As we reflect on the flurry of activity that most families experience during the month of May, we often consider renaming the entire month Mayhem! But as school, sports seasons and other activities begin to wind down into the lazier days of summer; it offers us a good moment to reflect on where we as families may go next. By taking a second to breathe, to examine what we have learned – both good and bad – we can more deliberately build guideposts to better navigate whatever is to come. In a continuing celebration of our Year of the Dad, we asked one of our Families First dads to give us some words of wisdom from his years spent with four daughters. Dr. Gerry White, our compliance and program development manager, offers us great perspective on what grads uniquely need to hear from a dad. Thank you Gerry, and congratulations to your own grads!
Kim E. Anderson, CEO, Families First, Inc.
By Gerry L. White
May represents the season of celebration. Each year parents wait with anticipation to watch their children march across the stage to receive their diploma. Like many parents during this period, I reflect on our investment of time, love and energy ensuring they make it to this significant moment. I recall all the time spent getting them out of bed and ready for school, helping with their homework, completing one project after another -- A poster board for the science fair, presentation cards for experiments, cue cards for the Spanish exam, batteries for the robot, a PTA meeting one night and Booster Club meeting the next, prep time for SAT and study time for the CRCT; school performance on Wednesday and debate competition on Friday -- It often seemed as if the work would never end. But it’s all placed in perspective by graduation time.
Beyond academics, I find there is a much greater need to give advice concerning how to survive the teenage years and ultimately navigate through life. Recently over dinner, I asked my children what advice they found to be most beneficial. Their answers were very telling and may prove insightful for other dads of grads.
1. Don’t Succumb to Peer Pressure! Apparently my constant reminder that “the most important decisions you will ever make are the ones out of your parent’s presence” sunk in. That was number one on their list.
2. “Remember, You Are a White”! I’ve always stressed to my children the importance of honoring the family name. Their behavior, good or bad, is a representation of the family. You can learn a lot about a person’s family and values by observing their behavior and treatment toward others. And every child needs to feel part of a larger group that they represent in the world.
3. Strive to Reach Your Capacity! It is not difficult to know your potential. This is determined by assessing your personal effort and you will always know whether or not you’ve truly done your best. Capacity, on the other hand, requires you to strive for a level in which you’ve never obtained; it is not limited to academics, but also includes your charity and demonstrations of kindness toward others.
4. Get Your Fight Right! I always tell my children to stand up for what they believe. Each day when departing home, they pass my favorite quote framed “What good is freedom of speech without the power of expression? Express yourself!” When I hear about challenges with their friends or an issue at their school, I always ask “did you speak up?”
5. Advocate for Yourself! As a student attending the school of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University, my favorite instructor always told me “If you can’t advocate for yourself, how can you advocate for your clients? While my girls have grown weary of this saying, they’ve shared with me an appreciation for this position. They acknowledge their parents cannot always be there, so they are given the challenge of advocating with facts and less emotion.
6. Protect Your Reputation: Of course the advice my girls are most uncomfortable receiving involves boys. In this area, my wife and I have different approaches: She comes from the perspective of a woman. But as a man, I share with them things which could only be explained from a male’s perspective. I tell them from middle school and through high school boys are under constant peer pressure to have sex, lie about sex or conceal the fact they choose to be a virgin. This was an issue when I was in middle school and it remains an issue today. To manage this challenge, many boys will try to increase their status by engaging in any form of contact with a girl. If they succeed, it is a badge of honor. For girls who give in (or initiate the contact) it can become a badge of shame. I often say there are some girls young men will bring home to their mother and some girls they will just bring home.
7. Trust in God and Stand by Your Faith! This is actually what my children have most loved to hear from me. Worshiping is central to our family bond. My children are among those who may have little recollection of ever missing church. I advise them “God have given you beautiful voices and you are expected to give praise in return.” I share with them as their praises go up, blessings do come down. I guess that is why I’m blessed with a beautiful family filled with love, a strong commitment to education and a firm grip on faith.
From my perspective as a father of three, this is the advice every GRAD needs to hear from a dad. If you haven’t noticed by now, I am extremely proud my children. Like many of you, I truly believe I have the best daughters in the world. Often times I’m asked how does it feel to be in a house full of women? I simply say, “It’s the best odds a father could ever have.” Responsible fatherhood is a lifetime of Caring Commitment and Consistency, and I wish that for all children from the bottom of my heart!
Learn more about Families First's Year of the Dad initiative.