by Patrick Mitchell
“I’m at the park. I’ll call you if I need you-over,” says my nine-year-old son into one of three state-of-the-art walkie-talkies that I recently bought for our family of five. “Roger. Be back home in 15 minutes for dinner-over,” is my reply.
The walkie-talkies were expensive by toy standards, but cheap when an at-home dad factors in peace of mind. I must admit, there’s something official and cool about saying “Over … roger … copy” into one of 400 channels, which I have pre-selected for my kids. They’re fun to play with; and yet, these high-tech toys are an important tool in my fatherhood toolkit.
It was not easy giving my kids longer (electronic) leashes so they could range farther from home. But nine-year-olds need more freedom than eight-year-olds, and the walkie-talkies allowed me to give them some freedom and still keep tabs on them.
I cannot think of any moms offhand who would buy long-range communication devices for their nine-year-old children to use electronic-kid-on-a-leash style. But let’s be honest: some of the things we dads do are rather outlandish. At-home dads do things differently, and not just to sustain the stereotype that we’re innovators, but because we can’t escape this immutable truth: We’re men, we’re the adults, we’re dads, and we’re supposed to be in charge. My new high-tech devices speak to that truth-it’s okay to play, but let’s remember who’s the boss:
“Stay within my range,” I tell the kids.
Remember Who’s in Charge …
Fathers who double as playmates for their kids surely are among the happiest dads on earth. I know firsthand the joy of a mock match of Championship Wrestling on the living room floor, of late night pillow fights, and of long, quiet walks holding hands and talking about the wind. However, some of us take things a little too far sometimes, going overboard on the ‘I’ll be your best friend’ side of the fence.
I’ve met fathers-some of them at-home dads like myself-who I think may be setting themselves up for bruises to their parenting psyches. I say this from my experience as an at-home dad of five years who’s been all at once Number One Playmate, Chief Rule-Setter, and Boundary-Maker Dad. I recognize that I may very well be talking about the exception rather than the rule here; however, the point screams to be made (at least by me): We’re dads, not moms, and we’re adults, not children.
According to Sam Osherson, author of several critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, it is important to establish and maintain a fatherly presence for our children. “Children in many ways need a father who will set boundaries and clear limits. Many of us get confused between being friends with our children and being fathers,” Osherson told me in a recent interview.
Setting Limits …
We play often, my children and I, but lately I’ve been encouraging them to make friends who aren’t named “Dad.” It’s only natural to want to spend time with the ones we love-lots of time-and to know them fully. However, dads who are their kids’ primary playmate run the risk of losing credibility in setting boundaries and in the discipline arena. “Our kids need us to set limits and protect them from their own impulses sometimes,” Osherson says.
It gets tricky when we try to be a child’s best friend and a solid, fatherly role model. According to Osherson, it can cause many fathers “agony because we feel that we’re being like our own fathers were, or that we’re not being good fathers because we’re setting limits.”
Our children need a strong fatherly influence in their lives, not another mom or another best friend. Although I tickle my children daily and wrestle them on the living room floor, I am going to strive to remember that I am Dad, The Man of the House.
And as long as we’re on the same wavelength, I’ll continue telling them, “Over and out” as needed.
Patrick Mitchell, a.k.a. The Down To Earth Dad, is an at-home dad, a custodial parent to his eight-year-old son, and a stepfather of two. For more information on the newsletter or to book Patrick for speaking engagements and workshops ,visit DownToEarthDad.org.