‘The best thing my Dad gave me is–he’s there’

It is counterproductive to be all about work without play. I want to be around for a long time for my girls

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12:37 AM December 5th, 2012

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By: Richard Cepeda Go, December 5th, 2012 12:37 AM

I always wonder if I am doing enough for my kids. As a father of two wonderful teen girls, I regularly ask myself this.

My marriage to their mother was annulled about eight years ago, but we agreed to share custody of the kids. The girls have lived with either of us, depending on the convenience of commuting to school.

Now they stay with their mother, and I give them their allowances for school, groceries, clothing, transportation, and of course, cell phone load!

I do work as a TV and movie actor, cooking show host, marketing director, corporate trainer and speaker, sports nutritionist and fitness trainer. It is a lot to do, but I think it’s because most parents want to give their kids everything.

Now in my midlife, I look toward the future. I hope to retire and take it easy, but with the resources to live comfortably and still help my kids if needed. I maintain my health through exercise, a good diet and supplements.

Still, it is counterproductive to be all about work without play. I want to be around for a long time for my girls. I want to be able to guide or help them when they need it.

The tricky part for every parent is trying to discern if we are being guides or “spoilers.” It is very easy to become the latter. It is a wonderful feeling when your child receives gifts from you, so it becomes addicting for parents to give gifts or cash.

But sometimes, it is we parents who actually experience the joy, while the child is merely entertained only for a brief period. Beware, because this can lead us to giving gifts just to show our love. Toys, clothes and gadgets are enjoyed only until they are no longer in style, or a new one comes along. So we look for the next token of our love that we can purchase. When this becomes a regular pattern, the gifts tend to have less value.

A family counselor told me that financial support should be balanced with regular servings of emotional support. Parent stuff that we do means a lot to your kids, like attending programs, helping with homework. It takes more effort to do this than the former. I try my best to do it as much as possible.

But I also think it is important not just to do it for them, but to do it with them. This way I am better aware of how they are doing in school and in other things in their lives. Being with them at these times presents moments when they open up to me and tell me things.

Opportunity to share

Their stories are usually funny, but with underlying truth. I learn about their adventures, their friends, their mishaps, their goals. I feel that I get the opportunity to enjoy the moment with them which may not happen if I simply ask them, “How are you doing?” over dinner.

When I was a kid, my parents would ask me and my siblings that very question in that way. We would simply answer with a simple “fine” or “okay.” Parents have to figure out the timing for when their kids are in the mood to share.

I am not sure if the emotional support I give is enough, but I still make the best effort. I make it a point to be consistent with financial support, but I do not spoil my girls financially. I provide for their basics.

For example, I have gotten them cell phones to stay in touch. But we don’t get the latest or trendiest model—just something that looks good and can text and make calls.

I have gotten them computers for schoolwork. They are not top-of-the-line, but they can surf the Internet, do word processing, Power Point and all that. They are enough to do the job. If my kids want a better model, they look toward earning their own money for it.

Curiously, shopping trips have turned out to be bonding time for us. At the grocery, we discuss prices and nutritional values of what they like, and I believe it has taught them to make good food choices for themselves.

In the department store they have learned about fashion choices, and how looking good does not necessarily have to be costly. My elder daughter Samantha has actually become an expert at bargain hunting for clothes. My younger girl Sachi amazes me when she makes healthy food choices in high school.

Shopping is also a time when we really chat about what is going on in our lives. This is why grocery time sometimes takes us three hours. It is so much more than just shopping. It is our time.

As a loving dad, I look at how some parents buy their kids all the latest toys, gadgets and gizmos. To each his own, but sometimes I wonder if their approach would be better for my own kids. I got my answer one day when my elder daughter Sam and I were guests on a TV talk show. The theme was, a show biz parent and their child.

We were the only father-daughter pair among mothers with daughters or sons, and fathers with sons.

The host asked the children, “What is the best thing your parent gave you?”

My daughter was the last to answer. I grew uneasy as I heard the other children give answers like a trip to Hong Kong, a car, an X-Box video game, an iPad, a Labrador Retriever. I replayed in my mind all the things I had bought my daughter, and gulped at the comparisons.

But Sam’s answer brought a tear to my eye. My child said, “The best thing my Dad gave me is, he’s there.”

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