Dr. Peter Marshall
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Dr. Marshall has written for scientific journals, magazines such as Canadian Living and Parent-to-Parent, and newspapers. A list of journal papers is contained in his Curriculum Vitae.
If you would like to read one of his recent articles, please select from the left:

 

 



Spoiled Rotten?

Eavesdropping

A World of Their Own

Cooking for Kids

Work - Does It Build Character?


The Barbeque

 

Eavesdropping

  I had not anticipated a memorable experience as we waited for our order to arrive at a Swiss Chalet restaurant. My daughter and I had been following the bus from her sister's skating tournament, but through a series of missed turns and faulty assumptions, we found ourselves at the wrong restaurant.

  Realizing that scouring Kitchener in search of our party was probably pointless, I resigned myself to the fact that I had lost the opportunity to have lunch with fifty or so pre-adolescent girls. My grief was manageable.

   Alexandra loves to play cards and, almost as if prepared for this eventuality, she happened to have a deck in her pocket. We were beginning the first of a long series of hands when two middle-aged men walked over to our section of the restaurant. They were immersed in a conversation that was obviously so important to them that they did not pause or interrupt the flow as they settled in the adjacent booth.

  Now, I like to think that I am a reasonably well brought up individual who knows better than to listen to other people's conversations, but I soon found myself straining to hear their every word. From their manner and way of talking, I would guess they were not close friends, but had stumbled across a topic both needed to discuss - their fathers.

  I wish I had heard the entire dialogue, but unfortunately, one man had a rather quiet voice and I could not bring myself to ask him to speak up. His companion, on the other hand, had one of those voices that, while not loud, was clear and carried well. His father, it seemed, had died several years ago. He had been a provider, a husband, and a good parent to the children, and one of those attributes was a preface to the man's complaints. Perhaps "complaints" is too harsh - he didn't seem to feel that he had been treated badly. He was simply trying to understand why his father had been so hard to know.

  I don't think he realized he and his father were strangers until well into his adult life. This insight had been as serendipitous as my finding myself his uninvited audience. There had been an unexpected telephone conversation with an uncle in Montreal, and in that four- minute exchange he felt he had discovered more about his father than he had learned throughout their entire time together. This experience made the man aware of how their relationship had never progressed beyond the necessary and the superficial. He remembered there had been times when he had wanted his father to really talk to him - even share his feelings. But this never happened. His father shared little, and the only emotion he expressed openly was an occasional burst of anger.

His companion's expressions told me he identified with everything that was being said. There were no breaks in the conversation and they looked intently at one another as if to offer support and understanding. I doubt that the man had lived with his father in the last thirty years, but he seemed to long for an intimacy that had never been achieved. I wondered why the history of their relationship was so important to him now - it was as if he were still asking his father to become a person and not just a family figure. I tried to imagine the questions he would want to ask his father if he had the opportunity. But would he ask them? Even if he had the interviewing skills of Barbara Walters, how could the answers satisfy more than a certain curiosity? For people who know one another intimately, talking about things that matter is a habit, not to an isolated, bare-it-all event.

  I lost the card games quite badly. Alexandra beamed as she packed up the cards and we returned our attention to lunch. This had to meet the criteria for that hallmark of good parenting - quality time. Wasn't I creating a store of memories that would guarantee my life-long status as an involved and loving parent? Maybe so, but I was left wondering how close our relationship would prove to be. Will affection and love be enough to keep our attachment strong and relevant as she grows into adulthood? Sharing time is easy, but will I share important things about myself? Will she come to know me as a person and not just a parent; will she understand what matters to me as a human being? I have never found it hard to listen to my children, but perhaps I have fallen short when it comes to talking to them about myself. I do not expect or want them to become my confidants; I also have no doubt that a full and complete account of my psyche would propel them to new heights of boredom. But perhaps the man in the next booth had unwittingly given me the opportunity to recognize that my relationships with my children need to be fuller if they are to remain close.

  As we drove back to the arena, Alexandra commented, "I'm glad we lost the bus, Daddy." I agreed and silently promised that she would never look back and remember me as a loving parent who became a stranger.


 



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