Musings + Essays

I Hope I Am That Kind of Parent.

By: Jen Shoop

When I was little, my father smoked cigars.  Not all the time — but enough that I knew what a humidor was and not to play with it.  He would often take me out on the golf course with him on weekends, his preferred venue for cigar smoking.  I loved riding in the cart, washing the golf balls in those little stands with the bristles, and keeping score on the gridded card clipped to the wheel with the tiny red pencil and its ultra-sharp tip — the bric a brac of country club golf that together weave a textured nostalgia heavily perfumed by the lingering scent of cigar.  He would toss his cigar on the grass while teeing off, a habit I found both disgusting (what if bugs got in? what if dirt wound up on the tip he smoked from?) and symmetric with who he was: the type of man who would swat away cobwebs with a bare hand, who would shruggingly glance at his dry and cracked hands when my mother would tell him to “please put on some hand lotion.”   I never commented on this habit, though.  My Dad was my Dad and he did what he did.  If he ingested bugs and dirt accidentally, so be it.  I didn’t question.

One day, I followed him out to his workshed behind the garage, the smell of cigar a veritable smoke signal alerting me to his whereabouts.  I putzed around the tidy rows of carpenter drawers, which always seemed far more interesting from afar; up close, they were just drawers of washers and screws.  I afforded his worktable a wide berth, knowing that we weren’t meant to get within an arm’s length of the router and other sharp tools on his workspace.  He was building a revolving bookcase for my mother.  Tchaikovsky was blasting out of the stereo.  Cigar smoke plumed behind him.

“What are you doing?” I asked, tracing my finger along a row of shelves, though I knew the answer.

“Building a bookcase,” he said.  “It’s good to work with your hands.”  Then, after a meditative pause, a puff from the cigar: “You don’t build anything with the law.”

A few years later, my father quit smoking.  My younger sister had launched an anti-smoking campaign in our household.  In a fit of self-righteous rage, she had gone into my father’s humidor and snapped his expensive cigars in two.  I expected punishment for my sister, my eyes wide at the thought of her transgression.  Not only had she damaged something in my father’s tidy, wood-paneled study — but she had done it in protest.  She had stood up to my father and, well, the thought of standing up to him had never dawned on me.

But my father received the news quietly.  He was contemplative.

“Is Elizabeth in trouble?” I asked.

“No.  She’s right.  I shouldn’t smoke.”  And just like that, my father quit smoking, cold-turkey, unexpectedly, one Friday, at the behest of my little sister.

Someone was smoking a cigar in Central Park over the weekend, and the smell returned me to this nest of memories: the one-on-one time with my father in unguarded moments of rare leisure on the golf course or in his toolshed, his unexpected candor throughout my childhood, his fairmindedness in responding to my sister’s plea.  I looked down at mini and thought: I hope I am that kind of parent. The kind of parent who will tell her six year old a deep personal truth without dumbing it down: You don’t build anything with the lawIt’s good to work with your hands.  The kind of parent who will listen to her daughter’s entreaties, give them space.  The kind of parent who imparts as much wisdom as she absorbs.

Of the many things I admire about my father, his openmindedness stands out to me most clearly as I navigate adulthood.  I can probably count on my hand the number of things I know for sure: there is a God, mom is almost always right, stick to the BART (bananas-apples-rice-toast) diet when ailing, you will never regret responding with kindness, and — in writing — if you can catch an adjective, kill it.  But beyond that, my father has taught me to stay nimble, stay open, stay fair.  You never know when your daughter might be casually saving your life with picketing signs scrawled in messy crayon, or affording you the opportunity to think critically about why you practice the law and why you must work with your hands.

*The photo at the top is my father and my daughter.


+Goop just launched an epic sale.  I adore this Gul Hurgel dress (remember!?), these earrings, and these silver booties.

+OK, these fur-lined mules are super chic.  A great alternative to the fur-trimmed Gucci Princetown mules!  Love them in the gray/silver.

+This post made me realize that both of my parents are very good listeners.  I’d already praised my mother for this virtue; now I recognize it more fully in my dad.

+I have a white blouse similar to this bell-sleeved beauty that I wear constantly.  I love dolling mine up with big earrings and fun shoes.

+A recipe for a rainy day.

+I have used a ToteSavvy to convert my Goyard bag into a diaper bag and have thought it’s done a solid job.  I like the mini size because it fits perfectly in my Goyard (P.M. size) without adding any bulk.  (Minor gripe: I find the “bottle holder” compartment only works with certain types of bottles.  It didn’t play well with Comotomos.)  However, I’m super intrigued by this very well reviewed purse organizer for larger bags, like an MZ Wallace Metro Tote (my top pick for a moderately-priced diaper bag) — and whether you are a mom or not!  Might be a good snag for upcoming travel…

+Currently reading Nine Perfect Strangers and very much enjoying it.  The start is something like an Agatha Christie — I feel something murderous and ominous coming, but all I know right now is the partial stories of nine characters, told from each of their perspectives.  The tradeoff between characters brings me back to the Baby Sitter Club Special Edition books, where each chapter belonged to a different character.  Love.  And surprisingly easy to follow/keep sorted.

+This denim swing top (on sale!) is super fun.

+More lessons from my father.

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10 thoughts on “I Hope I Am That Kind of Parent.

  1. What a sweet recollection of that “nest of memories” — how I love that phrase! — of your dad from your early childhood. So evocative!

    And … I can’t let a mention of the BSC Super Specials go unnoticed. I was OBSESSED with those books, especially the Island Adventure one (where they get marooned on an island in the Long Island Sound … haha!) and the ones on California and New York. Too good!

    1. OMG I loved that BSC super special! They were so delicious. I loved that they tended to include more of the boyfriend drama, too. Be still my tween heart. xo

  2. Another favorite post. I loved the things you know for sure and could not agree more. This reminded me of my dad, too – a contractor who’s big, rough hands and gentle spirit guide me as well. I forgot about the cinnamon toast, though, and need to make that stat! xo

    1. Thank you, April 🙂 That list took me awhile to curate if I am honest. I found myself trimming a lot of fat 🙂

      And we are lucky to have these strong men in our lives, aren’t we?!! xo

  3. I’m also in the middle of Nine Perfect Strangers! I’m really enjoying it, especially Frances 🙂 Trying to use the little free pockets of my baby-minding day to speed through this book, instead of scroll through Instagram (as previously discussed) so I can give it to my mom before it’s due at the library.

    Also, I think just the act of recognizing your dad’s thoughtful parenting (and your mom’s good listening, etc.) and pondering these traits, even if it’s just for long enough to write these posts, has you well on your way to being that kind of parent yourself. And as a bonus, it nudges the rest of us to be thoughtful about the kind of parents we want to be!

    1. P.S. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m implying that you only think about these thing in the context of having subjects for blog posts!! Not that I know you personally but I can’t imagine that’s the case!

    2. Yes! Love that. I’m doing the same this week, though I read on a Kindle and now I’m worried about the same issue we discussed with the phone — the fact that mini has no idea what I’m doing, staring down at a screen. Blarg!

      Thanks for the note, too. I try. I have some big shoes to fill. xo

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