Rothenburger: Snowplow parenting across the ocean

Mel Rothenburger / Kamloops Daily News
December 13, 2012 01:00 AM

I've never gotten the hang of parenting at 30,000 feet. I'm the father they write articles about. They call us snowplow parents, bulldozer parents, helicopter parents. I am a CAF Sea King - outdated but managing to stay airborne most days - swooping low over the canopy, eyes peeled for trouble.

Preparing my youngest son Jacob for the world has been a passion and a challenge, though I've often wondered who was preparing whom. He and I have talked politics since he was two, philosophy since he was four, and social issues since he emerged from the womb. When he was two hours old, I sat in the RIH nursery rocking him and explaining I'd always be there for him, so he'd best learn to deal with it.

At three, he grilled me on the cause and effect of "chicken pops." Diseases aren't my forte, so I made most of it up. Being convincing with your lies gets harder as children get older.

Jacob's always been smarter than me anyway. In his high school years, I learned from him that the education system is a conspiracy to enslave our youth, and that you shouldn't wake up teenagers too early in the morning because sudden sunlight damages their corneas and makes them go blind.

He simply ignores me when my opinions don't square with what he considers common sense. Recently, after he flew off to Japan for a year of studies, we were on the phone and I asked about his plans for the evening.

"Uh, might go see a concert in Osaka," he said.

Alarms sounded, tension rose.

"Oh." Pause, take breath. "What kind of concert?"

"Some musical thing."

"How you gonna get there?"


Osaka is an hour from Jacob's university in Kyoto. Its population is two and a half million.

"Do you know where this concert is?"

"Nuh," he said, "but I'll find it."

I was reaching for the phone to charter an emergency flight to Japan when Syd stopped me. "Osaka is 11 hours from Vancouver," she said. "Secondly, he's 22 years old."

During a sleepless night, various scenarios materialized: he might be dead outside some sushi bar, caught in a mosh at a drug-fuelled Japanese rock concert, or forever circling Osaka on a bullet train. The next day, a tentative inquiry by email: "how was the concert?"

Answer: "The a capella groups were amaaaaaazing."

Jacob was 10 when we took him on his first trip to Japan, and he fell in love with the country. A few weeks ago, he took in a festival in Uji, our sister city, and chatted with Mayor Kubota, a friend for a dozen years.

Jacob speaks excellent Japanese, so he and the mayor talk mostly in that language, though Kubota-san has a pretty good understanding of English.

After emceeing an event at his university, Jacob wrote home to say, "It would seem I do indeed take after my father." My heart swelled when I read it.

There will be a big hole in Christmas this year, though the one advantage of our son being across the ocean is that I can borrow books from the collection he left behind, mostly on politics. But I hope overseas Christmas Day phone calls don't become a tradition - helicopter parenting isn't easy when you're 8,000 kilometres away.

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