My 3-year-old brother thinks he’s slick. Every time he comes into my room he brings a toy but doesn’t take it out when he leaves. My room now has Spongebob Squarepants, colorful trains from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, Laa-Laa, and a very naked Ken doll. As long as it looks like he’s not about to break anything expensive, I let him do whatever he wants. The idea of applying discipline is not compatible with someone who has a problem with authority; I think a better model is rewarding positive behaviors and ignoring negative ones. Of course raising kids is a lot more complicated than that, but it’s a ideal start.
Once a week I make a large batch of tuna salad to feed me for lunch. My 10-year-old brother was watching me and remarked how disgusting tuna is. “Have you ever had tuna salad before?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “but it looks gross.”
I made him taste it through threat of big brother violence. I told him if he doesn’t like it then he never has to eat it again, but he needs to try things before he makes up his mind. He tasted it and said it was “Okay,” but a couple days later I noticed a large can of tuna on the kitchen counter. Turns out he liked the tuna salad so much that he asked my dad to make some. I decided to keep it real so I took him to eat sushi with me at Tono Sushi in Woodley Park. I told him that, yes, technically sushi is raw fish, but it doesn’t taste like fish at all. “It tastes less like fish than tuna, which you already tried.” He was down.
I wish I took a picture the moment that first piece of tuna and avocado roll went into his mouth. It looked like someone nailed him in the stomach; pain, fear, and confusion was painted on his face right after the first chew. He wanted to bring it back out, but I encouraged him like only an older brother knows how: “Chew! Eat it! Close your mouth! You better finish that!” He ate only a few more pieces but I was very proud of him, like a parent would be after watching a child’s first step. After all, I didn’t try sushi until I was 21, and let him know that he is far ahead of me in becoming a real man. I stressed real man one more time, adding that you need to try new things even if you fear it. How else will you find out about things you could like?
My dad spends hours a day with the boys, teaching, talking, and playing, but there are so many parents who drop the ball at being a positive influence on a child’s life. And you wonder why so many adults are messed up. From what I see, the key to raising a decent human being is to treat them with respect and give them attention and affection. Sound familiar? Don’t dumb things down and don’t push away their concerns or questions. Don’t let the television compete with them for your attention. Don’t tell them “Because I said so.” The only reason I would make a good dad is because I’d copy what my parents did to me, which, except for my mother’s occasional broom beating, seemed to work out pretty well. The last thing I will do is buy a parenting book from a writer/expert/businessman who has no investment in me or my family.
“So what do you think of sushi?” I asked.
“It didn’t have a lot of taste. But it was really cool!”
Yes, little brother, it is cool. Now when you turn 20 or so, there is this book I want you to read…