When you get your cable hooked up, the installer should hand you a prescription for Prozac, or at least a credit for a free download of Pharrell's song "Happy." Two commercials I watched this past week really brought me down. Maybe you've seen them, too?
One showed parents holding babies, singing, laughing and reading books to them. The tag line of the commercial was "Remember to sing, read and talk to your baby." The next one featured only dads playing with kids and encouraged fathers to "Take time to be a dad."
I sat and watched, in shock, with sadness in my heart, and thought, "Wow. We need commercials for this?" What's next? A commercial reminding us to breathe with our lungs? Or one where teens are encouraged to sleep until noon?"
We have to REMIND people to interact with their babies?
We have to REMIND fathers to "take time" to be a dad?
How incredibly sad.
I'm not naive or "out of the loop." I know why these commercials are airing. In fact, the one about singing and talking to your baby, showed a kid propped up in front of a television while mom played on her cell phone. We all know that in those first few years a baby's brain is developing, and parent-child interaction is critical. So even if I wasn't aware of the problem, the commercial made it clear why parents needed to hear it. Put down the cell phone and pick up your baby. Still, sad.
And with Father's Day coming, I guess the other commercial is trying to address the problem of absentee fathers - those "baby daddies" who are not active in their child's life. That, I know, is a sad reality for many. I have worked with youth for over two decades and can tell you--I can almost pick the "Dad is not in my life" kids out of a crowd. The dysfunction caused by not having a father around is hard to hide. It comes out in angry outbursts, self-injury, addiction, and promiscuity, just to name a few. There is a hole in every child's heart that only a father can fill and when it doesn't fill up with dad, it fills up with something else. For fatherless daughters, beer and boyfriends are in endless supply and make great filler-uppers.
So I guess we are at the point where we need to make commercials to promote the basics of parenting:
There is nothing wrong with trying to be a BETTER parent, in fact, there are some great classes and resources out there that can help parents deal with bullies, prevent drug use and help a child who suffers from depression or other issues. These are great and helpful and an unfortunately needed because the world is not an easy one to migrate for young people or parents. But when we have to tell parents on national television to do something as simple, and seemingly natural, as "talk to your baby", I get a pit in my stomach and a pain in my heart. When we have to tell dads to "take time" to be a dad, I feel sad, especially this close to Father's Day knowing that so many kids will not get one minute of dad's time this Sunday or any day. (And by the way dad, you don't "take time" to be a dad, you are always DAD, every minute of every day. Your kids watch how you talk to Mom, how hard you work; they hear what you say about the gay neighbors, religion, and politics and until they become teens, they want to be just like you.)
So, yes, please DO be a Dad.
Please DO talk, sing and read to your children.
And don't forget to breathe with your lungs, too.
Hope A. Horner, 2014
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This blog entry is dedicated to my Dad with thanks for being there, talking, reading and singing.