The Best Education in the World

Jeff Sloan - Pueblo West, Colorado
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 24, 2013
Jeff Sloan

From the moment Jeff Sloan became a father, his priorities shifted as he felt the weight of his new responsibilities. What he didn't realize on Day One was how much he would learn about himself and about life through being a dad.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood

This story began for me on July 30, 1994, at about 6:30 p.m. when the maternity nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver handed me my just-delivered, freshly bundled, firstborn son. My wife, Sheila, lay on the bed next to me, exhausted after a very long and difficult labor and delivery. For what seemed like and was a long time I simply sat with Thomas cradled between my arms and gazed down at him as he too dozed after his twelve-hour arrival.

I marveled at the life and energy we’d created in this miniature person and recall a swirl of fear, fatigue, and fascination as I pondered my new situation. I wondered if I was really ready for the immense responsibility I held in my hands, and then realized that I didn’t have a choice.

More than sixteen years later, and now the father of three boys, I find myself thinking often about how being a father has molded and shaped my beliefs and restructured my priorities. Along the way, I’ve developed a few core beliefs.

I believe in giving our kids choices: my wife and I hold ultimate authority in the family, but whenever possible we give our kids the power to choose how they will guide themselves and contribute to the functioning of our home and family. Do you want to scrub the toilets or mop the halls? Do you want to take a bath or a shower? Broccoli or cauliflower with dinner?

I believe the entire family should come together at the end of every day for a meal at a table; it’s easy, between practices, music lessons, and meetings to let this belief go, but there is at the dinner table an irreplaceable reconnection of family, where stories and experiences of the day are shared and explored.

I believe that a father is not a babysitter—when I am with the boys and my wife is not with us, I am first their father, and that relationship is paramount. I’m not “watching the kids” in my wife’s absence, and I am not the stand-in parental unit. Being my boys’ father entitles me to all of the benefits and responsibilities of the job, all of the time.

I believe in the power of Legos. I believe in reading aloud. I believe in running around in the yard and throwing baseballs with my kids. I believe that a long family vacation in one vehicle builds character. I believe my kids should do chores and earn an allowance for the effort. I believe in pancakes made from scratch on a Saturday morning and the reading of comics on a Sunday morning. I believe in telling my boys stories, and I believe our kids have the most fun when the TV is off. I believe in tucking the kids into bed every night, and I believe in waking them in the morning.

And after all these years I believe I still have a lot to learn as a father, but it’s the best education in the world.

Jeff Sloan is editor of a technical magazine serving the composites manufacturing industry. In his modest spare time he coaches and plays soccer, rides his bike, loves to cook, and bakes a mean loaf of bread. He lives in Pueblo West, Colorado, with his wife, Sheila, and sons, Thomas, Jacob, and Isaac.

Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.