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WOSTER: Raising kids like weeds

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
(605) 996-5020 customer support
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

As Father's Day wound toward evening on Sunday and the house quieted with the company gone, it occurred to me that people don't very often talk about one of the biggest reasons a lot of us manage to be the kind of fathers who praise our kids.

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We were clueless a lot. We didn't know until years later what those really good, really well-behaved kids were sometimes doing that, had we known, would have either killed us with worry or driven us nuts with rage. Sometimes if you're a father, you need to know the less, um, positive things your kids do. Other times, if they made it through alive and walked in the front door late on a Saturday smiling and all innocent, maybe you didn't really need a very specific answer to, "So, what have you been doing all afternoon?''

A guy I work with has kids growing into the high-school years. He is understandably concerned about how to handle honest-to-goodness teenagers. He asks advice, which I'm always happy to give, having watched three children become adults.

In some ways, I was like Ferris Layman in "The Diviners,'' and raised the kids like weeds. "You can pull them or trim them or hedge them on back some, but you're best off just to leave them go. You ever see a weed that wasn't healthy?''

I gave that advice to the guy I work with. It didn't seem to satisfy him. My impression was that he thought he needed to be intervening a little more directly in the lives and direction of his children. He's right, too. Parents need to be involved. You find that out years later, when the kids are adults and they're sitting around in the patio on a visit home and they get to talking about "remember the time'' adventures, about which you were blissfully ignorant when those memories were being made.

We used to have an Open Road camping van. It was a basic Chevrolet van with a bubble top to provide sleeping room. The older kids once -- and, as I say, years after the event -- talked about how they'd take that van up to the dam, park it up against the security fence at the stilling basin and then jump into the water from the top of the van. To me, the thought of jumping from the level of the parking lot was daunting enough. Apparently the height of an extended-top van made it all the more challenging. I was always glad nobody told me at the time. I liked that old van, and I'd probably have felt pressure to run out and trade it for a VW Beetle. And, maybe they were just spoofing me.

You know how parents sometimes give a little more freedom a little sooner to the younger kids? The older ones don't appreciate it. ("Hey, I never got to stay out until midnight when I was his age.'' "Hey, I didn't get to drive the car out of town until I was, like, 20.'') We did that in some ways with our youngest. One of the things I let him do earlier than the others was drive the boat. In my defense, he seemed more interested in driving it than the older kids had at his age. They were content to ski all over the lake with me driving.

This one was pretty responsible, and I let him take the boat out with friends. It was later when I learned the gang would motor along at cruising speed while guys ran from the bow to the stern and leaped into the foaming wake. Who could think that was a good idea? And what parent would think his responsible kid would allow, even encourage, such behavior, especially after being trusted with the family boat?

This past weekend our older son and his 6-year-old daughter crossed Capitol Lake by leaping from stone to stone near the yawning culvert where the water trickles in. Now, it isn't deep there, but I can't imagine slipping and plopping into muddy, goose-you know-what infested waters.

I'm a dad who learns, though. I snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook.

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