It started with “Cake Boss.” My daughter was 9 years old and simply couldn’t get enough of watching the celebrity chef Buddy Valastro on the wildly popular baking reality show. After baking a full-sized cake…
It started with “Cake Boss.” My daughter was 9 years old and simply couldn’t get enough of watching the celebrity chef Buddy Valastro on the wildly popular baking reality show. After baking a full-sized cake in the shape of a Lego brick for her younger brother’s birthday, she was ready for prime time. I pulled out my video equipment, and she began hosting her own little cooking show right from our kitchen.
Next it was Kelly Clarkson — you know, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We listened, and listened, and listened. When it was time for the school talent show, she sang her little heart out. Amidst my daughter’s Kelly Clarkson phase, as luck would have it, a friend of mine Matt Nathanson’s dogged musical pursuits began paying off; he was the opening act for … you guessed it, Kelly Clarkson! If I recall correctly, it wasn’t too much longer after the peak experience of seeing her live that my daughter moved on from Kelly Clarkson. Sooner than later it was on to Taylor Swift. Now 15, my daughter and I have attended a show during Taylor Swift’s last three concert tours and clocked an infinitesimal amount of listening hours.
During her tween years, my daughter did some babysitting, and always had a way with younger kids. Her mother, a literacy specialist in an elementary school, enlisted her and a friend to volunteer and help with her students on a regular basis. About a year into my work at The Fatherhood Project at Massachusetts General Hospital, we started a monthly program at one of our community-based health centers for dads and their children ages 0 to 5 on Saturday mornings. Initially, both my daughter and her younger brother volunteered to help out periodically with the hospital’s Christmas toy giveaway and other service events.
Sensing that she had a stronger interest than the fairly infrequent volunteer opportunities at the hospital, I asked my daughter if she wanted to help me out with the Saturday morning dads and kids group. She had just turned 12 at the time. Her initial enthusiasm was short-lived, and the experience appeared to be overwhelming. In fact, I recall her asking me if she could go sit in the nearby (empty) staff break room during one of the early sessions she attended. To be fair, I wasn’t exactly sure at that point how to incorporate her into the highly structured, relatively new program.
Over the next three years, however, she continued volunteering with me at the hospital. She retreated to the break room less frequently, and gradually began engaging with the other staff (child development specialists), as well as the fathers and kids. What began as a little girl’s curiosity and interest in caring for young children has grown into what is currently a regular paid internship where she not only “helps out,” but has increased responsibilities as part of a child care team. The Saturday dads and kids group has become a successful example of what’s now commonly referred to as one of the latest innovations in the field of early childhood development, a two-generation program, which develops opportunities and addresses the needs of kids and adults.
Late last spring, the end of my daughter’s freshman year of high school, I began receiving brochures addressed to my daughter from colleges and universities. I also started getting unsolicited calls from swim coaches and college athletic department administrators. Around the same time, my daughter came home from school one day and announced that she had found a summer job opening delivering meals to patients at our local area hospital. Amidst what seemed like a flurry of mailings, calls and proclamations out of the blue, we sat down and discussed what was going on.
My daughter said, in no uncertain terms, that she had reached an important decision about her future: She was going to pursue a four-year degree at a college or university with a nursing program. This, she explained, would allow her to graduate with an RN (like her grandmother “Diney” did), get a job right away and continue working toward her ultimate goal of becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Her mother and I were pleasantly surprised, to say the least, with her highly focused and well-thought out plan.
Since my children were born, I have consciously made a point of following their interests, curiosities and passions, as well as modeling and introducing them to new ideas, experiences and potential interests. If I sensed curiosity or noticed a spark, I tried my best to provide a next step or further experience of whatever the interest may have been. For example, when my son took a liking to painting, I introduced him to my close friend and artist Darvish Fakhr , asked him to show my son his work, and eventually purchased some paints and a small canvas.
Of course, no matter how subtle parents may think they’re being, this can be a difficult dance. The challenge was, and continues to be, how to support my son and daughter’s interests and passions without overdoing it or misjudging for a passion what to your child is merely a passing fad or whim. Perhaps most difficult is when a parent happens to share a passion or interest, and then seemingly overnight, the child changes his or her mind and moves on. Maintaining a level of detachment — without disappointment — is critical, keeping in mind that parenting, in a sense, is one big lesson in letting go with love.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to draw a straight line from my daughter’s love of Buddy the “Cake Boss” to her interest in singing and the music of Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift to her more recently articulated vision for her future, I firmly believe that my daughter’s sense of independence and agency has undoubtedly been influenced by the important adults in her life — her mother, myself, her grandparents, and a host of other key adults — consistently listening, observing and acting upon her interests and passions from a very young age.