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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Dad's Point of View: Diversity Is A Nine Letter Word

Diversity is a nine-letter word; so is parenting. ShortRib (my wife) and I met a wonderful couple on our recent honeymoon that, at first, we thought and they thought represented the most diversity in a couple any of us knew. In fact, they were written up as just such a phenomenon in a local paper in their hometown. David is a 55-year-old, liberal, white Jewish lawyer, while Farah is a 40-year-old, conservative, black Christian, non-profit worker. Key thing about them; no kids, by their mutual choice. However, they’ve been married 10 years and, on the surface, have one of the best rapports between couples we observed on the entire cruise and safari, where we encountered quite a large mix of couples.

Then, we began to reflect on our own differences and started to laugh. Maybe we trumped them; maybe not, but it raised for us the challenges of diversity in marriage as well as the primary subject of today’s column, diversity in parenting style. I, too, am a 55-year old white male Jew. My politics, however, tend to be more on the conservative side and my career most definitely never included law. ShortRib is closer to my age (it’s not for me to disclose her age), Chinese, Christian, and never had kids. I’d raised two boys, alone the past few years. So, we wondered, who really was the more diverse couple and who had the greater challenges in getting along.

As it isn’t and wasn’t a contest, we decided the easy course was just to make a great friendship with David and Farah, and we did. While we live in separate states, email and future trips together are clearly part of our mutual goals. They, however, don’t need to deal with the parenting challenge that ShortRib and I face daily. Our styles are just plainly different. I bring to it the experience of raising them all their lives, the male point-of-view, and my Jewish upbringing. She brings her ethnic background, upbringing and her Christian values and lack of any prior parenting experience.

Happily, we’re more or less on the same page politically and even our religious differences truly come down to only Jesus and his role in the universe. The Old Testament speaks to both of us and our values of right and wrong that come from it are the same. In many ways, our relationship is easier for me than when I had to deal with secular, far Left Hollywood in my former life and career.

But, as dad and step-mom, we diverge often. Not a new story, but an ongoing battle and struggle for us and so many blended families or just couples that married with huge differences in backgrounds and experiences. And, in more obvious ways, we reflect our respective genders and consequent instincts. She’s more the nurturer, home-maker (though I’m the one home with the boys), task-master when it comes to chores, and cleanliness, and the more forgiving when the boys are sick or hurt. I bring the tough-guy role to the party, telling the boys to suck it up and not cry when they get hurt, support ShortRib about the cleaning and such, but really don’t care near as much, and do enjoy the occasional burp and fart, which still brings tears of laughter to our eyes, while only causing ShortRib to roll hers in disgust.

We also differ on our attitudes about schooling and grades. I’ve come to believe that grades and school are given out-of-proportionate weight and importance in our society. Not every kid is destined to go to a four-year university, then on to medical or law school, or get a PHD, all the while taking every high school AP class that is available. While I wish that GuitarHero (our 15-year-old) cared more about his grades and school, I also don’t lose sleep over it. ShortRib, on the other hand, struggles all the time trying to make him into the student Jughead (our 12-year-old) is and she was, as a child.

Ironically, we both had parents that emphasized the value of an education and the importance of grades and college, so it’s odd that our styles here differ. I’ve come to view college as less the fountain of learning than the fountain of indoctrination these days. In books like “The Millionaire Next Door” and in the successes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and so many others (both of them did not go to an elite college and only got basic degrees), there’s ample evidence that the need for a college degree is unclear. Maybe entrepreneurial and people skills will bring more success. Maybe a year off, living and learning, after high school would be better than immediately beginning college.

On these things we disagree, though we’re open to discussion. What we don’t disagree about is the fact that our new friends, David and Farah, have a much easier time of life not having to deal with teens or kids and face these issues and choices. But, we’d not trade our lives for a minute.

Please visit www.brucesallan.com to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including a unique Ask Bruce For Advice section, an archive of his columns, contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan was an award-winning television executive and producer for 25 years. Google him if you really want to know more (e.g. his credits). When his boys were quite young, Bruce left show biz to become a full-time Dad. Shortly thereafter his marriage ended and his wife abandoned their children, leaving the State. Bruce found himself a full-time single Dad, in his late forties, as well as a returning single man to the changed world of cyber-dating. It became a classic “sandwich” situation when he also began to care for his ailing parents. He began writing various blogs on the dating sites he used as well as articles for local publications. The goal of his column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is to primarily focus on parenting and occasionally other issues from the male perspective. Presently, his column is available in over 50 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Bruce lives in Agoura, California with his second (and last) wife and two boys, who are 15 and 12.

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