for a parent who wants to learn or teach stalking behavior?

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On December 17, 2001, I received a copy of part of an email that was posted to a father's rights listserve. It contained Warren Farrell's "top ten" suggestions for a noncustodial parent away from his (or her) child over the holidays. The Farrell ideas are immediately below (I'm not sure which are the "top ten.").

My comments (and some decent suggestions) follow.

The Top Ten Ways a Dad Can Be "With" a Child
When He Can't Be With His Child
: Choose 10
by Warren Farrell, Ph.D.
Author Father and Child Reunion

* Tape record a loving holiday message, listing the ten best things you love about your son or daughter.

* Leave a series of loving messages on your child's answering machine.

* Buy some clay; make your son or daughter a statue (however inept) of a pet gerbil they cherish, the dreamed of horse you can't afford, or any memento of a special time you've shared.

* Hide post-it notes around your child's room, each one with a different appreciation message. Number the post-its, putting the first ones in easy places, making the hints as to where to find the next ones tougher and tougher; have a small gift at the end of the trail.

* Tape a song from you about the relationship between you and your child. Make it funny (e.g., give yourself a "take-off" name of a group or artist [Me2; Yo Yo Pa]; make it self-effacing (if you can't sing, make a joke out of it). Put the tape in a player your child can use in private to reduce his or her embarrassment factor (and yours).

* Email an egreeting card (e.g., eGreetings, Blue Mountain). Choose cards that reflect your child's interests.

* If you've got the courage, send three "Truth or Dare" cards to your child. Begin each card with a "dare" statement -- inviting your child to fill in the "truth" and send the card back to you.
        "Dear Dad, What I dare you to understand about me is...";
        "Dear Dad, What I dare you to apologize about is...";
        "Dear Dad, I dare you to listen to this..."
Your gift to your child is your 100% assurance that she or he will receive no response except thank you.

* Do a video of yourself, showing your son or daughter your favorite memorabilia from their childhood (a soccer uniform, a trophy) and share what each memory means to you.

*Create an album for each child reflecting the activities you shared all year. Make this an annual tradition.

*Create your own greeting cards and send two or three to your child -- one sentimental, one funny, one outrageous. Don't enclose money -- keep the child focused on the sentiment attached!

* Send five "opinion emails," asking your child her or his opinion regarding:
        "My favorite movie is _____ because _____"
        "My favorite animal is _____ because _____"
        "I like it best when mom _____"
        "A good teacher is a teacher who _____"
        "The best sport is _____"
        "I like/dislike church because _____"

* Have a photo of you and your child reproduced on a mouse pad. That way he or she will be running their hands and eyes over it every day.


Do Farrell's suggestions, above, sound good to you? Read them again, slowly this time, and with a little more thought. Try to put yourself in the child's place.

Now what do these remind you of? That besotted dork you broke up with in college and then couldn't shake loose. Again. The guilt-inducing guy you went out with once, and although you couldn't put your finger on why, his continued "admirations" after a while started to make your skin crawl. And again. The obsessive who ultimately turned dangerous when his telephone messages ad nauseum and "gifts" with pricetag attached continued to be rebuffed.

There's something icky here, and icky isn't parental. This man apparently has NO idea how a real parent feels about a child, much less how a good parent interacts with a child. (Well, he's never been one, but I digress.) Clearly, he has no clue about how to do things for a child that make the child feel good about him/herself, rather than the uncomfortable recipient of needy slobber from an emotionally self-absorbed adult. At best, this behavior is grotesquely self-conscious and enmeshed, and certainly is not going to teach any child how to be loveable, let alone set an example of appropriate adult parental behavior.

(BTW, how are those post-it notes supposed to get around the kid's room if the parent "can't be there?" He suggests that a parent model mawkish or stalkish behavior over a few days absence? EEEyew. Ick meter is pegged here!)

The mousepad with kid-and-dad picture is not only manipulative but its stated purpose, to create thoughts for Dad about the child's "hands [sic] and eyes running over it" is downright smarmy. Although many kids might get a kick out of seeing their own picture on an unexpected object, in the father's rights world, it's not about doing for a child; it's about getting emotional reward for "Dad." Inject him in there, too. Artificially. It's the price the child must pay. "Keep the child focused on the sentiment." (Which sentiment would be what? That words are cheap? Or that paying homage to this egotistical fool is the price to be paid for the child's delusion of some day having a real father, i.e. one who puts the child first, is strong enough to lean on, and can be taken for granted.)

Notice that not one of the suggestions includes having a real conversation with the child about the child's activities and current interests. Or actually talking on the telephone. Or even ICQ. Not one of the suggestions mentions giving sincere praise and expression of pride in something the child has done (versus "is.") None of it. Instead Farrell suggests leaving a series of clingy stalker-type telephone messages on what's probably the child's mother's answering machine, and tucking post-it notes in and around what would be a child's private spaces. It's chillingly invasive, under the "innocent" guise of an ostensible treasure hunt.

Also notice that not one of the suggestions really takes much time or thought. Or evidences that the parent even knows his own child any better than a complete stranger would. And, in case Daddy's last vestige of good intuition kicks in and tells him that a check in one card would be a more welcome pleasure than a gooey sentiment, Farrell expressly tells him not to.**

Actually, there's nothing wrong with a parent making a special herculean effort -- either in money or gifts that indicate an investment of time and/or sweat on behalf of the child. Remember the stories about the proverbial poor parents who saved for that train set, the laundress immigrant mother who put the kid through school, or the now-adult child who fondly remembers the father who spent a week carefully refurbishing a used bike so that it would look like a new one on Xmas morning. Parents such as these come to be appreciated with real and enduring sentiment. Although maybe that's not immediate enough reward to make a stalker happy.

The problem here is that these guys want pay-back for everything they do. It's all about them. Putting in time and effort without the expectation of a return is what real parental love is about. Demands (however "subtle") that a child fulfill a parent's emotional needs for love and to feel important are not. Children DO know the difference; they can feel it even if they cannot articulate it.

One of the best things a real, beloved parent, custodial or not, can do for a child is to make use of skills unique to that parent to give the child opportunities and things that just anyone else wouldn't be in a position or have the know-how to provide simply by the application of money. Even an absent parent can build, create or provide something for the child that's individual, special and actually wanted or useful. Traveling parents can collect cultural, local and educational mementos. Shop-handy parents can build something for the child's room (at the child's home ) that can't be bought in a store. Scholarly parents can hunt down good books in a child's area of interest or which might pique a new interest. A parent who is a chef can send special eats. Parents in different fields have access to occupational-oriented stuff. Geek parents can make sure a kid has all the computer bells and whistles. Reporter parents can do a clipping service in a topic of interest to a child. Entertainer parents can get autographs and backstage passes. If nothing else, parents can share their own individual talents, abilities and interests with their children regularly and give those kids a leg up in an area in which the parent has expertise.

At traditional gift-giving times, post-it notes, email greeting cards, and repetitive demands for contrived intimacy or boundary-violating disclosures won't cut it. Send your child one card that proves you actually know him or her. Enclose a letter that says you're sincerely proud of the child and feel lucky to be his or her father. (And a check.) Send a gift that shows you've been paying attention to the child's wants, needs and opinions all year long. And ditch the emotional blackmail and carrot-dangling conditioned on what's in it for you. ("... bullshit walks.")


            ** This seems analogous to Farrell's demands in his earlier books criticizing "young beautiful women" for not being interested in providing love and sex to unattractice men who aren't willing to contribute more than the cost of a dutch date.


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