The importance of getting goofy with your kids

I have a fatherly confession to make. I've never read "The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers" or "The Five Key Habits of Smart Dads," and am not now nor have I ever been a card-carrying member of the National Center for Fathering, the National Fatherhood Initiative, or the Promise Keepers.

I learned the essentials of fathering from my father, who, for devotion and affection, was a tough act to follow.The most important thing he taught me, aside from tying my shoelaces and the facts of life, was how to turn the world on its head and see things upside down and inside out.

Nonsense, you say.

Precisely!

Forget all the experts' solemn advice.Too much earnestness is bad for you.Get goofy with your kids!

My father was by no means a frivolous man.An old-fashioned educator who drilled me in French irregular verbs, Latin declensions, and logarithms for fun, he interspersed his lessons with generous helpings of foolishness.

While physical fitness was definitely not my father's forte, he did instruct me in one astounding and spiritually restorative stunt, which I in turn have passed on to my children.Tilting toward each other, partners execute a perfect forehead-to-forehead 360-degree turn, twice in unison, first clockwise and then counterclockwise.Try it sometime with your offspring at a moment of conflict. While it may not make you see eye to eye, the effort levels off differences, which is at least a step in the right direction.

I, for my part, am teaching my tots just how to wind themselves up each morning by the nose, though my little son hasn't yet gotten the hang of it. He still tends to mistake his proboscis for a battering ram and mine for a spare

pacifier.I have revealed to him the location of the secret tongue-release button under the chin and demonstrated how to steer it with either ear - more arcane wisdom passed down from my dad that never fails to send my son into peals of laughter.

On countless occasions, I have cautioned my daughter against the rude habit of treading on her shadow's toes."How would you like it," I say, "if it stepped on yours?"And I have instructed her in the Zen art of walking between the drops on rainy days, though so far she's only managed to elude every other drop.

What good does all this nonsense do them? you ask.Will it endear my children to their teachers?I doubt it.Boost their IQs?Not likely.But nonsense is a sound investment and an inoculation against gloom.It may just make them happier people who are better equipped to weather adversity and stress.

You still want proof?

I could site a Harvard study about the benefits of humor as an effective coping mechanism, but that would be too stodgy.

Come to think of it, I did once put the art of the ridiculous to practical use.As an undergraduate scheduled to be interviewed by a committee of professors for a highly prized fellowship, I was nervously pacing up and down before the closed door, waiting my turn, wondering what I would be asked and how I would reply intelligently.

The door flew open, my name was called, and my heart started racing.Forgetting everything I had ever learned, my mind went blank as I stumbled over the threshold and managed by some unlucky fluke to get the heel of my shoe caught on a nail.I yanked at it and, horror of horrors, the heel came off.

With all eyes upon me, I wanted to turn and run.Instead, falling back on my father's wisdom, I bent down, picked up the heel, and purposely limping, took my seat.

Setting the heel on the table before me, I remarked: "So you set booby traps for your applicants."

The solemn professors who had been sifting through applications and grilling applicants all day exploded in laughter.Needless to say, the fellowship was mine.I would have coached them all in Dad's 360-degree equilibrium-engendering turn, but figured I'd better stop while I was ahead.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to home@csps.com.

Peter Wortsman lives with his wife and two children in New York City.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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