Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Day 57

with 2 comments

Last night I went to a parenting seminar.  I know what you’re thinking: “Why would Jeff need to go to a parenting seminar?  Isn’t that like Derek Jeter going to a baseball seminar?”  Well, listen up wise guy, first of all, I’m not as bad a dad as I portray myself, and second, Derek Jeter is constantly working to improve his game (plus the kids were driving me nuts and I needed to get out of the house).  The guy giving the class employed the style of teaching that relied on large pauses for the audience to…  respond.  I wasn’t sure if it was a teaching method or some sort of slight mental illness, but it seemed to work to keep me… engaged.  He started off the class by asking all of us to imagine ourselves at our child’s wedding.  (I can’t believe how fat I look in that tuxedo.)  He wanted us to imagine that friend after friend got up to speak about our child and what they said was, “He did whatever he was told.  Whether it was his teacher or his parent or his boss, he always did exactly what he was told to do.”   How would that make you feel?  It would make you feel… “Happy!”, I exclaimed.  “Upset” was the correct answer.  “Right, that’s what I meant, upset.”

The lecturer’s point was that if at the end of childhood, all your kid has to show for it is that he or she obeys directions, you haven’t really helped to mold a quality human being, which, the lecturer went on to say, is our most important jobs as parents.  My mind immediately went to two places: the first was, of course, “Well, my father must have been proud to hear his son’s best man start off his speech with ‘Jeff farts a lot'”,  and then, “I’m certainly not going to have the problem of having my kid being too obedient.”   The lecturer continued that as parents we’re constantly trying to get our kids to do what we want them to do so we can… “Go to sleep!”  No, “Control them.”  And kids as human beings don’t react well to being controlled.

He said that the two most difficult things parents have trouble getting their kids to do are…  “Eating and going to bed!”  Yes, “Eating and going to bed.”  My daughter is a vegetarian who only likes Macaroni and Cheese and broccoli if it doesn’t touch anything on her plate, and my son claims that his body clock is set to a different time zone so his brain tells him it’s not time to go to sleep.  The lecturer explained that our ultimate goal should be to change behavior by example, not by reward or punishment– clearly different than my upbringing where I was offered, “something to cry about” even when it was clear I had something to cry about.  We shouldn’t force our kids to do anything they don’t want to– they should eat what they want– provided it’s what we have in the house to offer them– and go to sleep and wake up when they want and eventually they’ll get into a normal healthy rhythm.  In that way, they won’t grow to resent us.  I, of course, was extremely… skeptical.  The teacher asked if my kids ever said they hated me.  I flashed back to this past Father’s Day.  I came downstairs to find the kids on the couch watching tv as they do every Sunday for one hour.  I grabbed the remote and said, “Kids, we’re riding our bikes to Coffee Bean and Daddy’s buying everyone hot chocolate!”  I then clicked off the tv and my son looked up at me and said, “I hate you.”

So last night I decided that today I would try the laissez-faire parenting.  I already had a leg-up because this would be our first Sunday without me forcing my son to play baseball which he hates apparently even more than he hated me when I turned off the tv.  Today, in fact, would be just a fun day for him: he would start the day off by going to tennis, which he loves, then he would go to get pizza and go ice skating with his mother and sister and his sister’s friends, followed by frozen yogurt.  My first day of Laissez fair parenting was bound to be a snap.  Until 8:30 when he announced, “I don’t want to go to tennis!  I hate tennis!”  My newly-honed parenting skills were quickly put to the test and I rose to the occasion: “NO.  I LET YOU QUIT BASEBALL, YOU’RE NOT QUITTING TENNIS, NOW EAT YOUR BREAKFAST AND GET DRESSED!”  Okay, so Laissez-faire parenting was not for me, but the thing I took away from the class was that we need to decide the kind of people we want our kids to be, and lead by that example, which ultimately means, “What kind of person do I want to be?”

After dropping my son off with my wife and daughter I headed out to meet my friend and spiritual advisor for a cup of coffee to discuss how I could convince him not to leave.  I had successfully gotten my 7 year old to play tennis, so I felt empowered to deal with a 47 year old PhD student.  Since my friend is an intellectual, I decided to pursue a logical discourse with him.  I let him explain to me what was going on, the factors that are leading him to make his decision and why he thought this was the right move for him and his family.  I then blurted out, “But what about me?!  What am I going to do?” and then I started crying.  It was not my finest moment as a grown up, but it was far from my least fine.  I don’t have a problem with crying if it’s for the right thing, and this was the right thing.  My spiritual tether was being cut and I didn’t know how to replace it.  As a spiritual guy, my friend told me he was just letting himself be a character in the play that was being written for him– sure he had to play his part, but he wasn’t the ultimate Author.  Ultimately, things happen for a reason and it’s up to us to make sense of it.  And he also believes that everything happens for the best, a challenging, but rewarding way to live.  I’m sure his leaving will lead me and my family in a new direction; I’m not the kind of person to play a bit part in my play.  I asked him where I should go to find a replacement for him and what I should look for.  He told me I had to ask myself, “Who do I want to be?” before finding a person to help me get there.

So, there it was, two times in less than 24 hours so it must mean something: Who do I want to be?  My answer has always been, “a good person” but that’s very nebulous.   See, this is the type of stuff that’s more easily defined or ignored when you’re working: I’m trying to be the best sitcom writer I can be and keep making enough money so that when sitcoms don’t exist in three years I don’t have to move under a bridge.  Do I want to be the guy who makes his kids play sports when they don’t want to?  I know I can’t be the guy who let’s my kids go to bed when they want to and eat what they want to.  I can try to be the guy who really wishes the best for his friend when he has a great opportunity that on the surface is bad for me.  I want to continue to be the guy who goes shopping for his little girl at the Gap while she goes ice skating with her friends, like I did today.  I should probably not be the guy who today while shopping at the Gap for a skirt for his little girl was so shocked when he saw the mini-skirts that they’re selling for little girls that when the Sales Lady asked me “What’s wrong with this one?” I responded, “Well, my daughter’s not a hooker.”  It’s all so hard.

When I started this journal 57 days ago, my goal was to clean out my garage.  Now, it seems to evolved to cleaning out my soul.  I’m not sure which is harder, but I know I’ll need help with both.  In the meantime, I will continue out my play, and try to have faith that it will have a happy ending.


Written by 100daysoff

April 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. What does your parenting guru say you should do to your kid on his second school suspension (this time for letting off a stink bomb in the commons area of the high school)? You know, hypothetically?


    April 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm

  2. You should be a writer.

    keith wasserstrom

    April 13, 2011 at 6:57 am

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