Observations From a Bygone Era
There was a simpler time in our country’s history. A time before the interconnectedness of everything and all the digital distractions, vaping, and reality tv. I’m talking about pre-industrial revolution, when we were an agrarian society. It was time when children weren’t asked by their teachers (if they even went to school) what their fathers did for a living. Your dad was the town black smith, or a homesteader, or the town sheriff. Everyone knew. More importantly, children knew what their fathers did. In most cases, what fathers did for a living took place at or around the home. As we became industrialized, that changed.
It used to be that children (sons in particular) learned from their fathers everything they needed to know about how to be a productive member of society. At a certain age you left your mother’s side and followed dad to field, or barn, or marketplace, or wherever he was going, and you did whatever he was doing by hisside. Trade secrets were passed down. Life lessons were learned. Skills were developed. Wisdom imparted. Then, one day, you took over for him and the process continued with your children. This parent-child bond was arguably one of the more virtuous traditions of that bygone era.
Indeed, much has changed in the last 150 years. What we’ve gained since the industrial revolution is obviously fantastic. I’m writing this on a laptop computer in a gas-heated house while wearing a blanket-robe and drinking a latte. The sum total of the world’s knowledge is in my pocket. I sleep on memory foam. Life is immeasurably better.
Is it possible that in all of our advancements we’ve left something important behind?
For all that we’ve gained, I find myself often longing for something simpler. I have five sons and two daughters. I wish I had more time to walk with them during the day. To show them the things I’ve learned in my years. To have them follow me as I make a living and show them the tricks of my trade.
That isn’t how things work anymore. We’ve outsourced so much of what we are fundamentally responsible for. Don’t hear that negatively, this isn’t a criticism. I’m grateful for the fact that I don’t have to grow my own food or physically make my own bed. I’m also grateful that we have an education system filled with wonderful teachers and administrators that love on my kids every day. But I recognize that this is an outsourcing of my fundamental responsibility as a father.
My kids are in school for approximately 40 hours per week during roughly the same period of time that I’m away at work. While they are learning long division and the table of elements, I’m building business and developing programs. When we come home, there is very little carry-over from work life to home life. Consequently, my kids know nothing about what I do for a living.
Is it all that uncommon for children to have no clue what their parents do to support their families? Obviously, some professions are easier to understand than others.
Even then, do your kids really know what you do?
Do they know the importance of managing expenses? Showing up on time? Creative problem-solving? Do they know the risk of losing a client if performance is poor? Are these the things that we hope public education will teach them?
I’m not counting on it.
I think there is something worth preserving from the bygone era of fathers and their children working side-by-side. I’m not talking about pulling my kids out of school to make them till fields or forge hammers (is that how you make a hammer?). There are many things about fatherhood that just cannot and should not be outsourced. I want them to have some type of experience where they learn from walking by my side. There has to be a way for me to demonstrate skills and impart wisdom without taking them to the office with me.
They may not learn exactly what I do for a living, but there is a way for them to learn about some of the skills I employ to do it.
This way requires time, intention, and direction.
I am doing this in several ways. First, we do chores together. I’m talking about yard work, cleaning up after pets, laundry, whatever. We do these things side by side now. I do this with a different mindset as well. No longer am I just trying to get it done and checked off the honey-do list. I’m trying to get them to understand the why’s and the how’s, to understand service to others, and how to put it all into proper context.
This way requires more time. In theory, many hands make light work. In practice, this isn’t true if you’re working with middle school boys. All five of my boys helped me pack the truck when we moved from Texas to Michigan. This was difficult for me because I had to re-do much of what they did. But I couldn’t turn them away when they were eager to help. In the end, it turned out to be an invaluable learning experience for all of us.
Secondly, I’m delegating more. As your kids grow, they need to be able to take on more responsibility. They need to be entrusted, given freedom to fail, and learn from those failures. We do this several ways. Our 13-year-old daughter babysits for us on date night. My oldest son has trash duty. My second son has backyard dog mess duty. Each child has a table chore after meals. If they forget, there are consequences. It’s not always fun, but it’s important that they learn time management and personal responsibility.
This way requires intention and direction. Again, you’re not just trying to get things done, you’re unpacking the process, helping your kids understand motivations and self-awareness, instilling a sense of pride in their accomplishments. The list goes on.
Resist the urge to do it yourself. Spend the time with them by your side.
Demonstrate good work ethic by being diligent with your duties at home.
Explain how and why. Unpack the bigger picture in terms of service and responsibility.
The parent-child relationship is the most important relationship in kids’ lives at this point. Your words and actions mean more to them than those of anyone else. If you can’t take them to office with you, they still need to know what work is like in the real world. You’re the best teacher for that.
To your adventure.