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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!

And we built such a bond of trust. I remember coaching one of his soccer games when he was 6, and he took a knee to the gut that had to hurt. He got up and returned to his position—all of his teammates waiting to see the tears—and he fought it and looked at me so desperately. I wanted to scoop him up and let him sob, but I realized I was watching the first onset of his pride, so I just locked eyes with him, gave him a firm nod, and he played on. He was on his way to bigger things that day.

Isn’t it cool when one actually sees it happen?

Use Your Skills

Back to the start of all this. Sam tied the tie, and in a few months he'll take his driver's permit test. It’s great to know I helped raise a newly forming boy whom I can enjoy now as a fully formed, responsible, ethical, respectable man. That was my job—to get him there, and by gosh, he certainly is one cool dude.

All of the men in this country can make this type of contribution.

Indeed, as parents, we can be the changes we want to see. We can grow our children and families in a way that contributes to society and doesn't just look to take advantage of its errors and mistakes. We can live a life of respect, and pass along great stories and family lore to our children and grandchildren.

We need to step up, to set goals with our children and help them achieve those goals. Giving them an allowance and teaching them how to save and spend are invaluable. We must explain why getting through school with a good reputation is important--a sense of pride goes a long way. The year 2013 can be one where we dig deep into our memory banks and pass along all that we have learned to those who love, respect, and model themselves after the person we are today.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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