My Most Important Subject

Since September 2011, I’ve written a monthly column sharing the joys and challenges of parenting from the perspective of a stay-at-home dad. My daughter, Jessie, who just turned 13, gave me all the stories, some funny, others tender, and a few I could have done without. I can still remember my sneakers sticking to the kitchen floor as Jessie and I cleaned up strawberry juice and broken glass from the far reaches of our kitchen. My happy, dancing girl had enjoyed strawberry shortcake, then twirled with her dish on the way to get seconds. Coming out of a spin, she accidentally crashed her plate against the refrigerator, sending shards of glass and sticky red syrup everywhere. It was tough to close that column with my standard reminder: Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

With more than six years of monthly columns and Jessie now a teenager, I think it’s the right time to end this column. So, whether you’re a long-time follower or a first-time reader, thank you for welcoming my family into your home. I hope our stories brightened your days. Special thanks to all the publishers and editors who printed them, and to my own team who helped polish my work before I sent it out – my wife, our daughter, and my former supervisor at the University of Florida, who served as the final quality-control check.

I’ll continue to write. In fact, Jessie and I have been working on a project during her tween years, a new co-authored column I’m anxious to reveal. Please look for it in the months to come.

But, for this, my final solo column, I wanted to leave readers with a memorable message, in addition to “cherish the moments, as before you know it, your baby has become a teenager.”

Each month, I complete the draft of my column, then give it to Jessie for her feedback. I think she’s going to be a college professor like her mother. She loves to break out her red pen and mark up my copy. Of course, she feels compelled to assign a grade.

If you think Jessie shows her father some leniency because he’s cared for all her wants and needs these past 13 years, you’d be mistaken. There’s no such thing as bonus points in Jessie’s grading. She’s tough! I’ve learned not to write anything about boys, because I’m penalized, at minimum, a full letter grade.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a sample of grades from the first drafts of a few recent columns, listed in ascending order: 27%, 50%, 62%, 69.97%, 82.5%, and 90.1253%. Don’t you just love the grading preciseness, down to the ten-thousandths spot. Another time, I scored 0%, but Jessie said if I incorporated all her suggested edits, she would bump my score to 100%. I ended up with a zero on that column.

If dealing with low scores was hard, I also had to have tough skin for Jessie’s comments. Here’s a small sample: “It is terrible!” “Write emotion!” “Bad read.” “Start over!” “You have to rewrite the last page.” “Blah, blah.” “1/2 of a column.” “You can do better☹.”

Writers need honest critique and I was sure to get it from Jessie, but she needs to work on her diplomacy skills. Though her grades and comments weren’t always what I would have liked (I prefer smiling emoticons to ones with frowns), they made me work harder to become a better writer, and many times I incorporated her useful edits. I’m proud to have kept my promise not to embarrass her.

But as I look back, these grades were only for my writing, not my parenting. I’m not going to ask Jessie to grade my first 13 years as her father. I’d like to think I’d get many A’s and numerous positive comments. At the same time, I made some mistakes, especially in the subjects of “Patience” and “Listening.”

Some subjects in life are more important than others. I’d like to ace them all, especially the parenting ones, even when my sneakers are sticking to the floor. With that said, I know, like all parents, I’m going to make mistakes. When I do, I must forgive myself. Involved parenting is challenging work.

So, as I conclude my final monthly column, I’ll remember Jessie’s words, “You can do better.” Not just when I’m sitting behind my laptop, though I’ll certainly give it my best, but, more importantly, as a father and role model for Jessie. I want to earn an A in my most important subject – parenting. And when I miss the mark, perhaps Jessie will offer extra credit or round up my score.

Until my new column, remember to cherish the moments.

Note: This column is written in memory of my mother who passed away on September 12, 2017. Thank you, Mom. You earned your A.

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