By Gregory Keer
I spent much of my life in the kind of self-debate that puts Hamlet to shame. While my penchant for over- analyzing decisions sometimes yielded good results, I also wasted a lot of time failing to trust my instincts and experience.
There are all those open jump shots I didn’t take because I pondered too long.
There are all those job interviews during which I came off as wishy-washy.
There are all those girls I didn’t date because my hesitation let the other guy swoop in.
Fortunately, I didn’t waffle about pursuing the woman who became my wife, a swift decision that worked out pretty well. Yet, even after marrying Wendy, I suffered from paralysis by analysis regarding stories I wrote and career problems I had.
It took becoming a father to put me firmly on the path of confident thinking. As a dad, there’s little room for hand-wringing when faced with having to take a pee-pee dancing child into a public restroom or enforcing the rule of wearing a bike helmet.
As a dad, one of my goals is to teach my children the lessons I’ve fought to learn so they can lead more productive lives than I did at their age.
So, two years ago, when I asked my eldest son what he thought about the decisions of a 20th century president he researched for a class, he held a long pause and said, “I don’t know.”
It was a moment I had rehearsed for years, so I delivered it in my best Hal Holbrook impersonation.
“Son, never say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care.’”
“But I really don’t know what I think,” Benjamin (then 12) replied.
“Yes, you do,” I said, hearing the music rise on the soundtrack in my head. “You have to be willing to take the risk. People respect you more if you have something to say.”
Well, my son definitely has opinions now that he’s a teenager.
The following comes from one eight-minute conversation:
“I don’t like vacations. I don’t see the point.”
“I hate Shakespeare.”
“Chinese food is disgusting.”
“I never enjoyed playing sports.”
“Dressing in nice clothes is stupid.”
My son is allowed to have opinions, but I felt compelled to say, “You’re entitled to be wrong, especially about Chinese food.”
Of course we argued for a while longer, making me wonder why I ever encouraged my son to have viewpoints. However, he’s only part of my problem.
Jacob (11) causes plenty of high blood pressure for battling with me over leaving the house on time and wearing t-shirts that fit him, but when it comes to being a contrarian, my eight-year-old takes the cake, if not the entire bakery.
Upon serving him dinner, any dinner, Ari tells us, usually with tears in his eyes, “I told you I hate chicken/turkey/fish/vegetables/potatoes.” You name it, he makes a federal case out of us trying to feed him anything but what he deems suitable for that very moment.
On weekends, when we offer to take him out to play or visit people instead of having him lie on the couch in front of the TV, Ari will protest, “I should be able to relax once in a while. I work really hard during the week.”
When Ari is asked to clean his room, he reasons, “I shouldn’t have to. You guys are the ones who put stuff in my room.”
“You mean, the clothes, furniture, books, and toys?” I reply.
“Yeah, you should really clean this up.”
It would be easy to blame family sitcoms for the smart-alecky words my son fires like a fully loaded Nerf gun, but I have mostly myself to blame.
In my effort to encourage each one of my sons to start earlier than I did on the path to definitive thinking, I’ve been drilling them since they were infants.
With baby food, I experimented until I could elicit an excited response as to which mishmash they preferred. Over the years, I also reinforced their decision to cuddle with a favorite blanket, supported them when they picked their friends for birthday parties, and high-fived them for focusing on a book series rather than hem and haw over their choices or, God forbid, not read at all.
While I may have had difficulties in making decisions, my sons boldly choose with little hesitation. As such, they have strong opinions, albeit many that run against my preferences. Still, as long as I help them work out the nuances of respecting others’ opinions and rules, I’m confident their decisiveness will serve them well in life.
I’ve made at least one decision, recently. I resolve to not get so caught up in arguing with my sons over being contrary to me. I’ll still think they’re wrong, some of the time, but I’ll take the high road of pride that they are flexing their convictions.