The Nonchalantdad: The Message is Everything

I've been thinking about messages lately. A couple of things. The other day my son came to me while I was making dinner and said to me that he and his sister needed to go to 'Chuck-E-Cheese'. When I asked him why, he told me that the television just announced that it was a place 'where a kid could be a kid'. They were watching a cartoon on PBS, of all things! How would I navigate that one? This reminded me of something I had seen starting to take place when our previous president came into office. I noticed that at almost every occasion he spoke, behind him would appear some key words, etc. Something that had only really been noticeable in campaigns was now arriving in the presidential day to day. I put the photo above to point out the most obvious one during that presidency - but moreso, to remind myself, and you, something that you already know: THE MESSAGE (good or bad, and even manipulative) IS EVERYTHING! Normally, this is something that might be filed into a corner where only PR and advertising people might show interest. But, now, the messages streaming in front of us have become so pervasive it is ridiculous to pretend you aren't effected.

The other day I saw a strange story in the national news associated with Ms Universe, or Ms World...or something like that. Ms Universe was speaking about how wonderful her visit to Guantanamo Bay was - how she, and a group of others, met with the guards and looked around the place a bit (hmmm.... I liked the part where she said she didn't happen to see any of the prisoners...ouch). I thought it was some sort of April Fool's prank at first. The 'difficulty' was, in her obvious enthusiasm, that she made the place sound like she was visiting a Club Med (she mentioned having time to go swimming in the pristine waters)... and soon enough, people around the country noticed the obvious irony.... and just like that the message was 'edited'. This is a perfect example of 'sending the wrong message.' Whoa!

Now, what does this have to do with raising children, you may ask? Well, I think it has everything to do with raising children. A large portion of what our young people pick up is not usually by what we say as parents, but what we are doing as parents - and what they see when they are out and about. We set the tone, we are the message, continuously.

So, I am pleased to say that the message coming from the White House these days seems to be much more positive. Just this month, two very important things took place that would cheer the heart of any caring parent and advocate of 'YES WE CAN' change. And, the good thing about it was that it was not delivered with any sense of purpose, other than good ol' authentic sincerity.
How's that for CHANGE!

The news from the White House first came at the beginning of this last month when it was announced that Mr and Mrs Obama were installing a swing and play set for their young daughters. Where would they put it? Apparently near the Oval Office where Daddy could watch them play while at work. How normal is that? Then, later in the month of March came word that the Obama's would be creating and planting their own vegetable garden (an ORGANIC one at that) on the White House property - near to where the swing and play set would be located. Imagine that, two small seemingly inconsequential things that any family might consider, given knew attention and meaning by the First Family. I don't know about you - but after all the negativity and faux importance given the last decade of messages - this was a FRESH CHANGE! Imagine what this says to millions of Americans? Just think.

Now, nobody is perfect - especially me - but I want my message to my kids to be as fruitful and clear as possible. I grew up, as many of you might have, in a time and a place where the message being presented did not always jibe with the message being delivered. Let's just say that there was alot of hypocrisy when it came to good parenting - in particular I'm thinking of all of those 'films' we used to have to watch in school that were supposed to teach us how we could be well behaved and good citizens. Nonetheless, being the son of a nurse meant that many of the important messages I received otherwise were always delivered with an almost brutally compassionate honesty. But, that's not my point really. My point is that whenever possible I try to explain to my children that what they see in their parents, for good or bad, is how it is in the world at large - at least it is authentic!

Of course, as a father, I was a little angry the other day when I happened to pick up one of my wife's favourite parenting magazines. I'm generally disappointed, a bit, in this magazine anyhow since it seems to be squarely focused on celebrity stuff (what a surprise!) - even within parenting - and offers lots of information that just does not seem to be authentic. Case in point: I'm reading this article/interview about a working mother and how she balances running her own company and her home life. She quite honestly states in the interview that she and her husband made an agreement that he would leave his career and be more of a stay at home dad while she continued on and focused on the company business. No problem with that. But, the article goes on to state how the father has taken on much of the responsibility of the day to day with their son and she tries to squeeze in the evenings and weekends. Again, no problem. What I had a problem with is that the magazine article only featured images of the mother playing, or reading, with the boy (and of course some images of the business). Where was the father's image in all of this? Apparently, someone somewhere thought that his inclusion wasn't as important to the overall impression, or message. His inclusion might not have been as glamourous, considering perhaps that the magazine is read overwhelmingly by women.

I don't want to sound unfair, given the long long ..... long.... history of that kind of role reversal where the father got all the attention through work and career, etc. while the mother spent the time taking the brunt of the home-bound duties pretty much quietly and in the shadows. But, the message is everything: is the father not presentable enough to this magazine that he doesn't even warrant a single image. And, the mother, who is hardly present in the day to day, pretends to be the stay at home parent. That's just not right....... humpfff!!!

I put that kind of image, or message, right up there with the ones I find most amusing. These are not the usual photo spreads of parents, where the parents are just dressed up nicely (I can live with that - I've had to do it myself), but, instead, these are the photos of mommy frolicking on the beach or back garden, fully kitted out in a changing array of couture dresses. I have yet to meet the average mommy, or daddy, who is able to do that in one afternoon jaunt - let alone even on special occasions! So, why do they do show us this stuff? I'll tell you: because our messaging system is all messed up!

The messages are everywhere - everyday. They make up how we see ourselves, present ourselves, and who we aspire to be. And, if anything has shown us lately that the messages coming out of the influential are now woefully suspect, considering the economic turmoil etc, it is that messages are very very important - and can have alot of major influence. Just look around you! And, if you're not.... I can assure you that your children are!!! If you set a bad tone, you get a bad result. Set a GOOD HONEST tone, get a better result. It's not hard to fathom.

It is why I wanted my kids to see the story on Mr and Mrs Obama and their recent decisions - moreso than watching a Ms Universe take in the beautiful surroundings of the setting of Gauntanamo, or another mother dressed in haute couture while playing house with the kids in yet another photo spread. It makes for a strange world and a tough navigation! I'd hate to see a point where we are all much like the characters in that popular movie from the 90's - the Truman Show. I doubt we will be, but boy..... it sure feels like it sometimes!