I’ve been a parent for more than 16 years and let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Every stage of a child’s life unleashes new challenges on a parent. When I hear that a group of kids has committed a misdeed of some sort, I’m not quick to blame poor parenting. I know from experience that it’s not wise to judge other parents until you’ve determined, beyond any doubt, that one of your kids wasn’t involved.
But even if my kids weren’t involved (they’re good kids), I’m not quick to judge the parents because I know that every parent has unique circumstances and unique challenges. If one of my kids does something terrible, I don’t want to be blamed for it. And if one of my kids does something terrific, such as win the Nobel Prize, I don’t want to take the credit for it. I just want to take the prize money. (Well, not all of it. Just enough to pay for the ambulance I’d have to call when their mother faints upon hearing the news.)
People often think that a successful parent is one whose children have achieved great academic and career success. We admire parents whose children have become doctors or engineers or any type of high-earning professional. All parents want their children to be successful in their careers, but is that really enough?
Imagine that your child becomes the president of a country — any country around the world — but lacks integrity and is disrespectful toward political opponents, journalists and others? I know it’s hard to imagine such a president, but let’s stretch our imaginations for a moment. Would you feel proud if your child became a president, but was boastful and ill-mannered, always belittling people on social media? I wouldn’t. I’d want to grab a slipper and chase him or her around, at least until the bodyguards stop me.
Whether my kids become doctors, lawyers, flight attendants or store clerks, I’d first want them to be caring, considerate and conscientious adults. I’d rather picture my son as a courteous waiter at a restaurant than a rude billionaire at a beach club.
It’s up to parents to teach their children important values. Here are just a few of the lessons I’d want my kids to learn:
- Be honest. Lying, cheating and stealing are examples of dishonest behavior. Children learn at an early age what’s acceptable and what they can get away with. I never let my kids get away with lying, except when they’re telling me that I’m the greatest dad in the world. Father’s Day lies are generally okay – and so is telling me that I’m in great shape and don’t need to go on a diet, or that my hair isn’t falling out – my scalp is just asserting itself.
- Be respectful. I want my kids to be respectful to their elders, as well as everyone else. It’s easy to show respect to people in equal or superior positions, but how you treat the disadvantaged and underprivileged reveals your true character. All humans deserve respect, even the ones who are crazy enough to vote for the other party. (I’m speaking, of course, about the Libertarian Party.)
- Be humble. I want my kids to do well in life, but I don’t want them to be boastful about their achievements. I don’t want them to think that they’re better than others, just because those other people weren’t lucky enough to have the greatest dad in the world.
- Be kind. It’s important to be kind to others and not just your own kind. I hope to teach my kids to be kind in many different ways, including opening doors for strangers, helping old people cross busy roads, and handing the remote control to their father when the football game is about to start.
- Be generous. I want my kids to be generous with their time and money. I want them to be especially generous when a person holds his hand out and asks for money. I don’t want them to say something rude, such as, “Get lost, Dad!”
The Tata Group recently re-opened Bombay House, its global headquarters in Mumbai, after the 94-year-old building had undergone some major renovations. The most remarkable change to Bombay House is that, according to a press release, “a kennel has been created for the canine friends who have been an integral part of the building for decades.”
Through a Facebook post, Save Our Strays, a Mumbai-based NGO, shared a photo of six dogs enjoying the kennel, along with this message: “This is the area where the street dogs living around the area can have a meal, drink water, take shelter from the sun or rain or just chill out.”
It may seem strange to some people that Tata Group is allowing dogs to chill out in their building, but as a dog owner, I totally understand it. There are many benefits to having dogs around. Here are just a few:
- Exercise: If you own a dog, you will probably have to take the dog on walks – or even runs. This gives both you and your dog some much-needed exercise. Even if you don’t own any dogs, they may still inspire you to exercise. Indeed, other people’s dogs have inspired me to run many times, whether they’re just barking at me or chasing me.
- Love: Dogs give you unconditional love. They’re considered “man’s best friend,” as I often have to remind our female dog, Legacy, who instead considers herself “woman’s best friend.” She loves my wife, Malathi, partly because Malathi gives her far more attention than I do. Every evening, Legacy looks out the window, hoping to spot Malathi returning from work. When Malathi finally opens the door, Legacy wags her tail so vigorously that if I were an engineer I’d win the Nobel Prize by attaching an electric generator to it.
- Companionship: If you have a dog at home, you are never alone. It’s easy to take this for granted when you live with family or friends, but for people living by themselves, especially the elderly, dogs can bring great comfort. Most dog owners enjoy talking to their dogs and appreciate the fact that dogs, unlike children and other family members, never talk back. (They might respond in woofs and yaps, but thankfully Google Translate isn’t that advanced.) Dogs are surprisingly good listeners. In fact, Legacy is a better listener than my teenaged daughters. I can talk to Legacy for 10 minutes straight and not once during our conversation will she feel the need to look at a cellphone.
- Therapy: If you happen to spot someone having a long conversation with a dog, please don’t think they’re crazy. Speaking to dogs and being with them is a form of therapy for many people. Dogs are ideal therapists because not only will they listen to you attentively, it never occurs to them to send you a bill.
- Immunity: Studies show that children who are exposed to dogs early in life have stronger immune systems and are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. But the most important form of immunity that children get by having a four-legged friend around is when they go to school and are able to say, “Sorry, Miss Martin. The dog ate my homework.”
- Security: Whether you’re at home or walking through a dark alley somewhere, having a dog with you can make you feel more secure. Many people own dogs because they bark at strangers and, in some cases, will even bite people who enter a home. Legacy is quite friendly, but when a stranger approaches our door, she often barks, mostly to let them know that there’s a dog around and if they come any further, they risk having their backsides sniffed.
- Attractiveness: It may seem surprising to you, but studies show that having a dog makes you seem more attractive to other people. Indeed, if you are a single man hoping to meet single women, just borrow someone’s dog and walk around with it. An attractive woman will stop to pet the dog and it could be the start of a great relationship. Who knows, they may even include you in it.