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Teaching our kids life lessons is no longer child's play


Quality time: John and daughter Soley
Quality time: John and daughter Soley
So close: Alex Kane with his children Lilah-Liberty (right) and Indy

A report this week suggested many modern dads have stopped passing down important basic skills. Two writers tell us how they have been helping to bring up their offspring.

John Laverty: 'It's just far too easy these days to throw them something electronic'

A loud cheer, followed by enthusiastic clapping. I was so proud of her. In truth, it had only taken half an hour... but my wee Soley now knows how to use a mouse.

No more "Daddy, can I see that?" or "Daddy, how do I get this?" when something pops up on the YouTube menu.

She looked so pleased with herself. If only more people had been around to share this joyous moment.

It didn't take long before the delight turned to shame.

Yes, Soley can now left-click like nobody's business well before her fourth birthday - but tying shoelaces?

Let's not go there. Why not, though?

With the shame, came the guilt. Why was I so keen to get her acquainted with a mouse?

When I was a young 'un the only 'mouse' familiar to me was being enthusiastically pursued by a cat called Tom.

I tried to kid myself that it's because I'm a gadget freak, ergo she's bound to follow in her old man's footsteps. No harm in starting early.

The truth, however, is more sinister. So you want to play, little one, but Daddy's busy. There's a Sunday supplement that just has to be read. Like, right now.

What about going onto his computer for a while?

"Oh, can I, Daddy? Yey! Lift me up onto your stool... pleeease."

When it comes to Useful Things We've Taught Our Daughter To Do, the missus has a clear monopoly on the bragging rights.

Soley can draw the curtains, make her bed, tidy away her toys, paint her nails (well, sort of), be an effective hairdresser to her myriad of dolls (it helps that Rapunzel is a favourite), put away breakfast and dinner dishes, empty a box which has four different jigsaws mixed together and still emerge with a quartet of completed puzzles.

She can't wrap presents yet - that Sellotape is still a little tricky - but she knows the principles and it's only a matter of time.

None of this was a result of my endeavours.

"That one sure knows her way around a Kindle for Kids" is something I'll never say again.

Especially as I've now looked, through my fingers, at the 30-strong list of basic life skills fathers are no longer teaching their kids.

Cynicism was the first line of defence.

'Building a tree house' at number one? Oh, come on! We live in an apartment. And are there not wildlife conservation issues attached to this, let alone health and safety?

And 'catching fish' might make that in-the-distant-future debate about vegetarianism a little loaded.

Moreover, what relevance does 'skimming a stone' or 'making a catapult' have in today's society?

No qualms, though, with 'making a cup of tea'. Sooner the better, I say.

According to the people who researched this, 60% of today's children would rather play computer games than venture outdoors.

Who am I to buck such a trend? My heart leapt when I saw 'making a daisy chain'. Been there, done that.

And tried to do the 'whistling a tune' thing. Tried, I said...

Levity and facetiousness aside, there's a serious, sobering message here.

The majority of fathers really don't spend enough quality time with their children.

It's just far too easy these days to throw them something electronic.

It calms them down, makes them happy and gives you time do the things you want to do.

But why can't being with the little one, in a proper, meaningful way, be on that to-do list?

Those who sneer at the survey by Fishing TV, who dismiss the compilation of things you should to as something Enid Blyton would have written for the Famous Five back in 1942, are missing the point by a considerable distance.

It isn't really about fixing a puncture with the little one watching on, thinking only of when she'll be back on two stabilised wheels.

It's about the process involved, the questions that emerge.

What caused the puncture in the first place? Why do we need a tube inside the tyre, Daddy?

Why aren't the wheels solid like the ones on my other toys?

What are you doing with that chalk? Why can't we use a Pritt stick instead of that stuff that smells funny?

And we all know the answers to those questions; perhaps we simply cannot be bothered putting ourselves in a position where replies are required.

It's such a pity because it all started off so well.

Sorry, Mrs L, but I'm claiming a decent share of the credit for the advances made during infancy and the Terrible Twos.

Eating, walking, going to the toilet without making a mess, safe bathtime fun - so when did it all stop?

It could have something to do with the semblance of independence they give off after the toddler years have been left behind.

They can get irritated if they get the impression that you think they need help.

But that relates to what has already been learned - and shared - and not to what's ahead.

Children are, of course, naturally inquisitive - 'why?' is the dominant question - and maybe us dads sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that 'finding out for yourself' is a useful exercise.

Take that lazy option, and Daddy could end up discovering a lot more about himself.

Alex Kane: 'I'm not sporty and I'm useless at doing handyman things, but I'm there for them'

My only role model for my job as a dad was my own dad, Sam. I met him for the first time a couple of months before I was adopted at the age of six; yet within a very short time I was his son in every sense of the word. It was a relationship founded on total trust - not an easy thing for an orphan, nor for someone who isn't the birth parent - and his determination from our first meeting that he was always going to be there for me. Maybe that's the best definition of the job: always being there for them.

He taught me to play snooker. Even writing that I'm suddenly reminded of the almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders the first time I beat him.

It clearly unsettled him - being bested by your children is always a shock - yet he handled it with enormous grace.

When I announced - I was about 15 - that I didn't want to go to church anymore (a huge shock for him, because he was the clerk of the Kirk at the church concerned) he shrugged his shoulders again. "Okay, but if you're not coming to church how about learning to cook the lunch for when we get back?"

It was a brilliant, practical compromise from a dad who didn't believe in forcing his values on others; even though it must have been embarrassing for him at church.

I like to think that he would be proud of how I have faced the challenge of being a dad. I'm not a sporty type and absolutely useless when it comes to the handyman type of things that dads are supposed to do. But Lilah-Liberty (8) loves to trampoline with me and we have great fun bouncing, tumbling, laughing and falling into a hugging heap.

I watch her television favourites with her, because I want her to talk to me about them.

We belong to a Laurel and Hardy club (wonderfully, we share the same sense of humour) and the sound of her laughter is infectious. We spend time in the library. After years of me reading to her, she now likes to read to me. I still sing her to sleep every night with Bring Me Sunshine (she once phoned me at a pub and I got a group of friends to join in).

But I think the most important thing I taught her is to be herself and to 'dance in the rain like nobody's watching' (which she does).

I take enormous pride in the fact that her teacher describes her as a, "lovely, quirky girl".

I love it when she challenges me and puts me in my place with a knowing smile.

Asking her quite recently who was the best daddy in the world, she replied; "I don't know, I haven't met them all.

"But I do know that I wouldn't want any other daddy."

I couldn't ask for a better endorsement: love and sassiness in one little package.

Indy, who joined us eight months ago (and I still get huge feedback to the Letter To Indy I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph last August) is already marking out his territory; and already making it clear that 'de, de, de, dada' is his rock and harbour.

I won't pretend that preparing a bottle or changing a nappy at four in the morning is fun; yet when he snuggles into my shoulder and then treats us to the piggy-snore which lets us know he's asleep again, I do know that there's nowhere else I'd rather be and nothing else I'd rather be doing.

As for that smile when he first wakes in the morning and catches my eye! Annoyingly, writing that and thinking about that has brought a tear to my eye.

I'm sure there are weighty words of advice I could offer prospective dads, yet none strikes me as more important, more fundamental than what I learned from Sam: always be there for them.

Let them know that your arms and heart are big enough to cope with anything they throw at you. Let them know that love doesn't have a sell-by date.

Learn the art of the imperceptible shrug of your shoulders and be prepared for unexpected tears when doing or thinking about the simplest things.

Yep, I love being a dad.

Belfast Telegraph

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