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At Home And School, Father Teaches Responsibility

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At Home And School, Father Teaches Responsibility

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At Home And School, Father Teaches Responsibility

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: And continuing on that theme, we wrap up our series of essays celebrating Father's Day. All this week we've heard commentary from guests and friends of the program reflecting on the joys and challenges of the role of father: married, going it alone or a struggling immigrant.

Today we hear the experiences of Ray Salazar. He's a father to 6-year-old son Adrian and three-year-old daughter Angela - and he's also a de factor dad to mostly Latino school kids in Chicago.

RAY SALAZAR: 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, mijo, 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 their 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 six-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 our 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.

MARTIN: That was Ray Salazar, father of two and teacher of many in Chicago, reflecting on Father's Day. He also writes the blog "The White Rhino." You can go to the TELL ME MORE page of NPR.org for a link to the blog and hear all of our Father's Day essays.

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