The construction of small traditions

I enjoyed attending a “fathers only” presentation by Michael Thompson at our school this week. He addressed about 60 fathers in the room (not bad at a 7:30 a.m. start) with the concept that it is very easy for a father to feel “disqualified” from being needed or actively involved in the raising of children.  Fathers can be less able to calm a crying baby or less present for recitals and play performances because of work travel.  At the same time, he emphasized how critically important the relationship is between the father and his children, especially once the children are full-grown and looking back at their childhood experiences and relationships.

Thompson’s advice was to actively and thoughtfully invest in the “small traditions and routines” of how a father builds a relationship with his children.  These routines might be very small (something routinely done at the breakfast table or when riding together in a car), but in the long run they will form the positive, lasting points of definition that children remember. Members of the audience shared examples of these routines, including father and sons who make a point of visiting classic baseball fields for games together over a multi-year period, or spend a lifetime trying to see all of Shakespeare’s plays together live on stage.

Some routines die out (such as singing or reading to children as they fall asleep), but then they should be replaced with new traditions– Saturday breakfast out.  Or even shopping together in a mall for a few hours, which one father did with his daughter because he had the patience and she could be the authority in terms of what shops they visited and what they saw and discussed.  Afterwards, they had a lunch together.

In my case, I enjoy the morning bicycle ride to school with my son, and how every morning we can have a short talk when locking up the bikes about the day, or the ride in on the London streets, or anything we feel like.  Cycling in London is a little scary and dangerous, but we overcome it together.

Another touchstone in our family is the sailing trips, in which we don’t have much choice but to come together and face some hardships and discomfort.  Luckily, we are aware enough to feel proud afterwards.  As my daughter once said, “Doug and I never fight on the boat,” because doing so simply wouldn’t do.

For good or bad, our next challenge together is a point-to-point bicycle tour from one side of England to the other.  It’s called the coast to coast challenge, and it’s only about 140 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea on a pretty route just south of the Scottish border near Hadrian’s Wall.  We have all the train and B&B reservations to do this over four days during spring break, and we just bought new bikes for the kids so they are ready for the ride.  Steph and I still have our touring bikes, and the kids know their parents have done many cycling tours in the past, before they were born.  Our best was from Seattle to California (camping all along the Pacific Coast), but we also did the Shenandoah Valley many times, and across Maryland and New England, the San Juan Islands, etc.

Steph on rest break (collapse), cycling in the San Juan Islands

So, doing a trip like this with the kids has been a goal for a long time, and now we think they are old enough.  I simply hope it isn’t 37 degrees and pouring rain for every second of the trip (as it is doing now in London for day-after-day on our February break).  To their credit, however, the kids are riding every day this week to tune up for the ride, despite the very cold and wet conditions here!

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