Wii Skills

I am an “older father.”   In my twenties I split time between grad school and a job in Washington DC, finally becoming ABD at age 29.  ABD = All But Dissertation, it’s a point in graduate school where everything is complete for earning the Ph.D. except this nasty 300 + page bit of original research.  Until I finished my doctorate at age 35 I picked up teaching gigs wherever I could, at the University of Minnesota (where I was doing my Ph.D. work), St. Olaf College and Carleton College (both of Northfield, MN).

All this kept me busy and earning enough money to have an active social life, and I cherish those grad school years as some of the best in my life.  I had enough money to enjoy myself (even while living in tiny studio apartments near downtown Minneapolis), surrounded with colleagues in the same boat, and not feeling much in the way of life stress.   Basketball every Saturday at 10:00 AM, Friday happy hours, exploring the world of political science, teaching my first classes — I loved those days.

However, that isn’t conducive to long term relationships and starting a family.   A few go that route in grad school, but it’s rough, and the job market tends to separate people.  I waited until I got a full time tenure track job and didn’t have kids until after I turned 40.  It allowed me to travel, enjoy my youth, and have an extended period of adult time with lots of freedom and limited responsibility (as well as limited income).

Becoming a father in my 40s has been a great experience.  It forces me to stay in shape (when my youngest graduates from high school I’ll be 63 — I want to still ski and play tennis with him!), keep up on how not just college students but also school age kids are living, and feel younger than I really am.

Yet I realize how different the world is.   We were in a hotel in New Hampshire the other night and Ryan, 8, asked in a frustrated voice, “dad, I can’t figure out how to pause this TV.”

“It’s not a DVR, it doesn’t pause,” I explained.   He thought that very odd.   The idea of not having a trove of recorded DVR “events” to watch — Avatar the Last Airbender, Adventure Time, Star Wars Clone Wars, iCarly, etc. — seems odd.   In fact Dana (5) had trouble accepting that a show he wanted to watch, Ben 10, could not be watched yet because it wasn’t on until later.   “Can’t you just go there (on the guide) and click it?”

“Not yet,” I replied, realizing that in a few years that probably would no longer be a barrier.

Where they really amaze me is with video games.   Now, I admit, I am not into video games.   As a teen I did play pac man and donkey kong, but most of the time I found myself bored by them.   My dad and youngest sister would spend hours with the Atari playing missile command and other such games, I’d get bored after five minutes.   I’m that way with puzzles, rubrics cubes and anything like that — if it gets frustrating and doesn’t offer any real benefit (I mean, so what if I have a cube with every side the same color, what the hell does that give me?) and takes time, then I’m outta there.   I’ve played the Wii a few times, but have the same reaction.  I’d rather write a blog entry.

Ryan and Dana, however, are already Wii experts.   My five year old son is better than me on just about every Wii game, and he can’t even read the directions.   He navigates by trying various buttons and figuring out which get him what he wants.  He watches his older brother and then picks it up.  He can spend hours with Wii Lego Star Wars, calling me over “dad, look, I have a ghost yoda,” and laugh at the fun things his characters can do.  It’s often not what a serious player would be doing, but he gets his kicks.

On Monday night, though, we had a Wii disaster.   Ryan got a game “Zelda the Desert Princess,” where some character named Link is battling various creatures in various habitats.  The music and graphics are pretty good, but I have no clue what the game’s about.    He’s been spending hours on it.   We’ve had talks about ‘screen time’ and figuring out ways to get him to put more variety in his activities (hmmm, sort of like how my mom didn’t want me watching TV all the time), but between Pokemon on his DSI or Zelda on Wii, he becomes obsessed.

Monday I heard him crying loudly in the other room.   Imagining that he fell down the stairs, hit his head on something hard (I mean, he takes pain pretty well, so this loud cry had to be serious) I ran in.   He was in the easy chair clearly in distress.  “I accidently erased almost all my Zelda progress,” he told me, “230 hours.”  (That shocked me, but I guess play hours are not literal hours but reflect progress on levels…or that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.)   To his credit he got over it quickly.   I had to pry him away from the Wii for awhile, but later let him go back, I could tell that he needed to make some Zelda practice before he could be at peace — and he did, he seemed to enjoy redoing the old levels.

Lest I create the impression the boys are tied to video games, they’ve actually had an active outdoor summer — Ryan has a great tan.   But it’s Wii skills and other technological advances that show me just how different their world is than mine was.   If I don’t know an answer to a question, Ryan’s first response is “google it.”     If the store doesn’t have something he wants, he says “go on line and buy it.”    In the world of our children all information, all products, all entertainment and communication with friends is all available right now.   He’s not old enough for facebook or texting yet, but I’m sure that’ll come.

Still, at the end of the day, as I put the kids to bed, hug them, tell a story and tuck them in, I realize that for all the differences, at base parenthood is still the same.  I may not have the Wii skills, but to be there for them, build a relationship of mutual trust and be close to them is what matters.    And when Dana calls me “Scott,” and Ryan calls me “Dude,” that’s OK.    This isn’t 1968.   But I not only love my kids, but also like them and feel extremely close to them.   What more can one want?

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  1. #1 by modestypress on August 16, 2011 - 04:29

    Generations are changing faster and faster.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on August 16, 2011 - 19:49

      We got the oldest a DSI-XL for his birthday in April, thinking this would be a long term thing. We find out now that 3DS has replaced it and they aren’t making new DSI games any more. Generation change for technology is going fast too!

  2. #3 by Sean Patrick Hazlett on August 16, 2011 - 06:04

    Ha, ha! My dad did the same thing to me on the original Zelda game. Only, when I got frustrated I cursed loudly in the basement and would throw my controller at the game console. My mother would ask my father if he would punish me for treating my equipment so roughly. He just responded, “Why? He paid for it. If he breaks it, he buys it.”

    • #4 by Scott Erb on August 16, 2011 - 19:41

      We bought our Wii set, but after the remote went flying a few times we let our kids know that if it breaks (or if it hits and breaks something), they’re buying the replacement. Still, if they throw it at the TV, I’ll say something!

      • #5 by Sean Patrick Hazlett on August 17, 2011 - 02:34

        The way my father handled the situation actually did a lot to shape my character, believe it or not. I purchased my Nintendo system using the proceeds from my paper route.

        In essence, it taught me that if I worked hard and paid my own way, I would have more freedom to do what I wanted (and more responsibility). It was a weird way of teaching the lesson. However, the older I get, the wiser my father seems.

  3. #6 by mikelovell on August 16, 2011 - 17:23

    Great Post! I love the more personal ones you put out. My kids too have gotten into the video game thing. One goes to the playstation 2 (or we have a game cube with one game, also a Zelda game), the other grabs the computer. I grew up with an Atari, and still prefer it, being set in my ways and all. I have to literally tell them electronic time is done for them after awhile, otherwise they will play all day long, which they have proven to me once when I was busy cleaning and arranging the apartment.

    We went camping this last weekend and I actually enjoyed a day where the kids werent on the video games AT ALL! I’ll write a post and add pictures, once I can get them from a phone and onto my computer.

    As for the boys calling me by my name or calling me “Dude”…well I allow them to refer to me by name when telling someone else who I am. The youngest starting saying “Dude, did you..” ususally in reference to the video game he was playing and got all excited he had to tell me about it, despite me being RIGHT THERE WATCHING. Maybe I’m still stuck in 1968, a whole 11 years prior to my existence, but as my kid, you do not call me dude. Then he started on the “Dawg” business when addressing me….yeah, that didnt fly with me either.

    I’m all about interacting on an adult level in many ways, but I still guess I prefer some antiquated references when referring to me, their mother, or other adults. They can still refer to me as Dad. If they go to calling me by name in their teens, then I’ll know there is something wrong. First thing I will do is check the bookcase where I once wrote “Death to the Enemy- Duane” (my dad’s name) and see if his name got scratched out and replaced with mine! then we’ll evaluate the situation and go from there. If those other adults say to call them by their first name, I’m okay with that. But if my 7th grader ever referred to his teacher, Ms. Johnson, as Amy, to her face, or in conversation, I’d probably still feel the need to set him straight.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on August 16, 2011 - 19:48

      Today was another rainy day, but we’ve got Lego projects going. I try to guide them away from too much screen time (and sunny days that’s not too difficult). When I say “turn the game off” Ryan tries to be sneaky — he tells me he’ll lose everything if he quits now so he has to get to a particular place to save it. When it takes a half hour to get there, I start to doubt he’s telling me the truth! As for names…I’m also informal at work. There are three of us teaching Poli-Sci. The other two go by “Dr.” or “Professor” with students, at least until graduation. I invite students to call me by my first name. Students report that on campus the split between first name basis profs and titles is about 50/50. We are fine having different approaches — it shows the students they have to ask. I do tell students not to use “Mr.” or “Ms/Mrs/Miss” — that sounds high schoolish.

      We tell them that they have to get used to adapting to different people in the real world. Some profs allow use of the first person in papers, others do not. Some have strict attendance policies, others do not. Some tell you to do something that another forbids. Some allow late work, others don’t. That”s life, you have to get used to it! They complain that there’s no standard policies on these things, but I think that’s a good thing!

  4. #8 by Lee on August 17, 2011 - 01:46

    I am not really a video game person. However we have a wii and I reign supreme in the Wii Fit hula hoop challenge. (we all have to have our talents, right?) LOL

  5. #9 by Scott Erb on August 17, 2011 - 02:46

    Sean, it’s too bad that paper routes for kids are disappearing. We use chores and the like, but it’s not the same. I remember at home being lazy — basically because my parents let me get away with it. When I got a job I was really hard working. My mom stopped by the pizza place one time (I was 16) and my boss praised how I kept things clean and worked so hard. All she could say to me was “why don’t you do that at home?” My response: “I don’t get paid.” To be sure, I’m not going to tolerate that attitude from my kids! But there is something about having a real job that teaches responsibility.

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