Take Time To Teach

Over the holidays this year my son finally mastered the art of tying a necktie. I was also around 15 or 16 when my dad taught me.

Sam masters a new, grown-up skill. Photos courtesy of Ron Ciancutti.

We Ciancutti men wear a half-Windsor drawn very tight. There’s nothing sloppier-looking than a big, loose top knot parked under a man’s chin; it makes him look like he’s wearing an ascot. Sammy nailed it on the third try before we headed off to a formal dinner.

It’s been easier coaxing him into dressing up lately. His ever-increasing height (6 feet, 1 inch at the last check) has leaned his frame out nicely, and he’s starting to appreciate the finer things, like well-made clothes and food beyond chicken and fries. His braces came off just before Thanksgiving, so the boy is definitely working on being the “total package,” as it were.

I hate to sound like an old timer, but wow, where did those 15 years go? I can barely recall when he wasn’t even here. Then suddenly he was, and my wife and my lives were all about him, just like it changed with each of the previous kids except for one minor difference–Sam’s the last one.

And like a guy about to retire from a company he loves, every “last thing” I do with Sam has much more significance because I have found being a father is the greatest honor of all.

I recall reading an interview with Tip O’Neill, former congressional House Speaker, who said his last year on Capitol Hill was filled with people saying, “Ah, well—your last budget meeting, eh?” and “Oh, Tip, the last rap of the gavel, huh?” He said it drove him mad—all the constant sentimentality. So I’ll try not to tarry too long here, but I wouldn’t be the writer you’ve come to know without reflecting at this juncture.

Quality Vs. Quantity

Some say today’s parents have it much easier than we did. The tools and electronic assistance available today ranges from always-available big-screen movies to handheld devices of every shape and size. A parent’s need to entertain his or her child can now be reduced to the time it takes to teach them a keyboard or remote-control operation.

But I hope young men and women will realize that such instruments will never replace one-on-one time and the benefits a child gains from what I call “floor time,” where Mom or Dad gets down on the floor and plays with a child.

Bernie Kosar, former quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, once said that kids don’t always need “quality” time, they simply need “quantities” of time. Simply being there can make such a difference.

When I think of the hours my family spent at the zoo, sitting in front of the lion exhibit, watching those beasts pace and yawn and roar and eat, and how utterly thrilled Sam became when they came near where he stood, or the Saturday mornings under a pile of pillows and blankets playing “monster in the cave.” And the snow forts, leaf piles, and summer afternoons in the pool; bringing up another child was an endless joy in so many ways.

Father and son, a few years back!

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