Our 630th Dad in the Limelight is humor writer Tim Jones. I want to thank Tim Jones for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing Tim Jones with all of you.
- Tell me about yourself
I am a humor writer. I live in an amazing place called Camano Island, about an hour north of Seattle, WA. Every day I am blessed to look out at Puget Sound and the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. I write a weekly humor blog called View from the Bleachers. And I often write about the challenges of parenting, because it is such fertile ground for humor.
I was born during the early formative phase of our nation’s history, by which I mean 1955 – a time way, way back before there were computers, cell phones, microwave ovens, or even VCRs. There was no such thing as a remote control. You actually had to go to your television set, which was roughly the size of a Honda Fit, and manually change the channels – all three of them.
I was one of five kids – and according to my father, I routinely ranked among his top four favorite children – that is, until my disastrous tenth grade high school science experiment, in which I literally blew up our kitchen. (This is 100% true and the source for one of my favorite blog pieces).
2. Tell me about your family
I guess I am a slow starter. My first date was not until my senior year of high school. I did not get married until I turned 32. And I did not become a dad until I was 40. My wife is Canadian. And we adopted our two daughters, Rachel and Emily, as infants in China. So I am the only male and the only native-born American in my family. I am not sure this quite qualifies me as an oppressed minority – except when they were teenagers and they would gang up on me and force me to sit through an episode of Gossip Girls with them. Now that’s just plain emotional cruelty.
Both of my daughters are in college now. The older one, Rachel, is in nursing school, while the younger one, Emily, is in business school, currently doing an internship at Tesla Motors while going to school full-time.
3. What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
For years I struggled with work life – home life balance. Before I became a humor writer, for years I was working in the dotcom industry of start-ups, where most employees were in their twenties, unmarried and no kids. And here I was in my forties, married, with two young toddler daughters. One employer routinely scheduled on-site meetings on Friday nights or weekends. So I felt guilty for not being around enough for my kids. So much so that in 2005, I decided to leave the high tech startup world and shift into a more moderate work pace, working for a small business, in part so that I could spend more time with my wife and young kids. My income plummeted, but I have zero regrets about that decision. I became the quintessential soccer dad, taking my girls to dance recitals, gymnastics, and teaching them how to play baseball.
The second hardest part of being a dad for me was learning how to parent two highly hormonal teenage daughters. I grew up in a family of four boys. I went to an all-boys school from grades 1 through 12. So adjusting to the mercurial mood swings of teenage daughters required levels of patience and restraint I had never known before. But somehow – I don’t really know how – I survived those years and am delighted (and relieved) to say that they metamorphosed into amazing young adults, of whom I am extremely proud.
4. What advice would you give to other fathers?
The humor writer in me would say, “STOP! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? DO YOU REALLY WANT TO THROW YOUR HAPPINESS AWAY??!!” But of course, the truth is, being a parent can be a life-changing experience for the better. I would say that to be a good dad – and raise happy kids – you need enormous patience.
You also need to model the behavior you expect to (someday, eventually) see in your kids. It won’t happen overnight in most cases. What really surprised me – to some extent even shocked me – was when my girls reached 20 and 21 years of age (they are a year apart) and I suddenly saw them telling some of their friends the very same life lessons I had taught them back when they were very young. I remember Rachel telling me a couple years ago, “Dad, you thought I wasn’t listening back then, all those talks you gave me about courtesy and kindness, but I really was listening.”
So I guess my advice for new dads – other than doing your best to convince your wife that it’s HER responsibility to teach your teenagers how to drive – is to model the behavior you want them to exhibit (although it could be years before you start to see it. Trust me on this.) As young kids – and even as teenagers – they often are paying far more attention to your words and actions than you think – even when they give you that glare or the mandatory teenager eye roll. And tell them you love them every day. No matter how horrible their behavior was earlier that day.
The last words I used to say to my young girls every night when I tucked them in bed, was “I love you to the universe and back.” Now, my daughters will often end their text messages to me with an abbreviation of those words, “LUTTUAB, Dad” It does not get better than that.
5. How have you come to balance parenthood and outside life?
As I said earlier, in part, I made a conscious choice to leave a ridiculously high stressed work culture that I knew was taking me away from my kids. But beyond that, I made the choice that being with my kids – even if it was just to be their taxi to take them to the mall – was a better way to invest my time than working late at the office. In the end, your employer will never love you back. But hopefully, if you work at teaching your kids about making good choices, your patience and time spent with them will reward you far more than any work bonus.
The ROI on being a patient parent can sometimes feel like it’s a very long timeline – sort of like with a savings bond. As parents, the truth is we have to make a lot of changes in terms of how we spend our time. But as I wrote in one of my humor blog posts about parenting, “We still do all the same stuff we used to do before kids. Like hiking. Except that before kids, we spent 20 minutes preparing for a three-hour hike. Now we spend three hours preparing for a 20-minute hike.”
6. What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
I have learned that there are many different ways to parent, but we all have essentially the same issues and challenges. During the soccer years, (ages 13 – 17 in my elder daughter’s case) I often would chat with fellow soccer dads on the sidelines about our respective challenges raising high-spirited daughters. And one thing we all had in common was a strong desire to help our daughters internalize that there were no gender boundaries to what they could achieve. I sometimes wonder if I did too good a job of helping them internalize that message, as both of our daughters are extremely self-confident (sometimes to the point of being exhausting as a parent).
I must confess that in some ways I am not like a lot of the other dads I know. In our marriage, I am the more emotional, verbally expressive of the two parents. My wife is the more logical person who keeps her feelings inside and her words few. But I am the mush ball parent. (I always tear up at the end of Love Actually when Colin Firth proposes in the restaurant.) I am a big believer in being really open with our daughters and making sure they feel comfortable being open with their parents. For several years, they kept everything locked inside. But now, as “almost adults”, they are much more open talking about their challenges and concerns. It’s wonderful to see.
7. What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
Have I mentioned you need Herculean levels of patience yet? I have been through all sorts of ups and downs as a parent – particularly when our girls hit puberty. That’s when they legally turn into completely different people and you start asking yourself “Who is this girl and what has she done with my daughter?” But it has been the challenges I have faced as a parent, and the ups and downs our girls have experienced, that have provided wonderful “teachable moments.” You need to set boundaries for your kids – and you need to let them experience negative consequences from their bad decisions. And you need to try to do this calmly. (That’s the hard part).
A great book called Parenting with Love and Logic provided me wonderful insight on this point. It said, “You have to let your young child make mistakes and experience the consequences of making bad choices, when the price tag is low, so that they will learn not to make similar bad choices when they are older, and the cost of those mistakes becomes much bigger.” Another piece of advice from that book, which I wholeheartedly agree with, particularly for somewhat older kids (not for young toddlers), is this: You can protect your child from the real world. Or you can prepare them for the real world. You can’t do both.
8. What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent?
Oh gosh, where do I begin? It’s the little things – the time my daughter Rachel, age 7, was so proud she finally learned how to ride a bike and was laughing with excitement – just before she smashed into a tree. (She was not hurt, but her confidence was briefly crushed.) Or the time, my younger daughter Emily, who looks nothing like me because she’s Asian and I’m Caucasian, confidently told a confused friend who could not fathom that I could possibly be her dad, looked at her friend and said, “I was adopted. Get over it.” – which told me then and there that my young daughter felt fully accepted as my daughter.
But the most memorable moments sometimes are the ones that at the time were infuriating and exhausting, because I look back and them now and laugh. And it is these memories that became the basis for my humor book on parenting called YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE – Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time. I published it this past January (and it’s now available as a paperback or eBook on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and elsewhere). It’s a collection of humorous essays about life parenting my kids and my attempt to provide horribly bad, hopefully funny, advice on how to be a parent. When people ask me why I wrote a book on parenting, I say, “I decided to write a book about parenting because I felt it was a fascinating topic and a subject I knew nothing about.”
If you have any questions for Tim Jones, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!