When I was in high school I had to write a paper on the “American Dream,” namely, what I believed it to be and my own pursuit of it. Most kids wrote about fame and glory, the games they would win and the millions they would make, all those things that are confused for happiness while standing on the soft side of life regarding pursuit as a verb and time but a toothless concept. I, however, wrote about a future where I would be a father, a family man with a kempt yard, a smart wife, kids full of smiles and a dog that fetched my slippers. Perhaps my imagination was limited to the world around me, or perhaps that was the path that I deemed most unlikely. Honestly, I don’t recall the backstory, but I remember this: I would be the coolest dad on the block—the one that played ball in the street and had great taste in music. And on the weekends, I would buy booze for any kid that wanted it.
When the future came I didn’t expect it, but suddenly I was knee-deep in it, the American dream of term papers past had grown all around me, minus the part about the slippers and my hair a whole lot thinner. Fatherhood found me, far less goofy than the sitcoms had promised, and with it the responsibility of example and consequence—neither of which had been in the manual. My ideas on parenting changed with a heartbeat, but, to be fair, my taste in music remained fantastic.
Talk early, talk often, and be happy!
What changed was the emphasis that I had placed upon the coolness of underage drinking, something I once believed synonymous with footloose (not the movie) and carefree, was, in fact, the exact opposite. Who knew?
That isn’t to say that I take issue with drinking, far from it, but I openly embrace the responsibility that goes with being a father—it’s actually a pretty long (and very rewarding) list. First and foremost on it is the the safety and well-being of my children. Glorifying potentially reckless behavior may look like fun in yearbooks and movies, but not so across the kitchen table—that’s where my American dreams are sitting, what with their endless smiles and great taste in music.
When we consider the examples that we, as parents, set for our children, we should realize that we are also setting the conditions from which they will grow their own theories, practices and term paper fodder. That doesn’t mean that we need hide our own history or justify our current behavior through elaborate excuse or “because I’m the boss” rote, but rather be open and honest: talk early, talk often, and be happy.
That last bit comes directly from the good people at Responsibility.org and the #TalkEarly campaign, but they are words that I live by. Over the coming year I, on behalf of Dads 4 Change, will share a handful of posts about their fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking, and the promotion of responsible decision-making regarding the consumption of alcohol. It’s a good cause, and while I am compensated as a #TalkEarly Ambassador, my opinions remain my own. My hopes, however, are for all of us.
Whit Honea is the co-founder of Dads 4 Change, the Social Media Director and Community Manager of Dad 2.0 Summit as well as a Senior Account Executive at the conference’s parent company: XY Media Group. Deemed “the activist dad” by UpWorthy (and one of the “funniest dads on Twitter” by Mashable), he is a regular contributor to The Modern Dads Podcast and the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book—a family guide to empathy.