two person step on gray soil

In Training to be a Father

My childhood was interesting to say the least. Not to say it was different from other children. I am only relating to my experiences and how it shaped me into becoming the father I am and the relationship with my sons. I have no daughters.

As families go, I am the third of seven children. Three boys, a girl, then three more brothers. Dad worked 33 years for the Post Office before retiring, and mom worked full time dealing with us. How she dealt with dad is another story. That woman should be Canonized.

Reflecting on the skills my dad used to raise his children bears review. Not on him as a person, but what influences did he bring to the table when he became a parent. Let’s face it, times were also much different during his upbringing. He grew up in the south during segregation.

That man demanded excellence from all of us, and he was forceful in making his point.

What a Dynamic

From seven children, our span runs 26 years apart from oldest to youngest, with seven years being the biggest gap between siblings. This is very important in formulating what type of parent I wanted to be. Since dad was the sole earner for the family, he lead by example. Until I went to high school, he worked two jobs to keep a roof over our heads, full stomachs and a great education.

He made sure we had everything we needed. We did not get everything we wanted, just needed. This came with a price however. We had jobs too, either working in mom’s rose gardens, maintaining the lawns in the front and back yards, kitchen duty, and all other duties required.

Since I was in the older group of siblings, early on all those jobs fell to the three of us. There are four years between my oldest brother and me, so being older and stronger, he was able to finish his chores first, then my next oldest, we are separated by 18 months. Naturally, I felt “less than” since I couldn’t keep up for a few years.

Then, before my younger siblings were old enough to earn chores, ours lessened. We lived in a three bedroom house. Mom and dad had their own room, and my sister, the only girl, had her own room, naturally. That leaves six boys sharing a room. Long story short, I was the first to leave home when I enlisted in the Armed Forces.

The Transition from Adulthood to Fatherhood

There is one advantage of not coming out of high school with a teen pregnancy on your hands. This gave me the experience to know how to best take care of myself first. Things like balancing a budget, learning how to shop and put clothes on my back just to name a few.

Then there are necessities mandated like transportation. Keeping insurance on it, gas in it and well maintained are things that never go away. I vividly recall having incidents happening to my car while driving that no one should experience. Once I was on the freeway and the hood of my car decided to open. It slammed so hard it cracked my windshield, blinded my vision and put all drivers in the vicinity of impending doom.

To this day I’m eternally thankful no accident occurred, and I had no children in my car. That day taught me to make sure I ALWAYS have reliable transportation, and thank my maker for keeping a guardian angel with me. That is just one incident I had, again I am thankful none involved motor vehicle accidents. Yes, I have had accidents.

I’ve Been in School Over Three Decades

Probably the most horrible story I ever heard instilled in me to hug my sons as often as possible. My sixth grade year of school my teacher gave us a lesson on what happens to babies that gets hugs and one that does not. The second category is not for me.

Building a relationship with your children based on friendship is a mistake. Worse is basing your relationship on fear. I had a heavy dose of that, and my sons were not going to be victims of my father’s style. Looking back now, the long game I had in mind, has come to fruition.

Repsect.

Respect is a two way street, what you get back what you give. I have never met one person in the world that appreciate empathy for a particular idea or taste in a social current event. I decided to apply that logic in raising my sons. It can never be “my way or the highway” with children, they will rebel. We all know this.

My approach to this was, let them watch cartoons, movies or play, as long as it was respectful. This gave me time to clean house (haha), cook or fold laundry. It was a peaceful existence most of the time. I could not have asked for better sons.

Lessons Learned

Now that my sons are grown, mature adults, I reflect on who they have become and the relationship I enjoy with them today. Each is on their own path in life, and successful in their careers.

Building my relationship with them on respect paid off hugely. All in their own time, I’m thankful they do not ask for money, lol.

My oldest son is active duty military, the next is on a path to management in his company, in just his third year with them. He may never have to fill out another job application in his life. My youngest is in Graduate School with a promising career in theatre, not on stage.

We talk often which makes me happy, the subject matter we talk about is what grabs me the most. While we still talk about cartoons, comic books and movies, we also have our own book club. I cannot say enough how glad I am they love to read. They also cook, and know the secret family gumbo recipe. I trust the secret is safe.

We talk about current events, how best to save for retirement, health issues. And it is not just them seeking my advice, they have lived different experiences than I have, and sometimes their perspective is very insightful.

If I had to have a motto for this blessing, it is that my sons are “My Favorite Toyz”!

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Gene Smith

Gene Smith is a Chief Campaign Strategist living in Arizona. He is a Juris Doctor, Democratic Campaign Strategist, Elected Precinct Committee person, and Democratic State Committee Member. Currently, Gene serves on the Environmental Caucus.

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