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Five Minutes with Robert E. Wright

Author GreatDad Writers
Submitted 08-07-2008

Robert E. Wright, Ph.D., curator for the Museum of American Finance and professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business is an acclaimed writer and financial historian. GreatDad had a chance to speak to him recently. Here’s what he has to say about child development and parenting.

You’ve written one/several books on parenting, including One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe. What is the one thing you think parents should know about
your work?

It’s about creating a better world for our children. What
good are great parenting skills if the world we leave our kids is a violent,
chaotic, and poverty-stricken place?

What are your feelings about the role of the father in child

Dad should complement (as well as compliment) mom and vice
versa. He should help mom whenever he can, and not just with childrearing
activities. He needs to be the best person he can be because, like it or not,
he is a major role model to his children.

What is the best thing dads can do in the raising of their

Love them, love them, and love them some more. That means
showering them with as much affection and attention as he can and always acting
in their best interest.

What is the biggest error dads can make in raising their

I know dads who over analyze every aspect of their
relationship with their children as if parenting were a job. It’s your life for
goodness sake. Enjoy it, responsibly, and your children will too.


It’s been said that the greatest regret aging men have is
that they didn’t spend more time with their kids.   How do you feel about that statement?

“Cats in the Cradle” is a great song but sometimes
dad has to work hard to ensure the long term material comfort of his family. Is
there a song about dads who loaf around the house so much that the child, when
older, has no car to borrow and has to work in a slaughterhouse instead of
going to college? I didn’t think so. Older dads should focus on what they did
for their children, not what the competitive nature of our economy forced them
to miss.


If you think you are forced to miss too much, create ways to
spend more time with your kids. Instead of practicing my golf game at a range,
for example, I set one up (for short irons) in my yard. My kids will never be
Tiger Woods but they love smacking the little white ball around with their pa.
My short game is still lousy, but it has improved and I’ve saved money too.


Every generation worries that their kids aren’t strong
enough to handle the real world.  Do you
feel kids need to be “toughened up” by experiencing rough times?

No way. As an economic historian with personal memories of
the stagflation of the 1970s, when I dined more than once on woodchuck and
government cheese, I do not wish hard times on anyone let alone my children. We
need to do everything we can to ensure our offspring inherit an environmentally
and economically viable world.


Or conversely, do you think kids need to be smothered with
love to give them storehouse of good feelings with which to deal with the
inevitable challenges of life in the real world?

Children need to learn to create realistic expectations
about themselves and the world. Getting awards for just showing up or finishing
last is not helping them to achieve that end. On the other hand, I don’t think
awarding children with a hug and a kiss or a kind word can ever “smother”
them. Challenge them to do a little better but be there to pick them up,
physically and emotionally, when they stumble.