Robin Hemley has written several books including DO-OVER!
He talks about
What is the one thing you think parents should know about your work?
I think that DO-OVER is a book that most dads should be able to relate to in one way or another. All parents would like the chance to repair or revisit some aspect of their relationships with their kids or with their own parents. While the book is about me and the things from childhood that I attempt to do over, my kids are a constant presence in the book, and in a way, it’s really about them.
What are your feelings about the role of the father in child development?
My father died when I was seven and I’ve always felt a hole in my life as a result. I felt that I was missing out on the kind of life advice he could have given me. Obviously, the role of a father in a boy’s development is important, but it’s also important in a girl’s life. I have four daughters from two marriages and they range in age from 1 and a half to 17. I try to be active and supportive in all their lives – I think that the amount of love a parent shows a child will have a direct impact, for good or ill, on that child’s success in life with other important relationships.
What is the best thing dads can do in the raising of their children?
I think it’s different for each Dad. Play to your strengths. In my case, I think that one of the best gifts I’ve been able to give all of my kids is the gift of travel. I know that all the travel we have done together has made them open-minded and tolerant of others. Traveling also gives them confidence – they learn to adapt, and that’s so important in life. I’m not one of these parents who believe you should wait until your kids are older before you travel with them. I’ve been taking my kids everywhere since they were young and I’ve rarely experienced difficulties.
What is the biggest error dads can make in raising their children?
Perhaps the biggest mistake is to be emotionally distant. Whenever I’m too busy, which is far too often, I think of that old Harry Chapin tune, “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” about the father who doesn’t have time for his son. When he finally has time, the son has grown and no longer has time for the father.
Is there one practical tip you’d suggest to dads?
One thing that’s really important is for parents to spend time with one another and not focus ALL their attention on their kids. If that happens, it can be the death of a marriage and that’s not good for anyone. You have to remember why you married in the first place. Getaways and dates with your partner are important so that your kids can see a healthy romantic relationship. My youngest child hates to see my wife and me kiss – she always tries to get in the way. But eventually she’ll get it!
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?
Very true. At the same time, there’s never enough time in the day for anything. Balancing is very important and when I can’t spend the time I want with my children I at least try to make the time between each of us count. With my opera-loving daughter, Olivia (who is entering music school in the Fall as a soprano), I’ve taken her to operas in the past, just the two of us. I love to go to a local vegetarian restaurant with my vegetarian daughter, Isabel (she’s also Broadway-loving, so we went to see WICKED together. With my 6 year old Shoshie, we just wrote a little picture book together. And with Naomi, she loves books, so of course, I read to her.
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?
As I mentioned, I think it’s important to try to raise children who are adaptable – I don’t really care about toughness per se as much as adaptability. And tolerance. I think it’s a shame when children are so sheltered that they have no understanding that anyone is different from them. The world can change in an instant for anyone, and so it’s important that kids know that they need to roll with the punches. If that’s toughness, then sure. But I’d prefer to see it as confidence and a certain amount of self-reliance.
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?
Kids definitely need to know they’re loved. But smothering?! No. Sometimes parents err too much on the side of praising everything the kid does so his self-esteem won’t be harmed. That’s not love, as far as I’m concerned. Kids need to know that not every song they sing is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!!! First, it’s insincere, and kids, like everyone else, appreciate a certain amount of honesty. And you run the danger of raising a self-centered tyrant who’s shocked when someone tells him, “Son, you’re tone-deaf.”
Has anyone inspired you to be a better father? If yes, who?
I don’t think there’s anyone in particular who has inspired me, though I know a number of dads like myself who struggle and do our best. My daughters finally inspire me (or simply tell me, a direct order) to be a better father. I’m definitely not perfect, but I’m always trying.