She came to me crying after the Holidays. Literally crying. She said she never felt so mistreated in her life. It felt like all she did was cook and clean the entire time the girls and their families were here.
I spent so much time taking care of them that I didn't have time to enjoy them. They were never like this when they lived with us. Why are they doing this now?
This was my cue to be fatherly and set things right between the lovely Mrs. L and our children. I thought about it a bit and then I wrote what has become the now traditional Dad's Rules for Houseguests.
Of course, I didn't tell the lovely Mrs L. She would have told me not to do it. She would have said she didn't want to cause any trouble with the kids. So I didn't tell her. This is likely the first time that I acted to protect her and didn't tell her. The second time involved a pastor at her church but that isn't what this memoir is about. I'll tell that story another time. This one is about Dad's Rules for Houseguests.
I told our girls that we loved them. We do. I couldn't be more proud of our three girls. Only one has a tattoo, only one has piercings, and only one has been divorced. We told them as they each turned thirteen that our mission was to make them self-reliant at the age of eighteen. We told them their entire teenage years were designed for parents like us and not for them. Our mission was to bring them to the point that they would be fully functioning adults and have goals and jobs and take care of themselves. We said that we would do everything in our power to ensure they did not fail as adults.
Today, one has had a successful career in retail management, one has a PhD in nuclear engineering, and one is now the Economic Development Manager for a city. But no matter how well your wife raises your children and no matter how often you agree with your wife's wisdom about child rearing, the Dad has to step in and act without permission to set things right. Especially when they are young adults.
(I can almost hear you ladies cringe as you read this. Stay with me, please.)
Although Dad's are notorius for being dense, every once in a while we get it right. You Dads know what I'm talking about, right?
And so, with much thought and incredible bravery, I crafted my Rules and sent them to our three daughters. I didn't intend to talk about them. I wasn't going to deliver a stern lecture. My girls are smart enough to read and understand context. So I sent the following rules:
Dad's Rules for Houseguests
1. If you have been invited to a holiday dinner at anyone's home other than your children's or your parent's, bring a gift.
2. Always ask if you can help prepare the meal or prepare the table.
3. When the meal is over, ask how you can help clean up. I don't care if you are a guy or a girl, there is plenty to do to show your appreciation.
4. THANK THE HOST AND HOSTESS FOR THE MEAL AND PAY A COMPLIMENT TO THOSE WHO PREPARED IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE TABLE. You can do it again when you leave their house but be sure to do it before you leave the table.
5. Contribute to the conversation. Regardless of how or why you were invited, be a good guest by participating in the conversation.
6. Resist the urge to be overly clever and toss out zingers and criticism towards others. You were not invited to show how you can hurt someone else's feelings.
7. Mind your children. Feel free to mind their children as well. Children should obey all adults in the house.
8. Apply a little woodcraft to your visit and leave no trace that you were there. Pick up after yourself and your family.
Note: Many of the above may also be done with your parents and/or your future children but because they are your immediate family it isn't a requirement.
The first time we had Family Christmas after the rules were known, our youngest daughter sent them out in an email to remind her sisters. The following year after that, our eldest daughter was hostess. She decided to add one more rule to the list for clarity.
You are not required to:
1) Laugh at any of Dad's jokes.
We have the best Family Christmases now. We rent vacation homes together without rancor. Men cook and clean as best they can. Those who cook are not allowed to clean-up. Families rotate meal preparation every day. No one has to do it all. Menus make allowances for allergies and vegetarians.
Every child has eight parents at Christmas who will offer love and kindness plus administer discipline and obedience. If felt really good for me to say to one grandchild: Did you hear your Dad? He told you to go do this. He didn't tell you to argue with him. Now go do it.
This year we held our first Family Olympics. Each couple drew a child's name to be on their team. Over two days, eight games were played and the scores of all games were totaled. We will have a traveling trophy next year to be held by the winning three-person team until the next Family Olympics.
Yes, I stopped telling jokes as a result of the new rule. That was a loud-and-clear message. I, too, understand context when I read it.
I know it doesn't happen often but sometimes Father Knows Best. My advice to everyone is to stop raising children and start raising adults. And remember, your parenting doesn't end when they're married.
I should also mention that when your children get a good handle on parenting, you may be nurtured for your own good. It happens.