Just for Dads ~ May 2022

by Ward Williams
Executive director, Vineyard Family Services

Finding Nemo and Finding Dory were billion-dollar box office hits beloved by many families. To me, one of the most memorable parts of Finding Nemo happens when Dory is consoling Marlin, who is distressed that Nemo is lost. Marlin makes the statement that, as Nemo’s father, he has always made sure that nothing ever happened to Nemo. Wise Dory responds simply: “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” In short, Dory was telling Marlin that his overprotectiveness is harming his child and, in essence, not protecting him at all.

This message has stuck with me for 20 years, and it’s something I feel we need to reflect upon inside the culture of today’s family dynamics. There seems to be a strong disposition in moms to protect their kids from danger and to make sure nothing bad ever happens to them. Some of you need to listen to Dory and understand that you are only ensuring nothing happens to your children—including adventure, resiliency, and developing a strong imagination. I was at the zoo on a beautiful spring day, and I noticed how few parents were engaged with their young kids. Many were pushing their perfectly able kids in strollers while many of those same kids were looking at an electronic device. If parents cannot engage young children and stimulate their imaginations at the zoo on a beautiful day, then—holy moly—we are in deep trouble. I watched multiple parents, mainly moms, patrol inches away from their kids, climbing on the deeply cushioned playground, to save them from dropping inches if they fell. The biggest risk most of these kids encountered on the playground was a wedgie from moms clinging so tightly to the waists of their pants, jeans, and shorts. The Birmingham Zoo is full of adventure and opportunities—with an environment as diverse as the Australian Ocean—but, like Nemo’s father, the parents I saw at the zoo were not helping their kids experience it.

Children have unlimited imaginations that, as parents, we must make sure are being protected and not destroyed. My favorite summers were the ones when I was working with 8-

to 11-year-olds who were in charge of creating activities and games. We would rappel down cliffs, explore bat-filled caves, spin around in circles until we threw up, and play on a slip-and-slide where we slid into Gravy Train dog food. Those activities created the best memories ever. We must introduce our children to as many opportunities to grow and find their purpose, even when it stretches us or we think that they won’t care for the experience. They need to know, meet, and stay connected to as many members of their families and extended family as possible. When appropriate, give them as many opportunities to explore and learn from things and people around them. This includes introducing our kids to activities that we might consider dangerous or even tacky, including guns, swords, archery, roughhousing, tractors, trucks, and other dangerous machinery. Sometimes the ocean is scary, but we need to remember Dory’s wise words: “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

Ward Williams is the founder and executive director of Vineyard Family Services. Contact him at ward@vfsdads.com.


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