I grew up watching Father Knows Best - a sitcom in the 1950s where family life was pretty much ‘picture book perfect' but Father had to help make those big decisions that posed too much of a dilemma for Mother. This was before the women's movement and before careers and motherhood became a juggle for millions of women in the U.S.
Now that women make up more of the work force than ever and represent more college graduates than men, the changing shape of parental care is clearly in progress. The new book by Paul Reiser, Familyhood, gives us a beautiful example of an actively engaged father in a 21st century family. Perhaps atypical in some ways (he's a celebrity dad, author, musician, and stand-up comic with enough wealth to stay home and write), but the struggles and challenges of parenthood do not differ based on socioeconomic status. He has two boys - one physically disabled but emotional gifted, a wife with a professional career, kids with homework, a dog to walk, school functions to attend, kids with hurt feelings, secrets, playdates, birthday parties, drop-off and pick-up schedules, soccer matches, and the emotional roller-coaster that goes along with it all.
What jumps out from Familyhood is the love Paul Reiser expresses in his role as father and husband. Here is a man clearly not afraid to express love and gratitude - for his boys and his wife especially - but also for all the people that touch his life (and the dog). It's a sentiment, that if expressed more often, would likely lift up the ‘happiness' level of a nation.
We are often so overwhelmed by the day to day busyness of life that we forget to express love and gratitude for those we care about the most. Perhaps Paul's Familyhood is his way of telling his own family how much he really cares; but from the read of it, I'm sure he expresses it to them all the time.
It made me realize how much Fathers out there play a role in shaping their children's lives, even if the time they get to spend with them is less than Paul's. Even if the quantity is less, the quality need not be.
One of the best ways Paul Reiser shows his love is in his capacity to listen effectively. By that I mean a patience and effort to listen - it's a lot easier to day-dream away or think of something else you want to say. Mindful listening - attending to your kids or wife speaking and actively hearing them with full awareness - is certainly not easy. And even the best listeners miss stuff all the time, but trying to be present is more than half the battle.
I remember a friend of one of my son's when he was about 8 years old telling me he had learned the art of watching a girl speak and not listening to her (but giving her an appropriate mmm or uh-uh when necessary). At the time I thought it was pretty funny as he was only 8 years old! But I realized that he was perfecting the art of ‘not listening' that would likely plague him in relationships for years to come.
I'm convinced that active listening (or mindful listening or effective listening- whatever you might want to call it) is perhaps the greatest gift a Dad can give his family (or a Mom or a Friend, or anyone for that matter). John Lennon once wrote, "As soon as you're born they make you feel small by giving you no time instead of it all" (Working Class Hero). That line says it all - we feel small and unimportant when what we are saying is ignored or cut short. Giving a loved one your time by giving them your attention is the greatest gift we have to give each other. Paul's done it well and his book reveals how so.
Familyhood is a book guaranteed to make you realize how very precious our families are - and a reminder to share that love and gratitude every day.
An easy way to is to give them your full attention.
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