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Dress like you mean business when you head to school. . .

Got a parent-teacher evening coming up on your calendar?  It's time to give serious thought to how you want to come across.

Buck the current trend among parents -- especially the fathers -- of dressing like complete slobs by at least taking the time to tuck your shirt into actual pants with a crease, put on a belt and some real shoes, and toss on a blazer or sports jacket before you either head to the car for a quick drop-off or pick-up of little Tyler and Taylor, or, alternately, before you walk them down the street and around the corner to the front door of their school.  Making sure you look presentable as a parent is just a good habit to cultivate whenever you head to school.  

"Why?" you might ask in protest, countering, "I don't have the time.  Who really cares anyway?"  My short reply would be, how can you think like that?  Why in the world don't you care?  You've got to get dressed anyway.  Have a little self-respect.  How is tucking in your shirt or putting on dark socks and leather shoes any more time consuming than, say, washing your face or brushing your teeth first thing in the morning?  You already do that, right?  How does tossing on a sports jacket before you head out the door take any more time than pulling on a badly pilled synthetic fleece, an old nylon windbreaker, or a food-stained hoodie?  Before we get carried away in our imaginary exchange, though, let's consider the issue in a bit more detail.

For starters, getting yourself pulled together in the morning before you send the children on their way sets a solid example for them.  There is nothing wrong with setting (and maintaining) high standards, for yourself and your offspring, through quiet example where personal appearance, attention to detail, self-discipline, self-respect, and awareness of occasion are concerned.  I would even be so bold as to suggest it is essential in rearing children.  However, few people seem to think about this now judging by the fact that you never, ever hear talk of setting a good example anymore.  I guess we have become so fearful of upsetting anyone in 2014, and almost anything goes anyway, that we've stopped having conversations like this.  At least audibly.  How sad that is for society.  Just one more baby thrown out with the figurative bathwater during the last, more or less, 40 years in our mad rush toward perceived greater egalitarianism I suppose. 

Returning to the subject of your public parental attire though, it's a damn good idea for the teachers of your children, and any lurking school administrators, to see you looking pulled together. . .  rather than the usual unshaven, uncombed shambling mound, dressed in the now all-too-common sweatpants/baggy dad jeans-windbreaker/hooded sweatshirt-sneakers/trainers combo.  Trust me.  It's one more instance where these people will react differently to you, when you look like you have at least a modicum of education post-high school along with a better level of grooming and attire than has become the accepted and pathetic norm in most places.  Where your children are concerned, surely you do not want to look like one more self-centered, wrinkled, and utterly clueless slob with few redeeming habits, practices, or knowledge of worth to impart.  

Keep in mind, an appearance at your child's school, regardless of the reason, is not the same thing as sitting alone in your TV room at home, flipping endlessly through the 157 channels of nothing -- with a nod to Mr. Springsteen-- at 2am on a Sunday morning.  Know what I mean?  Teachers and school administrators are much more inclined to take you, your questions, and concerns seriously when you leave the old, black  Harley-Davidson sweatshirt and ripped jeans for another time and, instead, turn up looking like you mean business.  It's all about coming across with a certain level of gravitas and setting the right tone for the interaction.  Looking like you come from something and somewhere besides under a rock helps here.

With that same idea in mind, it is also sound practice to suggest to your children's teachers and school administrators, when they almost invariably start on a first name basis in their interactions with you, that you would prefer being called Mr. So-and-so.  The current predilection for over-familiarity is never a good idea in formal settings, so don't be afraid to assert yourself here.  Too many adults are these days.  

Despite the fact that education seems largely to be presented as entertainment now, with teachers of small children routinely "high-fiving" their pupils and addressing their charges as either "Buddy," or "Honey," parent-teacher/administrator meetings are, and should be seen as, more formal, serious occasions.  Even when there is not a problem, and everything is hunky-dory.  After all, parents only rarely move in the same social circles with their children's teachers and/or school administrators.  It's not unheard of, of course, but rare.  

Keep in mind, we are not talking about a group well-acquainted adults sitting down to dinner on the weekend.  Neither are we talking about summertime backyard barbecues with members of your temple or church or close friends enjoying a few drinks on a non-work night once the children have been tucked in to bed.  Interacting with your children's teachers and school administrators is very similar to how you might intereact with your supervisor, manager, colleagues, and people beneath you at work.  It's a bit more formal than things are with your close friends in a non-work environment.  Be careful not to confuse the two.  Familiarity breeds contempt as my maternal grandmother used to remark, so it is really much better to keep even pleasant school meetings on a more formal footing.

Likewise, it is beneficial for children to learn early that different settings and occasions call for different levels of behavior and attire, and that a basic level of awareness, respect, and polite behavior help start off any interaction on a positive note.  Children need to learn how to navigate social interaction smoothly in order to avoid coming across as awkward in some way by the time they are teenagers and, indeed, adults.  Again, clothing and behavior, how we present ourselves to the world, are important parts of that.  Let's simply call it social literacy, and parents, or parental figures, must be the ones to impart this knowledge and ensure fluency on the part of their children.  

But it ain't all up to Mom.  Don't make that mistake.  We men have a distinct role to play in all of this.  Being a male parent, or parental figure, is not always about playing computer games together, buying one more overpriced blinking and beeping gadget,  coaching the midget league soccer team, or staring mindlessly at the TV while trading inane remarks and observations.  Are you with me so far?  Rearing happy, pleasant, reasonably well-adjusted children, who are socially equipped to move through life involves the demonstration and transferal of numerous less tangible skills and practices, plus a certain level of social awareness, that we help instill in them.  Hopefully. 

Finishing school is, sadly, not an option available to most of us,  Neither can we depend, on the public schools (in the United States), if ever we could, to teach proper behavior, manners, and etiquette to our children.  That must happen at home, and father figures (plus the examples they set) are far more important in this process than many might think.  Goodness knows there are already enough socially awkward, sloppy souls walking around these days, so let's ensure that our children learn early from us how to act and present themselves. . .  in public and in private.  It helps grease the wheels of their lives and make them much more pleasant individuals, both while they remain under our roofs and later once they are on their own.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


  1. Calling your children's teachers by "Miss FirstName" or "Mister FirstName", and allowing your children to do the same is not acceptable, either. My college students wouldn't dare do that, yet the private students I have who are in elementary & secondary schools routinely enter my studio addressing me in that way because they do that in school & their parents do that, too. I always tell them at the very first meeting that my name is "Miss LastName".

    One junior-high boy continued calling me Miss FirstName after repeated corrections, so one day I stopped what we were doing and told him: I am not your nanny, I am not your cook, I am not your servant. I am a qualified professional deserving of your respect by your not using my first name and by your calling me "Miss LastName". You may certainly choose to call me what you wish as long as I choose to continue teaching you, however do be aware that every time you as a junior-high boy use my first name you are disrespecting me to my face, and I will not continue to tolerate that. Then I immediately turned our attention back to the lesson. He called me Miss LastName from then on.

    In this day & age, perhaps some truly do not understand how disrespectful over-familiarity is between new acquaintances and people of different ages...

  2. Agreed! The current wave of over-familiarity and lack of basic respect on the part of so many absolutely boggles the mind. To paraphrase the old talking Heads song, HOW did we get here?


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All opinions are welcome here. Even those that differ from mine. But let's keep it clean and civil, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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