Fathers, stop coddling your kids

Story highlights

  • Ruben Navarrette: What we want for Father's Day is an attitude adjustment for our kids
  • Navarrette: Many fathers worry they coddle their kids and produce spoiled brats
  • He says it's our job to instill strong values and teach children how to become good people
  • Navarrette: Fathers shouldn't check out, hang back and let their kids raise themselves

If I may speak for some of the dads who have spoken to me over time, this year, our kids can skip the ties, golf clubs and fishing poles. What many of us really want for Father's Day is an attitude adjustment for our kids.

There's a story that a friend shared a few months ago that really made an impression on me -- as it did a roomful of other middle-aged parents who are struggling with raising their toddlers or teenagers.

One day, my friend said, he walked into his house and casually told his teenage son that he needed some help with some minor chore outside. The son, who had been playing video games, was clearly bothered. Exasperated, he said, "Dad, whenever you ask me to do stuff like this, it's just such an inconvenience."

Showing more restraint than I would have at that moment, my friend calmly apologized to his son for disturbing him. Then he picked up the phone, and fired his landscaper. Next, my friend sat down at the computer and ordered a gift for his son: a brand new lawnmower. This summer, the teenager -- who is now responsible for doing all the yard work at the family home -- is learning the true meaning of the word, "inconvenience."

It's a great story. But what I found most interesting was the crowd's reaction. It amounted to thunderous applause. It was as if they were ready to name my friend, "Father of the Year."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

There must be a whole segment of Americans who are thirsty for this message. They're worried that in trying not to be too hard on their children, they've gone too far in the other direction and turned too soft. They're concerned that they've been too lenient on their kids, too eager to cater to their whims, too quick to spoil them and too determined to convince them that they're special. This was all done with the best intentions, but it has produced some bad results.

Modern fathers face new expectations

Now, I suspect, a lot of people are experiencing a kind of parents' remorse. Many of us were raised in strict homes full of rules and expectations where mom and dad never tried to be our friends and weren't shy about yanking us back in line. And so, when we became parents, we took a different road.

We bought into the philosophy that children needed unlimited self-esteem, maximum freedom and minimal pressure to succeed in life or contribute to society. We taught our kids to think of themselves as entitled and to see themselves as the center of the universe. Now instead of parents having expectations of their children, children have expectations of how their parents are supposed to behave. We're here to serve them, to make their lives as comfortable and convenient as possible.

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One father told me recently that all he wants from his kids is a little gratitude. That's it. He wants them to show even the slightest bit of appreciation for all that their parents are working hard to provide them. Things come too easy to them, he said. Whatever they want, they get. Now they've forgotten even how to say a simple, "thank you."

Another father told me that he wants his teenage kids to toughen up a bit before they leave home in a few years and enter the real world. He would like for them to understand that, if you want something, you can't just demand it. You have to work for it. You have to earn it.

As for me, I'm getting more comfortable with the idea of making demands on my children -- ages 8, 6 and 4.

This Father's Day, and for all the rest to come, here's what they can give me:

I want each of them to stop acting like an only child, and learn to share everything with their siblings, including their parents' time and attention;

I want them to get out of their heads this corrosive idea that the world revolves around them, and all that matters at any given moment of the day is what they want, need or feel; and

I want them to treat people better, starting with their family members, and then moving on to complete strangers, and not look down on anyone -- ever.

Of course, the rub is that this is what parents are for. It's our job to instill these values and teach children how to become good people. It doesn't happen organically. And it won't happen magically. It'll only happen if we set the standards and and lay down the law when they're not met.

And fathers have a special role to play in all of this. It's not easy being a good dad. In fact, it's exhausting. And it can often be frustrating.

In fact, frankly, a lot of fathers decide it is too hard. They give up, check out, hang back and essentially let their kids raise themselves. It's one of the reasons why we got into this mess.

The only way out is for fathers to get back in the game. We have to be present in our children's lives. Forget about being their friends. They have friends. They need fathers.

We have to be in our kids' faces, just like Grandpa and Dad used to be. And for the same reason -- because we care enough not to be anywhere else.

Happy Father's Day.

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