Ray Salazar and his family.
Ray Salazar and his family. Ray Salazar
Today, Tell Me More wrap ups our week-long series of essays celebrating Father's Day. We've been hearing commentary from guests and friends of the program who are conventional and unconventional dads. They've been reflecting on the joys and challenges of fatherhood — whether married, going it alone, or having to struggle as an immigrant.
Today's story is from Ray Salazar, a father to six-year-old son Adrian and three-year-old daughter Angela — and a de factor dad to primarily Latino school kids in Chicago.
As a father and teacher, I work to instill the value of responsibility and the responsibility of communication in my kids — and in the ones in front of me every day.
I have 12-year-old students who have fancier phones than I do. Despite that they have these high-tech gadgets, they struggle to communicate — with me, their fathers, each other, and, probably, themselves.
What teenager wouldn't want a fancy phone? It plays music. It takes pictures. It connects them to the Web. It does everything. It does everything for them. So we have a population of Latinos growing up with a sense of entitlement I had only witnessed in white culture.
During parent teacher conferences when parents see Ds and Fs on their kid's report card, I've heard more than one father say, "But, m'ijo, we give you everything. Your only job is to come to school." But many of these kids are not fulfilling their responsibilities at school because they don't have any responsibilities at home.
Adolescents are irresponsible in other ways, too. Teens and pre-teens hide in their closets to text, talk, or Facebook all night. They keep passwords from their parents. I wonder if the parents ever read the texts. Parents will say there's trust. But there's also the unknown. Who's texting? At what time? What kind of pictures are they sending?
I know most parents' intentions are honest: we want to give our children what we did not have. But with these new objects and opportunities, we must give them the values to be responsible. I struggle with this as a father — especially when my 6-year-old son asked for an iPod for his birthday. He did not get one.
I understand how necessary it can be to silence the conflicts in our lives like we can silence our phones. I think many fathers who are struggling with house payments and car loans want to silence the challenges of adolescence.
Fathers see giving our children everything as an investment in the future, but my concern is that the teens are growing up with the idea that opportunities can be bought, assumed. And like many in my generation, the next generation of Latinos will grow up in extreme debt buying cars, TVs, and phones that distract us from problems and possible solutions.
Until then, we can focus on the present. We can take away phones at night. We can get our kids' passwords. We can sit next to our teenagers and review their posts and teach them to respect themselves.
Most importantly, we, as fathers, can hear our kids and they can listen to us.