Vincent Young enjoys a moment with his two young sons.
Sometimes I think it’s the worst thing in the world to have a former public school teacher as a father. Everything has that potential to blow up into a “teachable moment.” Nothing is “just fun” anymore. Spontaneity is squelched — the moment is a math book; a social studies unit; a quotation from Shakespeare.
I truly feel bad for my children but as the cliché goes: “They’ll thank me later” (won’t they?).
When many of their peers spent their summer vacation making fond memories in far places, my children made the best of going to Chinese school during a particularly hot summer in the city. They’d get up every morning, go through their morning routines, eat a light breakfast, and we’d leave the house together. I would drop them off at the same Chinese school on Mott Street that I went to when I was their age. They were in school, Monday through Friday, five hours each day (and there was another hour of homework afterward).
I won the battle of wills with my parents when it came to Chinese school and as a result I am completely illiterate in my parents’ native tongue. I am determined that my children will not suffer the same victory. Being third generation and even further removed from the roots of their grandparents, I am even more uncompromising in their learning my parents (their grandparents’) language. It is important to me that my children feel a connection to the deeper roots of our family tree – roots that are inaccessible to me because of my illiteracy.
And I think if I am to be really honest about it, that’s what really comes down to MY hang-ups. Thinking about myself as father and teacher, I convince myself that I can protect my children from my shortcomings. They’ll speak Chinese fluently and won’t have to guess what’s on the menu. They’ll do math well and won’t have to secretly count their fingers when making change. They’ll like science and be well read.
They’ll do everything I struggle now to do and more.
And they’ll do it with ease because I nudged them along just like so...
— We keep a routine. Every two weeks we’ll go to the library to get new books and return the old ones. Every Saturday morning they’ll write reflections or stories in their journals. Sunday is Chinese school.
— Some weekends we’ll do science experiments or cook. We’ll follow the instructions from one of the library books we borrowed. Sometimes we’ll go to a museum or to one of the many free events happening around the city.
— I also model behaviors for them. My children will see me read. They’ll see me do math without a calculator. And they’ll see me correct a mistake I’ve made! (This is probably the most important lesson I have to teach my children.) It is important they see me fall, then get up, dust myself off, and return to the chore at hand.
Vincent Young is a New York-based father and educator who blogs at RiceDaddies.com and Cranial Gunk.com. Young's blog entry is a companion to a recent Tell Me More conversation about fathers and parenting.