is only six weeks removed from open heart surgery and the other parent is eight months pregnant. Still, she would hear what we said and kept ignoring us. This was rare for Iris. What to do? Well, we packed up the car and went home. No aquarium. No fun. Now, on the one hand, this really sucked. All of us had been talking about sharks and jellyfish ad nauseum for the previous week. Deciding to take the trip, our inner Randy was in full effect. Iris has the ability to weave entire stories around ecosystems like aquariums ("There’s Sherman the Shark. He’s nice, but Jerry the Jellyfish isn’t very nice…"). But when she didn’t cooperate, our inner Bernie took over and she lost her opportunity.
That evening was even more interesting. Cherise stepped out, so it was just the two of us at home. Iris and I had a deep heart-to-heart, talking about rules and entitlement. We went over the reasons why we didn’t go to the aquarium and she would continue to miss out on fun things if she didn’t act her age. She learned that she has to behave and show respect and anything less won’t be tolerated. We set ground rules and I explained to her that I expected her to follow them. I explained to her over and over that we love her very much and always will, but we won’t let her get away with acting like a brat–even if it means cutting back on those experiences that will grow her. Opportunities to do things like that are a privilege and can be forfeited if she doesn’t do her part. Cherise and I hated missing the aquarium almost as much as Iris did, but while Monterey will always be there, the opportunity to serve that lesson won’t–or at least it gets harder to serve each time you ignore it.
The current epilogue of the story is that it seems like it may have worked, at least in the short-term (as a parent, you learn humility, including the sense that many victories are short-lived). She’s been pretty much the model child ever since, which was really put to the test with Robyn’s arrival. She still has her moments, but when she is reminded of the rules and consequences, she makes a strong effort to deal with it (as Cherise mentioned in a previous entry, she even uses Yoga–see, we’re still expanding this kid’s horizons). She understands that we when we come down on her, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love her. She knows the rules and when she breaks them and then reflects back on it, she is genuinely contrite (though contrition does not get her off the hook). And when she does follow the rules, she gets our attention and we do what we can to let the creativity flow. That feels like an approach that both Randy and Bernie could have appreciated. There’s no manual for parenting. Instead, we look for inspiration and ideas wherever we can get it. Sometimes, it’s our own parents. Other times, friend. And sometimes, we tap into a college professor or a TV star. With that, I’ll leave you with two more quotes from the Ebony interview and "Last Lecture" and a promise to be more entertaining in my next blog post…
"We’ve dropped the ball. One thing we had [when we were kids] was respect for our elders. No matter what we did, we respected our elders, and we told the truth." (In fact, Mac recently turned down an invitation to dinner at the White House because he said he wasn’t raised to be a good liar, even to the President.)-Interview with Bernie MacI’m aware that Chloe may have no memory of me at all. But I want her to grow up knowing that I was the first man ever to fall in love with her. I’d always thought the father/daughter thing was overstated. But I can tell you, sometimes, she looks at me and I just become a puddle.-Randy Pausch
Thanks guys. Rest in peace.