Category Archives: Parental Influence

Criminalizing Childhood Independence Can Increase Barriers to Children’s Leisure and Recreation

This week in my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport course, we’ve been talking about the role of parents in children’s development. The discussion reminded me of a news story that was initially reported on in January 2015 in which parents were investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for allowing their 10 year-old and six-year old to walk home alone (about 1 mile) from a local park. At the time the story broke, it was the third news story in less than a year that involved parents encountering trouble with the law for their children walking to or from local parks/playgrounds alone or playing in parks/playgrounds without a parent being present. These stories are originating in the United States, but they get press in Canada and Canadian parents’ reactions to the story have been varied. There are those who agree that children should be constantly supervised, those who describe themselves as “free range parents” who allow their children to explore and experience the world without constantly monitoring them, and those who would argue their beliefs and approach to their children’s freedom fits somewhere in between.

childhood independence

These types of stories surprised me. Part of my surprise that a parent is accused of neglect in a situation where his/her child is walking home from a park could be related to the freedom I had as a child. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was allowed to bike around my neighbour and to friends’ houses by myself or with my younger sister, to walk or bike to the convenience store in my neighbourhood to get a treat with my allowance, and to go to my elementary school playground and play with my sister or friends. That freedom came with opportunities to assess and take risks, to make decisions, to explore, to problem solve, and to actually have adventures to share with my family when asked, “What did you do at the playground today?” No one interpreted my sister and I playing at the playground by ourselves as my parents being neglectful. Doing these things was considered as “normal”.

News stories like the recent one about the Meitiv family who had their children, age 10 and 6, picked up and delivered home in a police cruiser midway through their 1-mile walk home from the park indicate – as Petula Dvorak, columnist with the The Washington Post suggests – that there has been a cultural shift in criminalizing childhood independence. This shift, I believe, comes with a significant consequence to children’s leisure and recreation behaviours.

Increasing Barriers to Children’s Play, Leisure, and Recreation

Some children face a number of barriers to accessing recreation and leisure pursuits. They may be limited to activities or experiences in which their parent(s) can afford to financially support or by their parents’ ability to transport them to facilities for programs. Some parents have irregular work schedules or travel frequently and can’t consistently support children’s regular participation in organized programs. What happens when children are also limited from using recreation resources in their neighbourhoods or communities unless they are supervised at all times? Will stories of parents being scrutinized for allowing their children to walk or bike to parks or playgrounds in their area contribute to parents feeling increasingly uncomfortable with allowing or encouraging children to play independently?

Before the story was over for the Meitiv family, they were found responsible, in March 2015, for “unsubstantiated” child neglect meaning CPS would keep a file on the children for five years. Then, in April 2015, their children were picked up a second time from a local park. A happy ending of sorts came in June 2015, when they were cleared of all neglect charges and CPS revised its policy. Children will not be considered neglected without evidence that while unsupervised, the child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of being harmed.

Reconciling the Mixed Messages

I wonder how we, as a society, can expect to have success with efforts such as active transportation (e.g., kids walking or biking to school) if we also communicate that it is not appropriate for children to walk that same neighbourhood on their own to the park or playground or local pool.

ParticipACTION produced a commercial that prompted parents to “Bring Back Play”. This ad was targeted at parents who are of the generation in which being out playing and being active was common. But can we really bring back play… play as it was? Is the campaign tag line something parents living within the current culture of parental anxiety and fear about children’s safety can even relate to (O’Connor & Brown, 2013). Perhaps first, we need campaigns that emphasize how safe neighbourhoods are or campaigns that encourage people to get to know their neighbours so that people can feel more comfortable letting their children move autonomously on the streets near home.

The latest ParticipACTION commercial series communicates that screen time limits play time or opportunity and that we (parents/children/other influential adults) need to “make room for play”. The images are, for example, of children playing hockey in an empty parking lot (see video below) or basketball in park court or skipping rope outside. In none of these videos are children being supervised by parents. How might this fit with parents’ own anxiety about leaving children unsupervised or their concerns about how they might be perceived by others if they were to send their child to the part unsupervised. Is the message that it is okay for children to play in the neighbourhood as long as they are in a group?

ParticipACTION Make Room for Play Video

If We Criminalize Childhood Independence…

… then I wonder why we are not criminalizing childhood physical inactivity and screen time. I’m not suggesting any aspect of childhood leisure, recreation, or play should be criminalized. However, if we are going to label parents as neglectful if they facilitate opportunities for their children to develop independence and autonomy, it does not make sense that we would ignore other potential “dangerous” childhood behaviours. For example, while currently working on a revision to its recommendations, the American Pediatric Association has previously discouraged screen use for children younger than 2 years of age. Several studies have produced evidence that screen-time, especially passive television time, can be harmful for children under two. Television tends to have negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep, and attention/concentration (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Children’s declining levels of physical activity are linked with increasing levels of childhood obesity (Healthy Active Living for Children and Youth, 2002) and we are bombarded with messages about the negative consequences of childhood obesity in terms of the short- and long-term health of children (e.g., sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol). However, we don’t see stories about parents being considered as neglectful if they allow their child to watch tv for 8 hours on a Saturday or play on tablets all day. Yet, one could argue, that those parenting decisions could be just as harmful or perhaps more harmful than allowing a children to play in a nearby park and walk home afterward.

The Meitivs seem to be making thoughtful parenting decisions that foster independence and  contribute positively to their children’s development. And, the only risk of walking home from the park – as identified by the police at least – was that the children could be abducted by a stranger. Yet, the odds of that are pretty slim according to statistics Dvorak presents in her Post piece. Fear mongering, in my opinion, does little to support parents in facilitating children’s independence in their leisure time nor does it support parents in helping their children acquire the various assets that are associated with positive youth development and thriving.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-961.

Healthy active living for children and youth (2002). Paediatrics & Child Health, 7(5), 339-358.

O’Connor, J., & Brown, A. (2013). A qualitative study of ‘fear’ as a regulator of children’s independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health & Place, 24, 157-164.

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Considering Leisure Education Opportunities for Homeschooled Students

The start of the new school year is only a week away. While many children will be going back to a public school in their community, there are about 5% of children who will be learning at home. My nieces are two children who form the homeschool population in Canada. As my sister has shared thoughts as she prepares for the year ahead (one niece in Junior Kindergarten; one in Senior Kindergarten), I’ve become curious about the interaction between homeschooling and leisure. I have very little knowledge about homeschooling – I wasn’t homeschooled; to my knowledge I have only taught one student who was homeschooled in my 12 year career; and I only met two people who were homeschooled. Despite my lack of knowledge, I wanted to take some time to begin a discussion on some of the potential challenges and opportunities for leisure education within a homeschooling environment. I say “potential” challenges and opportunities because there is a lack of academic research on homeschooling and leisure. Therefore, I’m applying my understanding of leisure and how children experience leisure through their traditional pathway of public school in this discussion.

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Photo credits to Wel@Home

To begin, leisure education is a process of developing the attitudes, knowledge, and skills

needed to make positive leisure choices (Robertson, 2007). Leisure education is a lifelong process but it is quite critical for young people because childhood leisure influences leisure well into adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). There are a few key aspects of leisure that homeschooling parents might want to think about and explore.

Opportunities for Socialization. Developing social skills through socializing with others is an important leisure skill and one that is argued to be the a key influence on the quality of our lives and leisure (Mundy, 1998) . Children who lack social skills sometimes struggle to make friends because of challenges in starting and engaging in conversations, listening and understanding, and/or initiating invitations. They may also be challenged to expand and deepen relationships. Ensuring children have opportunities to socialize and develop these skills is important.

I suspect that most homeschooling parents give the socialization of their children significant consideration and look to provide opportunities through various activities for their children to engage with others their age. In some communities, recreation departments create opportunities for children who are homeschooled to come together with others to participate in activities. For example, last year, when my oldest niece with in junior kindergarten, she participated in swim lessons on Friday afternoons. They were offered for children who were homeschooled. What a great opportunity to not only develop her swimming skills, but to also socialize with other kids who were homeschooled. My sister needed to participate in the class with my niece, but for parents of older children, this was also an opportunity for homeschooling parents to socialize with each other during the instruction time.

Obviously, this type of opportunity costs money. However, youth free swims or free skates, library programs, or youth drop-in centres within communities offer other, less-expensive opportunities for children who are homeschooled to meet and interact with others their age. Church communities and neighbourhood playgrounds are also chances for interaction and friendship development. And, some cities and towns have their own homeschool networks or support groups where events are planned to bring homeschoolers together and provide opportunities to connect (my sister and her childhood friend have created WEL@home – a group for homeschoolers in the west end of Ottawa).

Exposure to Diverse Leisure Activities and Interests. In a classroom of 20 or more students in a school of 100 or more students, children have the chance to observe, listen to, and interact with a large number of children. This creates opportunities to become aware of and learn about different leisure activities in which children participate. For example, I did not figure skate, take piano lessons, play baseball, draw or paint, or grow my own vegetable garden at home, but I had classmates who did. I learned a lot about these activities because of the regular interaction with kids who had interests I did not. Since these classmates were not necessarily the friends I spent non-school time with, I likely would not have developed an awareness and understanding of these activities if it were not for our school interactions. I also learned how to play hopscotch, skip rope, play four square, and play marbles because this is what others in my age group were doing at recess and lunch time play periods of the playground. This group of kids exposed me to and taught me different activities that I would not have explored on my own. Exposure is a key first step in developing a large and diverse leisure repertoire. Research suggests that the leisure interests and skills children develop by the age of 10 tend to be the ones they carry throughout their lifetime. Meaning… if you don’t know how to skate by age 10, you’re unlike to do this activity as a teenager, young adult, or parent.

For homeschooling parents, awareness of the importance of this exposure may help them consider ways to ensure their children are exposed to a wide range of leisure activities and not just those activities in which their children express interest. Homeschooling networks are excellent ways to increase the opportunities for homeschooled children to meet and interact with others who may have interests that are different from their own. Facilitating opportunities for children to share what they like to do for fun or to talk about their favorite activity is one way to get the ball rolling with discovering diverse interests. For those involved in such groups, here’s one exercise you might want to do to begin discussions about leisure activities and interests (Find Someone Who…).

Another way of increase children’s exposure is to take them to spectate a variety of activities. Attend high school football, basketball, or volleyball games. Go to a rowing regatta. Keep your eye out for martial arts demonstrations (they seem to occur often at the mall in my city). Get tickets to the community dance studio’s year-end production. Watch sports on TV (I’m a big fan of using the Olympics as a way to increase children’s exposure to various activities). Attend concerts in the park; go to art demonstrations (e.g., pottery; basket weaving). All of these experience create an opportunity to discuss the activity or hobby, explain rules of sports or how activities are done, and gauge the interest/curiosity of your child as it relates to that activity.

Acquiring Leisure Skills. Within a school context, children do experience instruction in a number of activities – art, music, and sports (although the quality of this instruction likely various depending on the school district and the certifications that teachers are required to have to offer instruction).

In the absence of physical education classes, parents of home schooled children need to consider how to develop their children’s physical literacy. While homeschoolers estimated spending an average of 4 hours per week in physical education (i.e., being active), they indicated they spend little time in instruction of fundamental motor skills, team sport skills, or individual/dual sport skills (Gregory, 2005).  A few studies have found that homeschooling parents rely on youth sport program and homeschool support group sponsored physical education for instruction (Baker, 1999; Gregory, 2005; Waters, 1998), however, the quality of that instruction can vary depending on the qualifications of the leaders and may not . Gregory (2005) found that few parents in her study were aware that fundamental motor skills needed to be taught at an early age (they do not develop naturally) and expressed concern that homeschooled children may not be developing the necessary skill for mature, proficient movement. One advantage for homeschooled children is the opportunity to have personalize instruction of fundamental motor skills based on the child’s characteristics whether this is by a knowledgeable parent or by an instructor. Parents can read more in the report – Developing Physical Literacy: A Guide for Parents of Children Ages 0-12.

I see tremendous opportunity for parents to develop art and music skills through homeschooling. My own experience with art in public schools was… well… lackluster to say the least. I really did not develop much of an appreciation for art nor did I develop any real, specific skills. In music, I learned the recorder in Grade 4. I took part in choir. But, I did not learn to read music or play an instrument or anything that created lifelong enjoyment. I participated in dance, but that was outside of school and that’s where my real love of music (listening mainly) came from. I do believe that parents who homeschool have the opportunity to do a much better job fostering leisure skills in the areas of art and music. The flexibility of a homeschooling schedule and the opportunity for one-on-one attention could allow for skills to be explored and talents to be nurtured. If parents can afford to designate money for art and music skills, there may be opportunities to learn to paint or draw; scrapbook; quilt; do pottery; play the piano, violin, or the guitar. These skills may be developed through private instruction (either by a parent with expertise or other instructor), but time to practice and further hone skills can be included within the homeschooling schedule which sends a very positive message to children and youth that developing these leisure skills – that could turn into life long interests – is as important as typical school subjects. I’m all for this type of messaging!

Incorporating Leisure Learning into Traditional Subjects. Homeschooling parents have the advantage of being able to educate their children about and for leisure through their teaching of subjects like math, social studies, and language arts. Math learning can involve examples that relate to travel or sports. Rather than using grocery store prices when teaching about money and addition, costs of various leisure activities could be used (generating awareness). Children can write stories that relate to their leisure – their favorite activity, what they liked about attending a festival, or their best memory on vacation. Social studies offers opportunities to discuss leisure in different places, how leisure has changed over time (e.g., invention of the television), and could even foster leisure planning skills (e.g., what would you need to take on a vacation to Iceland in February; what could you want to do there; how much money would you need to take to do all the activities you might like to do). These are chances to draw attention to leisure and for discussion about what children value in terms of their free time, can generate leisure awareness/knowledge, and develop various leisure skills.

Summary. Homeschooling presents parents with both some challenges regarding leisure (e.g., social leisure; exposure to diverse leisure; skill instruction). However, with an understanding of what might not be accessed through a homeschool experience, parents also have the opportunity to take charge in fostering the development of leisure awareness, the acquisition of leisure knowledge and skill, and an appreciation of leisure’s role and importance in one’s life. I also think it is important to acknowledge that not all leisure-related experiences within school are positive and therefore, for some children, homeschooling means that leisure learning could be designed and delivered in a more meaningful way and in an environment that may not produce some of the negative experiences that are reported in traditional school environments.

References:

Baker, R. K. (1999). Physical education in the home school. Uppublished doctoral disseration, University of Georgia.

Gregory, E. R. (2005). Curriculum and the status of physical education in homeschooling. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Texas A & M University.

Mundy, J. (1998). Leisure education: Theory and practice. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Robertson, B. J. (2007). The leisure education manual. Wolfville, NS: Leisure Experience Associates.

Shannon, C. S., & Shaw, S. M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30, 1-16.

Waters, G. J. (1998). Homeschool physical education instruction: An initial study. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

Watching Olympics with Children is an Opportunity to Expose them to Various Sports

Olympics - Sport Exposure and Literacy

Normally, you won’t find me promoting the inclusion of television into one’s daily schedule. Nor will you normally find me recommending that children watch television. However, I see the Olympics as a special opportunity for leisure/sport education and I am a strong advocate for exposing children to Olympic events.

Learning What an Athlete is and What it Means to be an Athlete

For younger children (preschoolers), exposure to the Olympics is an opportunity for them to learn what an “athlete” is. I found a short Sesame Street Podcast that focuses on the word “athlete” – perhaps a good introduction for preschoolers prior to watching the Olympics.

For older children, some of the stories presented on the athletes show their journey to the Olympics – the different things they have done as part of their training, the hours they have put in, the struggles they have had along the way. These are excellent opportunities to help children understand the work, fun, success, and disappointment that comes with being an athlete. With the exposure to other athletes’ stories, there is a reference point that can be used when children experience failure in sport (or other areas of life) or when they do not achieve their goals easily, “Remember the skier who trained hard for 8 years to get to the Olympics? Remember that there were times she did not win competitions or qualify for the team?”

Exposure to Various Winter Sports

The Olympics provides a unique opportunity to educate your children about the various winter sports that exist. In a two week period, children can see men and women participate in 15 different sport disciplines. Within those disciplines, children can learn about different events. For example, figure skating includes women’s and men’s singles, pairs skating, ice dancing, and a team event. Children can see what these sports look like – how they are performed, the types of facilities they are held in, how competition is held, and how winners are determined (e.g., judging, times, goals).

Without exposure to and awareness of sports, it is impossible to develop an interest. Therefore, exposing children to various winter sports through the Olympics is one way to facilitate their awareness of sports and create an opportunity for an interest to be developed (even if their interest is only as a spectator).

Sharing Your Experiences with Sports

Watching the Olympics also provides opportunities for discussion about winter sports in which you, as a parent, have participated. Unfortunately, as many adults move through various stages of life, they stop participating in sports they were introduced to, participated in, or even competed in when they were younger. Children may have no idea that their parents know how to downhill ski, for example, or that they tried curling. Taking time to share the experiences you have had with various sports may peak your children’s interest or prompt them to ask questions that help increase their understanding of the sport and what it is like to take part. Tell them when you participated, where, with whom (a club, family, at school), and about any rituals that were associated with your participation (e.g., I always looked forward to having hot chocolate after going cross country with my family). If you competed and have pictures or medals/ribbons, dig these out and talk to your children about what it was like to be an athlete and how you achieved your accomplishments.

Role Models

Athletes can be positive role models in a number of different ways. First, they are physically active. Given the decline in physical activity in North America and the rising rates of childhood obesity, those who model an active lifestyle and the benefits of that (e.g., strength, speed, flexibility, endurance) can serve as good role models. Second, Olympic athletes have a good work ethic and must persist. Their performances demonstrate what can be accomplished with hard work over a long period of time. As I mentioned above, networks often highlight athletes’ journey to the Olympics or review an athlete’s experience with competition at the Olympics. In some cases, athletes have had to overcome injuries or cope with a variety of circumstances (e.g., death in the family) on their journey to the Olympics or negative experiences during competition (e.g., falling, poor initial performance). These stories showcase determination and persistence. Third, in most cases, we see examples of good sportsmanship during the Olympics. Those who do not achieve a medal standing or do not win the gold, congratulate those who did. We see disappointment on the faces of athletes when they don’t have the success they hoped for and expressions of frustration, but we also see that it does not interfere with how they interact with their teammates or competitors. Fourth, in team sports, we see examples of how individual players work together as part of a team to achieve a goal.

Athletes’ stories offer inspiration and many athletes exhibit behaviors that we would encourage children to emulate – dedication, determination, fair play, working together, and being graceful winners and losers. Sure, there will always be athletes who fall from grace, but for the most part Olympic athletes exhibit behaviors that make them positive role models.

If your child appears drawn to a particular athlete, you may want to help him/her follow that athlete’s progress in the Olympics on social media or the Olympic website.

Dispelling Gender Myths

It is sometimes shocking to me how young children are when they begin developing an awareness of the gender stereotypes in our society. I hear stories of preschoolers explaining to parents that boys can’t wear pink or purple or that girls can’t play hockey or wrestle. I’m not sure if there will be any men at the Sochi Olympics wearing pink or purple, but there will be women playing hockey.

The Olympics is an opportunity to help children understand that men and women, boys and girls can play a wide range of sports. Although there may not be a professional women’s hockey league like the NHL, women do play hockey and they play it well. And not only do men play hockey, they also speed skate and figure skate. We want boys growing up with an understanding that girls can play a variety of sports so that boys do not feel threatened by girls’ presence on the ice, fields, or courts where they are also playing. We want girls to understand that boys and girls can participate in that same sports – whether it is figure skating or hockey or wrestling.

I’m excited that this year, women will be participating in ski jumping! They were denied that opportunity at the last winter Olympics even after efforts in court to argue that their rights were being violated. The President of the International Ski Federation, in 2005, made the comment that, “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” Although the official argument was that there weren’t enough good female ski jumpers to make the event a go, many feel that the belief ski jumping might damage a woman’s uterus was an influence. This attitude is changing. The International Ski federation allowed women to compete in 2011 and at Sochi (90 years after men’s ski jumping made its debut) 30 women from 15 different countries will be ski jumping for the first time in the Olympics.

This Olympics, parents won’t have to answer the question, “Why aren’t any women competing in ski jumping?”

Get Out the Schedule and Plan

So, my hope is that parents will consider the Olympics as a sport education opportunity. Whether you check your local listing or download an app that helps you follow your country, favorite sport, or specific athletes (I’m using the official Sochi 2014 Results app), plan to spend some time following the Olympics over the next two weeks and having discussions with your children about athletes, competition, winter sports, and your experiences.

Reflections on the Interactions between the Loss of a Father and Leisure

Parental Influence on Leisure and Sport

My sister, Dad, and I on the beach in Prince Edward Island in the late 1980s.

This is a day when I expect I will think about loss. Two years ago today, my father died. Nearly all of us go through this at some point in life. I know I am not alone in experiencing the anniversary of the death of a parent as a time for reflection. I think about him often, but those thoughts, rightly or wrongly, are much more intense on the anniversary of his passing – perhaps because I reserve space for myself to reflect.

One of the the things that has struck me over the last two years, among other things, is how leisure experiences can trigger both wonderful memories of my father and a deep sense of loss. These moments produce both joy and sadness. In the last year, I’ve paid particular attention to how the loss of my father interacts with my leisure experiences and wanted to share my thoughts.

Feelings of Gratitude. I think this is a good place to start. I had a father who loved sports. I shared experiences of watching a variety of sports with him on television – some that I would never have been introduced to without his interest. In particular, I remember watching the Indy 500, boxing, downhill skiing, football, baseball, and basketball with my Dad on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. I have not taken up any of these sports, but I do have an understanding of them. My father used to endure hundreds of questions about rules and players (e.g., “Dad, why can’t they run from home plate to third base and then second and then first and then home?”). And while I never developed an interest in participating in these sport, I learned about them. As a result, this past year when the movie, Rush (about Formula 1 racing), came out, I had an interest in seeing it with my husband and thought of my Dad. I knew I was at and enjoying that movie because of him and it was definitely a moment when I felt gratitude for helping me develop a broad understanding of various sports.

My Dad also played a lot of sports with me. I’m not sure how many hours he tossed a tennis ball to me in the back yard so I would could learn how to catch with a glove. We played tennis and went cross country skiing, biking, tobogganing, and swimming. For a few years, my dad and I went skating on Sunday evenings together. I also remember running in the Terry Fox charity run with him one year. While he wasn’t a perfect role model in the health department (he smoked), he did serve as a role model for physical activity – he was a runner for many years and worked out with weights regularly.

My father was also an avid reader. I am not as avid a reader as he was, but I grew up with a father who was always getting books and reading. My valuing of this activity, again, is influenced by his valuing of, interest in, and engagement with books.

Because of his influence, I think of him often when engaging in various sport-like activities (e.g., as a participant and as a spectator), when reading or poking around a book store, when talking about various activities (e.g., cross country skiing), or hearing news about athletes whose careers I know he followed. Although there is a feeling of sadness at times, I can’t help but feel grateful for his influence on my leisure interests and recognize that the influence is ongoing.

The Sense that Something is Missing. I think one of the saddest moments for me was the first card I got from my mother after my Dad died. It might have been an Easter card. It was the first card I’d gotten that didn’t say “Love, Mom and Dad“. Wham-mo. It hit me like a brick. In my family, holidays and celebrations were peppered with leisure experiences connected to family and so something as simple as a card seemed, in the earliest days after my father’s death, to emphasis this loss for me.

Part of moving forward after a loss is being able to find and experience joy in everyday life and also during holidays, special occasions, and celebrations when that sense of loss may be great. I feel like I have done a fairly good job with this. I eagerly anticipate Christmas – love decorating and baking during the season, and enjoy getting cards or gifts for the special people in my life. However, I find that in preparation for holidays and celebrations I do have this sense that something is missing. In December, I would pass by a book or CD that I know my Dad would love to read or listen to – I don’t buy it – no reason to. I was genuinely enthusiastic about the Father’s Day plan my husband and I had made for his father last year (e.g., we went to a vegetarian cooking class together). But that sense that something was missing was present while shopping for a Father’s Day card for only my father-in-law. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to putting together an Easter basket for my mother and not buying my Dad’s favorite chocolate bar or shopping for Mom for Christmas and not for my Dad. There is always that person who is missing from the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. While I may enjoy these leisure experiences with my family or with others, there is sometimes that sense, in my gut or the back of my mind, that something is missing… because there is something missing.

And sometimes I have needed to actively anticipate how a leisure experience or event may bring about that sense of loss or that something is missing and work on not letting it overshadow the joy. I got married in June 2013. Without my Dad to walk me down the aisle, I was determined to find a way to get down the aisle without all the guests (or me) focusing on the fact that my Dad wasn’t there. I wasn’t going to walk alone. Having my mom or anyone else (e.g., brother-in-law, sister) walk me down the aisle, I feared, would focus attention on the loss. I decided that my future husband was the best choice. How could people feel a sadness when seeing the bride and groom come down the aisle together? I was happy with my decision and I had a charm on my bouquet with a picture of my Dad and a little note to him. He was with me, but the moment of walking down the aisle was not steeped in sadness.

There could be a variety of leisure experiences in which one might anticipate feeling that sense that something is missing – family reunions, the birth of a child, or any kind of annual event that involved family (e.g., vacation, a fun run). I’m sure that I will have other experiences when I feel this sense – ones I don’t or can’t anticipate and ones that I may be able to anticipate.

Opportunity to Reflect on Memories. I am an interesting position. I am living as an adult in the city I grew up in. My parents moved away from Fredericton, NB shortly after I started university. Many places I go in town provide chances for me to remember leisure experiences I shared with my Dad or my entire family while growing up. When I go to hockey games on campus, I have the chance to reflect on the time my parents attended an Acadia University alumni event – an Acadia versus University of New Brunswick game (I asked a lot of questions about hockey that night).

My office is in the building on campus that houses the swimming pool I swam in a lot as a kid. If I park at the back of building, I remember the countless mornings over the years my Dad and I sat in the car waiting for the swim coach to arrive to unlock the doors and let us in for practice. We’d listen to the radio – often discussing music – songs we liked, songs we didn’t. If I’m in my office on a weekend when there is a swim meet, I something go watch for a bit. As I watch the officials dressed in their whites move around the pool deck, I think of Dad’s efforts as a volunteer during my competitive swimming days.

When I go bowling, I think of times our family went bowling and how good my Dad was at that sport (he had trophies). Times when I take a walk in O’Dell park, I remember going cross country skiing and toboggan there. On January 1st when they play the top 40 songs of the year on the radio, I remember my Dad and I listening and trying to predict what the number one song would be. When I watch the Olympics in February, I will no doubt remember previous years when I either watched them with him or, after I had moved away, we watched them in different cities but discussed them.

While sometimes these memories remind me of the loss and make me temporarily sad, I also see the memories as a blessing. Having memories that are grounded in leisure and that surface when I engage in leisure somehow helps reinforce the value and place of leisure in my life and the importance of shared leisure with family.

Closing Thoughts

In reflecting on the interactions between my leisure and the loss of my father, I also think of friends and even those I don’t know who have lost their fathers. I wonder how they may think about or remember their fathers during leisure, what leisure experiences they had with their fathers, what they learned from their Dads, and what they taught their Dads about or during leisure time together.

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