The Child Is Father of the Man – Tips and Techniques for Wise Parenting
Did the world suddenly change the day you became a parent? Since then have you wondered how best you will care for your baby who grows into your toddler and then into your young child? Is the prospect of raising a stable, happy and responsible child merely wishful thinking?
You are not alone in this quandary. Welcome to the club of puzzled parents, with the largest membership in the world! To most parents raising children as best as they can, falls short of unspoken expectations. This book, which is a storehouse of practical ideas, can help bridge the gap. LEAD PARENTING is the prescription.
Using the collective insight that he and his wife gained over decades of raising four children, the author offers a thought-provoking, relevant and actionable guide to parenting. His suggestions to change and grow, as a parent are practical and specific. Examples and scenarios he presents are from real-life situations that parents encounter regularly and connect with readily. Going beyond immediate issues and challenges he looks at what is round the bend.
Investing in this book could be the most significant decision you make towards managing your parenting role!
Ignatius Fernandez is no stranger to parenting. Father of four sons, he considers parenting a vocation. In his roles as a devoted husband, a firm but loving father, and a doting grandfather to his eight grandchildren, he is at home with family relationships, which he believes are the mainstay of a person’s life.
And he is no stranger to books. He has already published six books: ‘My Family – the Next Best Thing that Happened to Me’, ‘Relationship Management – the Master’s Way’, ‘Through the Eye of a Needle – Transforming Relationships’, ‘Life Lessons – A Christian Sharing’, ‘The Golden Rule – For Empowering Professional Relationships’ and, ‘The Heart has its Reasons – Looking Back, Looking Ahead’.
As you can see, he prefers writing on relationships. So when you decide to read ‘The Child is Father of The Man – Your Child, Your Finest Achievement’, you can expect it to be on parenting, lessons he and his wife learned while raising their children, and relationships.
The book takes you on a step-by-step journey to make you the best parent you can be. The author frankly declares that when his first son was born, he and his wife had no idea how to ‘parent’. They tried, made mistakes, learnt and started over, drawing strength from God, experience and reflection, to shape their parenting skills. It is this journey – spanning 43 years – and the insights it brought that are shared in this book.
‘The Child is the Father of Man’ is a goldmine of tips, ideas and best practices on different aspects of parenting – guidelines, methods of disciplining, value-education and traits to inculcate. The author answers many questions that parents today ask: how to lead by example, be caring parents, instruct children, and even how other considerations affect parenting, such as the relationship between spouses.
To make this vast subject easy to understand, the book is divided into two parts. The first part sets forth a framework for parenting, while the second part highlights the values and virtues that the author believes are central to raising children to be responsible adults. In a world that pays too much attention to correctness and diplomacy, the author has the courage to espouse traditional values and beliefs. So, he does not shy away from topics like disciplining, firm parenting and the place of God in the family.
One of the most striking aspects of the book is its anecdotal nature – real-life experiences and stories drawn from around the world are used to illustrate the author’s opinions.
If you are looking for a detailed and complete book on traditional parenting values and practices, this is the book for you. The author urges parents to come to terms with the non-negotiable, ‘only good parents can raise good children.’ The onus is on parents. Some of the points he espouses may seem difficult to follow, until you read how he led by example.
I can be forgiven for assuming at the outset, that this would be another book on parenting styles. But after reading the book, I realise that it is more about parents and the roles they play, and less about the children who will be impacted by the manner in which those roles are played out.
Kritika Srinivasan, Editor, ParentEdge, Singapore.
It is a privilege to share some thoughts with you through the pages of this book. After you have read it, I hope you will carry with you some points that suit your need. I thank you for your time and interest in the book.
In his enjoyable book Fatherhood, actor and TV personality Bill Cosby, in jest asks and answers a question: “You know the only people who are always sure about the proper way to raise children? Those who never had any!” With that as a yardstick, would I, a father of four sons, qualify to write this book? Yes and No. No, because I erred as a parent. Yes, because my wife, Mabel, and I gave parenting our untiring best. The good part is that our four boys turned out right – devoted to God, disciplined and dutiful. That gave me, one reason to write this book. From beyond the grave Benjamin Disraeli, former British politician, gave me another: “The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it”. With two good reasons I set about writing. What you read now is the result.
In this book, Mabel and I share lessons we learned, with the benefit of much reflection, insights from mistakes, and a changed awareness. We do not have all the answers. We can only share what little we know. Some ideas are plain commonsense. Some may help you, when you adapt them to your situation. Replicating them without modifying them to the needs of your unique child may not be a good idea. Despite these thoughts, the book will be only a footnote to the rich literature on Parenting. Then, why write this book? Mother Teresa’s words come to mind, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop”. I will draw comfort from those words and hope that the book will serve some small purpose.
Some people compliment us as a model family, with exemplary children. We gracefully accept their compliment but give them an answer that surprises them. We tell them that we know of many good parents with children who have not turned out right. Why? Chances are they relied solely on their strengths. We did not. Rather early, we learned an unforgettable lesson: it is God who completes our efforts. Let me phrase that differently: without Him in the equation, the problem is seldom solved. If that is an axiom, why do some parents who trust in God fail in their parenting roles? It is because trust is all or nothing. Trust God only when we are confronted with problems and at other times act as we please – that is a contradiction. Trust is surrender. In the words of Rick Warren, Pastor and author: “Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats. It does not mean giving up rational thinking. Surrender does not weaken, but strengthen”. True faith, is not just believing that God can; it is trusting that He will. Let God take charge, because He reserves His best for those who let Him take charge.
Does it mean that we hand over charge and watch Him work His wonders? No, we do our bit. We understand the idea better when we read the Swedish Proverb: “God gives every bird its worm, but He does not throw it into the nest”. The bird has to work for it. So, trusting Him we took steps to instil in the children basic values: Character is important; humility is not make-believe; courage is not bravado; co-operation does not have an agenda; hard work is vital; excellence comes by making sacrifices; there are no short cuts, and learning from mistakes is a sign of maturity. When we did our part, God stepped in to complete our parenting efforts. When the good people who compliment us, hear our explanation they think that we are deflecting the glory that rightfully should be ours; that we are being overly modest. In time, we hope they discover that there is truth in our response to their words of praise; that we are not falsely modest. Sonia Choquette, author of the book, The Wise Child, describes a belief that we share with her: “The intuitively awakened and spiritually integrated parent who has a strong connection to his or her own inner guidance and well being, makes it possible for that same sense to flourish in the child”.
When Mabel and I started life in 1969, we were completely blank on how to raise children. My beloved parents set high standards and led by example. I was inspired to follow in their footsteps, but did not know how. Mabel lost her parents when she was in her early teens, and missed out on essential inputs from them. We had not read a book or attended a session on parenting. Our parenting landscape was barren; we were not equipped to start a family. So, much of what we did in the early years of raising children was trial and error; more error. Mabel was rather flexible; I was less. The alchemy of time changed wrought iron to malleable steel. Now, I am more flexible, but my regret is that my parenting years are behind me. Would I be right in hoping that you will be spared such regrets when you have reflected and acted on some thoughts in this book?
In the stern and demanding hands of experience, we learned the hard way. Those lessons were like sentinels watching over our parenting conduct. We also learned that even with the benefit of experience, we would be limited in our skills. It is when we feel helpless that we seek help. We sought help, to find it in God.
Very aptly Saint Augustine wrote: “The measure of love is to love without measure”. Dedicated parents do exactly that, when they set the right example, give the right advice and discipline children in the right way; all done with great love. Take the example of a tasty dish. A good cook, a good recipe and good ingredients must come together to produce a delicious dish. Even if one of the three is missing or compromised, the result is an insipid dish. Likewise, in good parenting the three essentials synthesize to produce good results. Even if one of them is missing or compromised, the result is disappointing. Consider a parent who is a strict disciplinarian – rule enforcing. Because of his fixation on rules he ignores the other needs of the child. Similarly, an instruction-spouting parent who does not set the right example will not inspire children to follow her good words. The example, advice, discipline bricks and mortar lay the solid foundation on which the parenting edifice is built.
Shall we find an acronym which will be easy to remember? How about LEAD? (L for love, E for example, A for advice and D for discipline.) We will have to constantly LEAD our children. We cannot do it in fits and starts. Consistency is crucial. Isn’t that stating the obvious? What is not obvious is that many of us fail to LEAD our children at all times. When we do not make deposits into their love banks, we are making withdrawals. Through such lapses we create fault lines and a parenting tremor follows. And, our children get trapped under the falling debris from the incomplete edifice.
One of the many reasons our children received inputs with less resistance was that we tried to live our beliefs. Let me explain. Mabel and I believe that we cannot give our children what we do not have. This is one of the main themes, that will repeat a few times in the book. If we did not have discipline in our lives, how could we teach our children to be disciplined? So, to set them standards, we had to have higher standards. To get them to perform, we had to perform better. For example, if we expected the children to shine their shoes, I ensured that mine did shine well; if we wanted them to be prompt in their correspondence, we saw to it that every letter or mail to us was replied promptly; if we urged them to be neat and tidy, we had to be neat and tidy in our persons and in all that we did. This way, the children had no reason to complain that they were set standards that were difficult to follow. We tried to lead and the children tried to follow.LEAD Parenting remains unchanged, but the methods used to translate inputs into lessons for children will be different, because every child is unique and every parenting situation different. No wonder specialists describe Parenting as an unending act of loving children without taking time off, and expressing that love in more than a 100 ways; giving all, expecting nothing; literally an outpouring of love. In the process, parents give up everything. By doing that, all is not lost for parents. There is hope in the words of author Willa Cather: “Where there is great love, there are always miracles”. Every child born of love – God’s and ours – and rooted in basic values is a miracle. We were blessed to embrace four miracles, in our four sons.
Jesus told a parable of huge dimensions – the parable of the farmer scattering seeds. Some seeds fall on rocks, on the wayside and among thorns; and some fall on fertile ground. Only the seeds that fall on fertile ground grow and yield abundant grain. The others grow for a time, but soon perish because they cannot take root. It is the same with children. At home, when their minds are made fertile, they can receive and nurture inputs. If their minds are not prepared, even the best seeds will not take root. We have the responsibility of cultivating the minds of our children. We cannot delegate or wish away that responsibility. When we have done that, LEAD Parenting produces a rich harvest.
As we put children through their paces, doubts nag us: “How will these children turn out ten to fifteen years from now? What will they think and say of the way we led them? Will we get knocked off our perch?” Such doubts consume some of us, who take our eyes off our goal. We expect praise, rewards and a sort of compensation for our labour. My father often said: “Expectation is a sure recipe for disappointment”. His words and the wisdom of Saint Augustine would be worth recalling: “Where there is love, there is no labour; or, if there is labour, that labour is loved”. We shall have to genuinely love the labour of parenting without expecting anything in return. Otherwise we shall have much disappointment in store. If we are not like torches that burn themselves in shedding light, our children will be enveloped in darkness.
Often, the excuse – “I am only human” – creeps into our parenting psyche. It is the perfect excuse for not trying to be better than we are. We tend to blame our fallen human nature for not putting in our best parenting efforts. We wallow in self-pity and throw up our hands in despair. What we must never forget is that for every parenting failure, we are unleashing into society, a possible delinquent. That does not mean that there are perfect parents. Only God is perfect. Good parents strive to get better by the day; they aim higher; they do not rest on their laurels.
A Buddhist monk goes to a river, picks up a stone from the water and breaks it, only to find it dry inside. The water had not penetrated the stone although it was immersed in the river for many years. The monk wonders. Perhaps, we too have reason to wonder. We are immersed in good thoughts through the books we read, the talks we attend and the good advice we receive. Yet those good thoughts do not penetrate our being; we remain unchanged. We are content applauding the good thoughts; not wanting to go beyond the nice feeling. We do not internalize the lessons that come to us. How can we expect our children to change with the good thoughts we give them, when we do not continually change and strive to be better parents with the benefit of good thoughts we receive from others?
An Asian taxi driver, an instrument of change, was driving down one of the streets of New York, when a man entered his cab, sat alongside him, and asked to be driven to a certain location. A few hundred feet down the road, the man pulled out a gun and stuck it in the ribs of the driver and snarled: “Give me all you have”. Turning his eyes away from the road, the taxi driver looked the man in the eye and in a compassionate voice replied: “Here, take all my money. You must need it more than I do. I have a cab and can make money. But you can’t. So, take it”. The man grabbed the money. Then, looking bewildered, he hit his head three times with the gun and incoherently muttered: “You wake me up, man. You wake me up”. For a while he sat thinking, as the taxi driver continued to drive. Repeatedly nodding his head, he shoved the gun into his pocket, threw the money on the seat and got off the cab at the next traffic light. He took nothing. Sometimes we need to experience pain to be healed. The pain of defeat at the hands of a compassionate man brought him healing.
The true story teaches us that the sword violent people wield is blunted against the stronger steel of compassion; and, that even hardened criminals can change. Perhaps the man with the gun succeeded in relieving other taxi drivers of their money through angry threats and violence. Here was one who was not afraid of the gun, because he was armed with something more powerful – compassion. He saw the plight of a desperate man who used violent means to pluck money out of timid hands. He responded differently. His readiness to give all he had and the way he rationalized his action, confused and troubled the man with the gun. Never before had he come face to face with compassion. He was felled by a feather. He could not take money from one who did not resist; one who put the other man’s need above his. “You wake me up, man.” Those words spoke of a time when he had good thoughts. Over a time those good thoughts gave way to base thoughts that brought him material gain. Suddenly, the words and actions of the taxi driver roused those passive good thoughts. Now, he could not act as he did before. He stepped out of the cab not taking the money that was offered to him.
Like the taxi driver there are many people who try to reach us, in an attempt to draw us away from some undesirable thoughts and actions. How do we respond? We often deny or defend. We stoutly deny wrong doing. If that does not work we defend our way of thinking even when we know that we are wrong. We do not want to exit the comfort zone of accustomed habits. We refuse to change, to our detriment. What is the consequence? Because we refuse to change we set a bad example to our children who find reason to be stubborn in their truant ways. Jesus was right when he said that we gather as we scatter.
That brings me to the reason I chose the title, The Child is Father of the Man, for this book. The words are from the short poem, Rainbow, by William Wordsworth, in which he wrote of his childhood fascination for rainbows, that stayed with him through his adult life. Habits formed in childhood, he suggests, continue into adulthood. What the child is, the man will become, is the poet’s refrain. In large measure, I subscribe to the poet’s thinking – as the twig is bent, so inclined will be the tree. We receive the right support from Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, who writes: “Childhood sketches a more complete picture of the self, or the whole man, in his pure individuality, than adulthood”. We have a huge responsibility in forming the child. The child, so formed, will shape the man he will become.
Let me confess to lapses in caring for my children from the time of their birth. I did not change a single diaper or potty-train my children or supervise their diet. Thankfully, my wife took over such duties. Instead, with her I focussed on inculcating values and updating knowledge in our children. It was no easy task. When they began to live the values we gave them and the virtues we taught them, we were delighted. We discovered that it was not the money we earned, or the possessions we acquired, but our children who were our finest achievement. God, introduced into the equation, had worked wonders in them; He had completed our efforts. But our efforts, however inadequate were necessary. They gave God a reason to lend us a helping hand in our parenting efforts. We can take some credit for the achievement. That explains the sub-title of the book: Your child, your finest achievement.
In this book you may find some points overlapping or repeating – humility, honesty, gratitude, fair play and others. The fact that parenting is a broad spectrum, narrow bands in it tend to overlap in places. But each band has its distinct wave length and is not obscure – a feature you will notice in the blog I hosted, as a preparation to this book. The link to the blog is: http://thechildisfatheroftheman.blogspot.in/ To bring more order into it, the book is divided into two parts: the first, spotlights the basics and the second highlights special instructions parents have to give them, to make them children of quality.
I use the pronoun ‘we’ in most places, because I am a parent like you. Besides, as I try to share my thoughts with you, I learn. In some places I use the term ‘parents’, the category to which we belong. I like anecdotes and quotations, particularly when they strengthen the point I am trying to make. When I attended university, I read words that were credited to Sir Isaac Newton, which made an impression on my young mind. After more than 50 years the impact of his words has not weakened: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”. That was a life-time lesson for me. Since then I have relied on the words of giants and stories of them (and even common folk), to reinforce the points I try to make. That is why you will find many quotations and anecdotes in this book. I hope you enjoy reading them. Some of the anecdotes have been adapted from a book on daily meditations titled, God Here and Now, by Hedwig Lewis, SJ. Some incidents reported in local papers are included; a few from international publications as well; a few are borrowed from the internet. Where I could connect, I have given the source of the story and the quotation. It is likely that some of you have read a few of these stories and quotations before. My hope is that one more reading will not spoil your day. I have also included a few snippets from my sons. Please keep a pencil or pen handy, to mark points or passages you would want to revisit.
When writing this book, Mabel was an enormous help to me. She scanned the book at every stage. Good at proof-reading, she checked for errors in sentence construction and punctuation. All my children were equally involved, ploughing through every line to plant helpful suggestions which would give the book a harvest-ready appearance. Ivan, my third son, designed the front cover and wrote the back cover text. You are right – it has the makings of a family project.
I thank Joe Antony SJ, for persuading me to write a series of articles on parenting for his magazine, The New Leader. That set the process going – the articles, the blog and the book. I am grateful to renowned author Theresa Cheung for taking time off to read the manuscript and endorse the book. Her opinion means a lot to me. I thank Ms Kritika Srinivasan, Editor, ParentEdge, Singapore, for reading the book and sharing her insights in the Foreword. I kneel in thanksgiving to God for blessing me as a parent, for the great family He gave me and, for the opportunity to write this book.
God bless you and your family. I hope you enjoy your parenting journey and invest in your children to make them your finest achievement.