A Dad's Take on The Variables of Life


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“Daddy, do you want to help me study for my math test?” my 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, recently asked after 8 p.m. on a school night. “Study” meant we’d be sitting down in front of the computer, pulling up word problems and racing to see who could correctly solve the problem first. “I’m tired, Jessie. You can study by yourself.”

By 8 p.m., I’m ready for my end-of-the-day ice cream, not math. However, Jessie tends to make requests until she gets the answer she’s looking for and, on occasion, her twinkling eyes persuade me. Instead of holding an ice cream scoop, I found myself with a pencil, pad and calculator in hand, competing against Jessie for math supremacy. I am competitive, even if it’s trying to beat a sixth-grader in math.

As a former banker and accountant, I’m pretty good with numbers, though debits and credits are a lot different than pulling data from a reading problem, placing it into an algebraic equation and solving it. Thanks in large part to my brother-in-law, Gary, who tutored me, I made a hard-earned C in college algebra — many years ago. 

Last year, when Jessie was a fifth-grader, she requested help with two math problems near her bedtime. I read both questions. Each problem involved multiple equations with multiple unknown variables, but I knew the correct answer. “Let’s call Uncle Gary.” Jessie ran for the phone before I had completed my sentence.

Jessie’s uncle, an engineer, tackled the first problem with her, but she was tired and didn’t seem to fully grasp the lesson from the other side of the country. While she got ready for bed, I asked Gary to explain it to me so I could work with her in the morning. When I shared my frustration about the late hour on a school night, Jessie responded, “I only had two problems left, Daddy. I thought you’d be able to do fifth-grade math.”

Ouch!

After breakfast the next morning, I reviewed Jessie’s homework with her. Uncle Gary had summarized, “The goal is to get down to one equation and one unknown.” 

This objective makes sense. As I apply this lesson to parenting, though, I realize it’s not easy to accomplish. There are way too many unknown variables. What combination of grades and SAT scores will Jessie need to get into the college of her choice? What career will result from Jessie’s passions for reading, writing and dancing? How will friends and family members in Jessie’s life influence her decisions? Will she drive the speed limit when Dad’s not sitting next to her in the car? I don’t even want to think about her dating years.

Fortunately, I don’t need to solve all of these problems now. The equation, though, that I want Jessie to always remember as she solves for unknowns in her future is that D + M = 100. Of course, D (Dad) and M (Mom) might not always know the answer, but our love for her will always equal 100 percent.

Parents don’t always have the correct answer. As Jessie watched me struggle with her math problem, she received lessons on the importance of hard work, not giving up and the constant need to keep learning. It’s also OK to ask for help. Uncle Gary will be on call when Jessie takes algebra next year. 

Back to the results of the recent 8 p.m. math competition — Jessie won, 8 to 3. As I think about the new year that begins Jan. 1, I’m confident unknowns will keep the next 365 days exciting. But whatever life brings, Jessie understands the “D” and “M” in the equations are known and constant. 

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” available at amazon.com. Follow him at facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @patrickhempfing.

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