Sunday, October 9, 2011

Being a Father – Three Years Later: The Question of Discipline and Authority

Toddler son sitting in front of Cars birthday cake

As I continue jotting down some of my personal perspectives on the progressive stages of fatherhood, I must say that there is so much happening at any given time period that I will not be able to do the subject justice. Yet it goes with the common piece of wisdom that you do not really know what it is like until you experience it yourself. 

And, in fact, these are my personal experiences and observations, yet they will tend to be universal among many fathers out there. At the same time, this is not meant to sound in any way superior or haughty on my part but I am simply stating that two fathers who truly care about their offspring will understand each other with a simple glance.

My son never ceases to amaze me. The fact that communication has become much less of an obstacle and that there are a host of topics to talk about is only part of the matter. He can string full, and for the most part grammatically correct, sentences, but it is rather more amazing that he has begun to reason. Yesterday evening I told him that I would buy him something he wanted, and he just pointed to the window claiming that it was too dark for me to go outside and buy the mentioned item. I had to bow my head and accept his convincing logical point.

And then there is a slew of questions that show a budding desire with an almost despairing and impatient sense of curiosity. I have also both anticipated and dreaded this moment. It is part of his education, and I will do my best to foster and assuage his curiosity; yet at the same time, I dread it because it will probably reveal to him his father's gaps and holes of knowledge.

I am of the persuasion that children know and understand much more than we give them credit for and that we should never underestimate children nor stunt their intellectual growth. Hence, especially over the past year, I have engaged in reasoning with him as much as possible. Mostly I have been successful; at other times, the tantrum may have been too intense for logic to find a passage and break through.

When it comes to parenting, I instinctively do not like authoritarian behavior on the part of parents. The intentions may be good and many will claim that such behavior is meant to create discipline and responsibility. However, I believe that discipline is something that needs to be internalized so that it can become a force to be reckoned with. Outward discipline as well as motivation is too contingent on the presence of authority. Once the presence is removed, so is the threat of punishment and hence the disciple in question will fall back and return to his or her “undisciplined” way of life.

As a result, I will try to ensure that my son will learn to respect authorities up to a certain degree. I will not stand for “blind obedience,” not even to myself for that matter, because authority that is not questioned will bring more problems than benefits. And here we return to the importance and necessity of reasoning.

If my child is equipped with reason to think for himself and be able to recognize flaws and holes in arguments, the best kind of weapon for life, then he should be fine. In fact, I meticulously avoid stock phrases like Because I say so or I know best and replace them with reasons and explanations that I deem appropriate for his level of understanding. Daddy may know a few things here and there, but unfortunately Daddy does not know everything. Nobody does. But at least we are trying.