It's one thing when a couple of children or teenagers high five each other. But lots of parents and other adult authority figures overdo this. . . charming (really???) celebratory and congratulatory ritual.
It strikes me that there are many parents out there -- at least in the United States, land of overly permissive parenting -- who are afraid to be parents and more interested in coming across to their children as a buddy. The problem with this misguided way of thinking and being is that when the time comes to get serious and get your kids back on track after a minor infraction, or mete out punishment for something more serious, you can't easily put the genie back in the bottle and restore the right kind of dynamic. You're the parent and the rational, responsible one in the equation. The one in charge. Or that's how it's supposed to be.
But it's much, much harder to be the authority figure with any degree of success when little Aoife, Conner, Bronwynn, Finnegan, Ashley, Tyler, and Madison see you as their "bestest" friend, playmate, confidant, and equal because that's the dynamic you've already established. To my mind, many of the problems with children that we observe in our daily comings and goings -- Been shopping, or to a middle-of-the-road family style restaurant anywhere the last two decades or so? -- come directly from this strange child-centered, best friend dynamic that certainly didn't exist more than 30 years ago when adults still clearly ran things. Neighbors and teachers were still Mrs. Parker and Mr. Matthews then instead of Miss Cindy and Mr. Steven. My pre-school teacher sister-in-law informs me that the latter is the way teachers are addressed in many school districts across the United States now. What in the hell happened and when?
In no way am I suggesting that average guys, who happen to be fathers, refrain from enjoying family life and having a good time with the kids when everyone is at home or out together. Don't forget, even those overly strict (yeah, right) scions of American TV fatherhood from the 1950s through the early 1990s, Ward Cleaver, Jim Anderson, Mike Brady, and Cliff Huxtable, had fun with their children. My own father and maternal grandfather were great fun, but they were parents and grandparents first. They were ADULTS.
Often, that meant saying and doing some decidedly unfun things, from a child's perspective, in the interest of rearing my sister and me to be reasonably pleasant, well-behaved young people, who turned into reasonably well-adjusted and pleasant adults later on. A guy can't lean so far in one direction -- the constantly frenetic, barrel full of monkeys, snakes on a plane, home alone, anything goes direction -- with his children and parenting style that he undermines and even abdicates his authority. The same goes for mothers too now that I think about it.
It's funny, but whenever I notice children with their parents in public, and the former happen to be nicely behaved and relatively calm, it stands out precisely because they seem to be the exception these days, especially in the United States. Some of the nicest small children I've ever met have been Mexican, French, Indian, and Danish. A joy to meet and sit down with to a meal at the dinner table. No muss, no fuss. No hoopla, no obnoxious or obtrusive behavior. The kind of kids you don't want to kill after five minutes, and you might actually not mind too much seeing them again.
Too many American children, by contrast, seem to be off the leash entirely with no apparent attempt by the parents to control the situation. Their children are rude (in all senses), far too loud, argumentative, unpleasant, and border on being out of control from what I've noticed since the late 1980s. "But you've got to let kids be kids," goes the prevailing weak-kneed and trite argument. Um, yeah. Sure. To be fair, you do occasionally meet the exceptions, I'll grant you. For instance, the daughters of a German-American couple we know well are very pleasant, and my wife and I observed a pair of charming boys camping with their parents in South Dakota several years ago. But these kids stood out because they were so unusual. By and large, it seems that too many parents in the U.S. are going about it all wrong though.
So, what's the point? It's time for parents to get back in the driver's seat, guys. Dads included. If you're going to have kids, realize that there is a great deal of responsibility on your part as a parent to teach and reinforce pleasant behavior and discipline in your children once they are mobile and talking. None of that will take hold if you leave it all to fall on the shoulders of Mom alone, daycare providers (shudder), public schools (SHUDDER), or the nanny. Or if your interaction with the children consists entirely of bestowing an endless deluge of praise onto them as a verbal offering to the God of Self-Esteem. Nope. Acceptable attitudes, social skills, pleasant behavior, and good grooming won't take hold in children either if you wait until they are 9 or 10, so start teaching this stuff early. And be sure to set a good example in this area yourself! Remember, even many kinds of animals in the wild are socialized. It's vital that we do the same for our children.
Fatherhood is much more than simply playing computer games with your kids, throwing a ball back and forth in the park, bedtime stories, suffering through school recitals and plays, or shuttling them to soccer practice later on. Sometimes, it ain't fun, but you've got to play the heavy once in a while. You simply must impose rules, limits, guidance, and occasional discipline without shying away from it. Being a parent involves, in other words, more than simply putting a roof over kid's heads, food on the table, clothes on their backs, and (too many) toys in their hands.
Last of all, it's essential to play a more authoritative role in your child's life from the beginning, and let his or her eventual classmates assume the buddy role later. To do your job as a parent properly, you can't be a best friend to your kids and shouldn't try. It just doesn't work that way. Support, encourage, and praise (to a point), sure. Pick up the pieces when you are needed. Provide a ready shoulder for them to cry on. Restore emotional equilibrium to the best of your ability just because you love your children. But leave the incessant high-fiving to them. Besides, it looks really stupid when anyone over the age of 18 does it.