Bill’s Bits of Wisdom
By Melissa Chianta
Every new father wishes his kid came with an instruction manual. Since that’s not possible, what’s the next best thing? Advice from an experienced dad.
Bill Bailey, a 52-year-old software marketing director, has been raising a family with his wife, 51-year-old Jane, in Cotati for 17 years. His three boys—Levi, 18, Jared, 15, and Ethan, 13—have taught him a lot about fathering. Here is the wisdom he has to share.
Be involved—in everything.
Make time in your schedule for your kids. “[If] you get home at 5:30 and [the kids] go to bed at 8:30, you only have three hours. So use it,” he says. Go throw a ball, read together, or ride bikes.
“We found the guys like fencing, so we’re getting ready to learn to be fencing coaches together. We also do Scottish country-dance. They are fantastic at it. I’m not as good as they are, but we dance together,” he says.
It’s great to do chores with your kids, too, Bailey says. Taking care of household duties like washing dishes, folding laundry, or making meals not only teaches kids how to be responsible, but also how to take care of themselves. “I tell my kids, ‘I love folding laundry. I love doing those things that I had to do when I was a kid. So now that I’m an adult I know how to do my own laundry and cook my own meals,’” he relates. This contributes to their growing sense of confidence in their ability to make it in the world on their own.
The most significant part of any activity, Bailey says, is engaging with your kids. Even something like driving a child to a doctor’s appointment can provide the opportunity for conversation.
“I’ll take my oldest son to the chiropractor, and we’re sitting there, and I’ll say, ‘So what are you thinking about right now?’” he says.
Figuring out what is going on inside your child’s head, what matters to him or her, is critical to parenting well, he believes.
Be on the same page with your spouse.
Just as important as knowing what matters to your child is knowing what matters to your spouse, especially when it comes to childrearing. Before you have kids, Bailey advises, talk about your philosophies and expectations. “What does [your spouse] love about kids? What doesn’t she love about kids? Listen to her.” Discuss how you are going to approach eating, clothing, education, discipline. “How are you going to handle it when your child says no to a food because he doesn’t like the way it looks?” he asks.
When you know where each of you stands, it’s easier to present a consistent, unified front, which is key to all aspects of parenting, especially discipline, Bailey asserts.
“If Mom sets a boundary, Dad has to walk with it. Dad’s got to follow. I can’t take her out at the knees because I don’t like something. And vice versa,” he says. “I’m a firm believer, if it happens in that moment, then you have to discipline in that moment. You don’t say, ‘Wait ‘til your father gets home.’ Why? It only undermines the mom’s authority. That might have worked back in the day, but I don’t know how it did,” he says.
Be prepared to make sacrifices—every day and over the long haul.
While you and your spouse are fine-tuning your parenting game plan, don’t be surprised if compromising some of your expectations is part of the picture. For instance, in order for Jane to homeschool their kids, the couple had to calculate how to live on just Bailey’s salary. That’s meant squeezing their family into a fairly small house.
“We’ve been in a 1,300 square-foot home for 17 years. We gave up [living on] two incomes. And we decided that very early on,” he says.
On the day-to-day level, know that you are “on” the minute you walk in the door. “You don’t just come home, put your feet up, and start scrolling through the TV. You have to wait. You have to put that off. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying you can’t do it right now,” he says.
One thing to avoid sacrificing, if at all possible, is time with the kids. “If [you] miss their first step, if [you] miss their first word, if [you] miss their first eating of solid food, it’s gone. You don’t get that back,” he says. So when you have to be away from the children, make sure your time contributes in some way to the life of the family, he advises.
Although making sacrifices is necessary, Bailey has also found it’s essential to take time for self-renewal. “Send [Mom] to a B&B for the weekend because Mom needs Mom time,” he says. “Do those things that are self-gratifying, make time for them, it’s important, but [stay] involved.”
Create and maintain the vision for the family.
As you get the hang of what’s necessary to keep your family functioning well, you can start to think about what you want for its future. Bailey is clear that he wants his sons “to create opportunity”—especially economic opportunities—for themselves and other people.
“We have hundreds of thousands of kids who are graduating from college with no jobs,” he remarks. “I want my guys to create jobs and hence create opportunities for a ready work force. That’s our vision.”
Over the years, this vision has led to the creation of more than one family business venture. When the boys were little, they sold vegetables from their garden to the neighbors. And when they were older, they started a window-washing business, which is still going strong. Now Bailey has gone into partnership with Levi and launched Bailey Enterprises, which sells software products. (Check them out at baileyen.com.)
“We’ve got a bona fide company, and it all started from selling zucchini and potatoes,” he says.
Bailey is quick to point out that any family vision must consider and cultivate the kids’ own wishes for their futures. For instance, Jared wants to be a pilot, so Bailey is helping him think about how his career choice could create opportunity for others. Right now they are entertaining the idea of chartering planes.
“Who knows? In ten years we might have a fleet of aircraft. We’ll be flying wine executives around the world. Why not?”
Bailey teaches his kids to focus on what’s possible. He never says, “We can’t do this.” Rather, he says, “How can we do this?” For him, where there is a will there is a way. You just have to summon the courage to take action.
Say “I’m sorry.”
No matter what your vision or approach to parenting, you are going to mess up, says Bailey. Mistakes will be made, and the best way to deal with them is to apologize. “If you make a mistake on discipline, if you make a mistake on timing, whatever the issue is, look [your child] in the eye and say, ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’ll do everything I can to not do that again.’,” he says. Bailey believes when parents act with humility and are genuinely remorseful about their errors, kids feel respected and loved.
Stay the course.
In the wee early morning hours when you’re trying to settle a crying baby for the umpteenth time, and wishing, once again, for that infallible instruction manual, you may find yourself thinking that becoming a dad was a big mistake. But take heart: You have what it takes. And, what’s more, Bailey says, when you focus on what’s possible, your ride will most likely be a sweet one. “If I had known it was going to be this good, I don’t know that we would have waited [to have kids],” he says.
Someday, when your children are older, and someone asks you what you like about being a dad, you may just find your reply is the same as Bailey’s: “Everything.”
Melissa Chianta is the features editor at Sonoma Family Life magazine.