'This is a stage in my kids' lives when I need to do a little more listening and a little less talking.'
I hadn’t grasped how much my life has changed in the last six years until I recently read through past editions of this column, which launched in January 2012. I’ve got a fourth- and a fifth-grader now, but back then neither of my kids were in school. I was still trying to shield them from scourges like Barney or, even worse, Caillou.
My family lived in a different house, with a different dog. Nowadays I commute Downtown in a collared shirt, but six years ago I worked from home, and my work outfit alternated between mesh shorts with a T-shirt and sweatpants with a hoodie, depending on the season. Sometimes I mixed it up and wore shoes.
In 2012, it was a success if I could get my son to run to a faraway tree and back during soccer practice. These days, I have to remind my son before games that it’s OK to catch your breath on the sidelines. His competitive drive is something to behold.
Early on, I wrote about my kids’ vivid imaginations and the way they would play pretend, which was (and in many ways still is) a foreign concept to my nonfiction-centric brain. “A playground just off Rt. 23 in Delaware is a summer favorite,” I wrote, “partly because there’s a climbing structure that resembles a large boulder. While other kids merely climb the rock, my kids recently enacted the tragic scene from ‘The Lion King’ in which Scar lets his brother, King Mufasa, fall to his death from a cliff.”
Quite a few columns included digs at Caillou, “the whiniest, most unlikeable 4-year-old in television history,” but over the years I also took aim at some sacred cows of childhood. Like Curious George, who “befriends his neighbors, none of whom seem to know that pet primates sometimes attack their owners and mutilate their faces.”
A few similes and metaphors brought back memories of a bygone era at the Oliphint house (“Trying to write while managing two pre-Ks is, at times, like attempting spinal surgery next to uncaged bonobos.”), but the milestones stick out most. I’ll admit to tearing up while reading about the day we put down our beloved, cancer-riddled Labrador retriever. Or when my daughter got a spiral fracture in her left tibia and, instead of sulking, got philosophical about it. “Go with life,” she wrote on her Magna Doodle. “Life is not always good or bad. Life is an amazing thing to realize.”
Family life can be so fast-paced. It’s rare to have the opportunity to stop and think about everything on a deeper level, or even just to note on paper something you’ve acknowledged in passing. This column has forced me to periodically pause and reflect, and it’s an exercise I don’t take for granted. I imagine I’ll end up collecting all of these columns in a binder someday so that I can look back at them and say, “I used way too many em dashes.”
One thing I value in other people is the ability to listen. It’s something I actively try to do, and it also happens to be a crucial part of my job as a journalist. When I play back recorded interviews, I sometimes catch myself talking when I should have been listening.
This is a stage in my kids’ lives when I need to do a little more listening and a little less talking, especially when that involves broadcasting personal details of their lives in publications that people pick up at the library and 1,000 other places around town. (But please keep picking up those copies of Parent and Alive.)
You may have noticed that I stopped using my kids’ names in this column a while ago, but I think they deserve more privacy than that. Every time I write something about our family, I’m framing a narrative about their lives. When they were younger, that was fine, and I’m grateful that former editor Jane Hawes encouraged me to do so, and that current editor Julanne Hohbach allowed me to continue rambling.
But I think it’s time for Dad to surrender the narrative. My kids are good thinkers, and they’re turning into good writers. They have things to say about their lives, and they don’t need their father dictating what it all means—in a public forum, at least. They have to live with my in-person opinions for a while longer. But their stories are now their own.
Joel Oliphint is associate editor of Columbus Alive and is most proud of creating a safe space for all Columbus parents to air their Caillou grievances.