Father’s Day was this past weekend, and I’ve only recently become aware over the past ten years or so how tricky these types of family holidays have become. In the “good old days”, I used to find a suitable greeting card for my parents, and possibly try and do something nice for them (like pick up my room) in order to show my gratitude and love towards them. That was pretty much as complicated as it got. Then came social media, and it became an even greater expression of appreciation to share your feelings towards your loved ones with your entire sphere of influence and beyond.
The problem with this type of amplification is that everybody’s upbringing is unique. Not everybody has been as blessed as I have been with regards to having a loving family for teaching and support. Others have lost their parents, and subsequently feel lost on holidays built around honoring them. It was with this in mind that I carefully crafted my tweet honoring fellow dads, specifically gamer dads, yesterday:
Having a time-consuming hobby like gaming can be tough on parents. The temptation to grab one more level or build your civilization for one more turn can draw us away from other responsibilities. Sometimes, those responsibilities can be put off without much consequence. But parents of small children can tell you, putting off a two year old who’s trying to tell you something can mean the difference between a clogged toilet and a flooded bathroom. Even beyond physical damage, the harm done to a child who is constantly put off in favor of a video game, or television show, or work phone call can mean a rocky, possibly irreparable relationship down the road. I don’t envy the regrets of the parent who wakes up one day and their 17 year old is walking out the door with only the memory of a father staring at a smartphone. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is “there will be time for that later”. There won’t be. There’s never enough time.
Having set the stage, I’m happy to report that many, many parents (and dads, in particular, since we men seem to like to laser-focus on things) that I casually observe within my social media circles truly seem to “get it”. Many are able to prioritize family first and hobbies second. We tend to get some flak from the younger crowd for being more casual in our gaming, but I see that as a healthy thing. Balance is good! One of the most important things I’ve learned over my 15 years of being a parent is how selfish I was prior to having another’s life and upbringing entirely in my hands. Not so much with possessions, but with my time! When my first son was born, I used to rock & feed him while my wife was at work, daydreaming about the day when I could once again do whatever I wanted on my own schedule. As the months went by, those thoughts slowly disappeared as I realized what was really important was the child in my arms and not the score on the screen. People, not pixels!
Some in my feed are good about incorporating their kids in their gaming hobbies. When my oldest was about three, I used to play Madden on my PS2. I would give him a controller and run the cable over to the console but not plug it in. He loved thinking that we were playing together even though we really weren’t. When he got a little bit older, I let him play the open-world mode of Midnight Club. He would drive his car all over NYC, laughing when he’d hit a lamppost or mailbox or another car. To this day, Locowolf still counts racing games among his favorite genre.
Setting limits seems to be key. When I started playing LOTRO, I made a rule for myself that I would only play at night after the kids went to bed. That way, I wouldn’t be tempted to cut into family time or send the wrong message to my kids that they weren’t as important to me as a game. This worked really well for a couple of years. But it couldn’t last forever. For one, as the kids have gotten older their bedtimes have gotten later. I can’t very well tell my soon-to-be high school sophomore that he needs to go to bed at 8:00, anymore. For another thing, the tables seem to have flipped as my kids have gotten more and more into gaming. More often, I’m walking around trying to fulfill my adult obligations while 4 electrified screens are either projecting games or streaming videos about games. In a twist of slight irony, I’ve caught myself kicking people off electronics in order to just “do something productive”, since the kids don’t seem to be able to yet balance free time with responsibilities. I guess I feel that if I’ve spent a good part of the day installing a bathroom floor while everybody else games, its ok for me to jump on Marvel Heroes for an hour or so without feeling like I’m sacrificing family time. Especially since “family time” on certain days consists of me walking around telling people to get off games so we can “enjoy each other, dangit!”
Anyway, I’d just like to repeat my shout-out to dads (and moms) who understand what’s important and are able to view gaming through that lens. I’ve said before, parenting is hard – the longest, hardest job I’ve ever tackled. And parenting in this distracted, information-filled age is even tougher. Here’s to all of you who are making it work!
Juegos tradicionales by Bea Represa on Flickr Creative Commons