Parenting Traps

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Out of the mouths of babes, one dad gets an honest look at himself.

By Jack Cheng
March 28, 2010

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What do my kids think of me? This is a bit of a concern I used to have. Some kids can say, “My dad is a Red Sox fan” and define 50 percent of the parent’s free time. We can immediately picture the rec room and the guest pillowcases.

Me, I’m a househusband who teaches adult education in Dorchester. Although I watch playoff games, like puttering in the backyard, and enjoy cooking, I wouldn’t call myself a sports fan, a gardener, or a foodie.

With a little trepidation, I recently asked my 6-year-old son what I liked to do.

“What you like to do?” he asked. The very concept was alien to him.

“Yeah, like how do I like to spend my free time?”

After a moment of thought, he said, “You like to shop for food.”

I was outraged. Apoplectic. This is how he thinks I while away the days? Then I realized he was right. Food shopping is how I procrastinate. I can always justify a trip to the store. It’s a legitimate excuse to escape for an hour, and between the local supermarkets, Russo’s, Trader Joe’s, Costco, and the Chinese market, there’s always something to buy.

From this revelation came a New Year’s resolution: to make fewer trips to the store and not have my life defined by food shopping. I plan meals in advance now, and it’s made life a bit easier.

As for my identity as a dad, I’ve decided I don’t want any single interest or activity to define me -- for myself or for my kids.

A couple of weeks ago, we saw one of my daughter’s classmates at the skating rink. I knew the boy’s mom from day care drop-off and pickup, and I introduced myself to his dad. We started to talk and the kids wandered off to play. Clearly the subject of how their fathers spent their time was a topic of conversation, because when my daughter, who is 5, came back, she had a question for me.

“Daddy, is your job” -- she paused here -- “to take care of us?” “Yes,” I told her and gave her a big hug.

What do your kids think you like to do?