Lessons From My Dad’s Completely Questionable Parenting

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To know my dad is to love him. Scratch that. To know my dad is to love him and ask yourself over and OVER, “What was he thinking?” (And several variations of that.) Questioning could also be applied to his parenting methods, but somehow my brother and I turned out okay. Then again even my dad will readily attribute that “somehow” to actually-we-all-know-how: my mom.

Nonetheless, here are a few life lessons and – if you’re ever in a bind – a few ways to entertain your kids from just a small sampling of field-tested experiences with my dad.

  1. Teach them to help others. Pick up hitchhikers as often as you see them. Bonus points if you pick up the same drunk Amish man on multiple occasions and have your kids ride in the back of the pickup truck.
  2. Turn what used to be a chore into a lengthy amusement experience. Instead of washing your car yourself or letting the kids do a half-ass job of it, announce that you’re going to splurge and go through the automatic car wash. To drag it out – and I mean really drag it out – insist on getting cash via making a purchase for yourself at a Turkey Hill convenience store. Break into a sweat if the bill is not flat enough, for fear that the machine at the car wash may not take it. Afterward, get out of the car to make sure the car wash didn’t ding the car. Swear that it did and threaten to wash it yourself because machines can’t be trusted, but continue to go back to said car wash on a weekly basis.
  3. Lighten the blow of bad news with a pleasant distraction. When you have to tell your kids about, say, some bad news about your health, first treat them to something they love. Steak for you, burgers and fries for them. Then while they are sipping on milkshakes take a serious tone and say, “Well kids, I’ve got some bad news. This might be the last time we can ever do this.” The straws will drop out of their mouths like they’re about to hear you tell them you are getting a divorce, but since that already happened they’ll think surely now you are actually dying. Instead you will continue, “The doctor says I’m a borderline diabetic. So this might be our last milkshake for awhile.” Days, months, and YEARS LATER you will all still be drinking milkshakes at every given chance.
  4. Instill the value of taking your time. Turn a short hike into a day-long experience by threatening to make your kids carry you because, ” I don’t think I can make it any further, but it’s too late to turn around now. We’re going all the way to the river even if I collapse and you have to carry me.” This will slow them down and shut them up for fear that you may actually be on the brink of a heart attack with the way you’ve sweated through your button-down leisure shirt, or that your “borderline diabetes” has finally caught up to you.
  5. Pop in unannounced to visit people you know.  If the kids start to whine about going to see someone they don’t even know, launch into a familiar lecture. “Do you know what’s wrong with the world today? People don’t visit each other anymore. People are so busy that you can’t even visit them, you’ve got to plan it ahead and put it on the calendar, and I don’t have time for that. I just want to visit people …” The lecture is guaranteed to stave off any whining they may have had left in them, for fear that you may never stop talking about it. The lecture can (and will) take any number of turns depending on which oft-repeated rant, pet peeve, or piece of wisdom you feel like offering them on any given day.
  6. Children are never too young to have their horizons expanded. And what better way to do that then by visiting stripping rooms. That’s a TOBACCO stripping room for all of my non-agriculture friends, but you can be sure that the calendars and conversation can make these barns nearly every bit as inappropriate of a place to take a child. Insist to your kids that, “You might never meet characters like this again, this is a real privilege.” You won’t be lying about the first part.
  7. You can have your screen time and use it to teach your kids responsibility too. When your three-year-old daughter comes downstairs at bedtime to tell you that there is a mouse in her room, pry yourself away from the television just long enough to take your shotgun off the gun rack on the wall. (Merica?) Hand it to her and tell her to shoot the mouse. She will struggle to carry the heavy weapon up the stairs in her quest to be obedient, buying the mouse plenty of time to escape. It will also delay time long enough for you to finish watching your show before her mother yells at you for giving a gun to a child and asking: what were you thinking?
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