My eldest child is 40 this year so this is my 40th Father’s Day. My wife and I have few regrets about how we raised our children and we are happy with the way they turned out. We met with a group of dear friends for dinner last evening and we complimented each other on how well all of our children have grown into fully-functioning adults. It wasn’t an easy task, however.
Our children grew up in a good time although not as ‘great’ a time as their parents. We children of the 40’s and 50’s had perhaps the ultimate growing-up experience of all time during that uplifting, post-war period when life was mellow and our future opportunities limitless. I’m of course speaking for white, middle class America only.
Dads were paid well at their jobs, moms did their ‘homemaker’ tasks, listened to soap operas on the Philco, and, during the summer, told us kids to ‘go outside and play!’ And that was one directive that we eagerly followed. Dads would ask at the dinner table, ‘Whatja do today?’ ‘Play,’ we answered. And we did, barely taking time to eat lunch and having to be whistled home for dinner.
Children of the 70’s experienced some of that same ‘play’ experience, but as I recall, parents were more hands-on with where our kids went and with whom they played. We were aware of the dangers lurking ‘out there’ in the ‘big bad world.’ Nonetheless. Our kids had lots of good times outdoors and inside, playing with their friends.
‘Playing with friends’ these days is most often ‘by appointment’ for our grandchildren. My grandchildren have ‘play dates’ – a concept extremely foreign to my memory of childhood. Parents arrange a time and place of a meeting, transport them, and pick them up and drive them back home. Hell, we rode our bikes everywhere and most of the time our parents didn’t know where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing. Today, getting children together is like a business meeting.
Not only that, but if you drive through a neighborhood during the summer with your windows down, there is an eerie sound of silence- no laughing, screaming children. No bikes, no Kool-Aid stands, no ball games in the street. Just well-groomed lawns and empty sidewalks. The children are indoors- with their electronic media for entertainment. These days children are entertained more than they play together and this worries me.
My grandchildren spend enormous amounts of time in front of a video screen rather than playing with and interacting with other children. The youngsters growing up today spend endless hours indoors in order to entertain themselves or ‘connect’ electronically with friends who also are indoors, in their rooms, in their make-believe world, while the real world, outside, passes by, empty of the sound of children playing games together.
These children will miss the opportunities that we had to sharpen our social skills by interacting , arguing, playing and compromising with other children as we moved through the day. Those skills do not come naturally to children and must be honed through experiences – both good and bad- in a societal setting. Sitting in front of a computer monitor for hours on end experiencing a ‘virtual world’ does not properly prepare children for the real world, with other ‘live’ people. Attempting to acquire social skills in later life is dicey at best and wastes much time and energy in the process.
When modern day parents do tell their children to go outside and play, the response is often, ‘there’s nothing to do!’ Of course, what they really are saying is, that outside is boring compared with the electronic world inside. That, unfortunately, is true. Hop-scotch is no match for Wii.
So, what advice can a father offer to his adult children in these times? We can’t expect our grandchildren, children of the 21st century, to experience what we did as kids at a time when a TV set wasn’t even in our home. My advice will be whistling in the wind, I’m sad to say. The paradigm has shifted.
I’ll just keep my mouth shut today and smile as I sit at dinner on this Father’s Day with my children and grandchildren, but deep inside my soul, I’ll cry.