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My Dad's Gift


When my dad was 5 years old, his father died and his mom was forced to take a job that required her to travel. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and she was lucky to get work at all. As a newly single parent suddenly thrust into the working world, she had no choice but to send my father and his older brother away to boarding school.

When my parents had my brother and sister and me, you would have expected my dad to be clueless about how to raise us  -- after all, how could a man who had few memories of his own father create an ideal childhood for his kids? But with my mom he created a home in which we all thrived. Now that I have three kids of my own, I realize that by being so involved in my life, my dad taught me some special things about being a mom:

Snuggle first, business later. Every morning well into our teen years, Dad woke us up in time for a few minutes of cuddling in the king-size bed he and Mom shared  -- no matter how busy the day ahead promised to be.

In my own full-size bed, whole-family cuddles aren't as easy to arrange, but every night, my husband and I climb into bed with each child, round-robin style, before they go off to sleep. It takes a solid hour of snuggles  -- first stories, then prayers, then singing in the dark  -- to get our boys to sleep. But when I'm tempted to cut the ritual short (who wouldn't be at the end of a long day?), I remember how good it felt as a little girl to start the day in the arms of my family, and I nestle in again with my children.

Father doesn't always know best. A lot of my friends were raised on the principle that whatever Mom or Dad says goes  -- so they weren't allowed to show their anger at parental decrees, say what they really thought about a house rule, or even cry when things didn't go their way. But my father welcomed the challenge of a good argument. Although my siblings and I rarely won a battle of wits or moved him to change his mind, we knew we always had a shot, which gave us confidence in our own good sense.

I admit that at times I've fallen back on the classic "Because I said so, that's why" retort when one of my boys questions me. But I try not to, and instead borrow a line from Dad: "Okay, let's hear your side of it." And then I listen  -- really listen  -- to the kid version of logic that follows. Mostly my edicts remain unchanged, but every now and then I get a glimpse at how much smarter my children are than I'd have known if I'd insisted on being an unchallenged voice of authority.