Love your children, experienced fathers say.
For those looking for further foolproof advice on parenting, though, there is little consensus among those with decades of experience. Men contacted through the Programs and Services for Older Persons at the Southwestern Illinois College had plenty of stories to share, but little in the way of tried and true advice.
‘What we did, we did pretty good’
Ivan Woods’ kids went and messed up.
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Ivan, 83, retired from the Air Force after taking his family around the world, living in Hawaii and England and Okinawa, Japan. He and his late wife, Dorothy, expected their children would settle away from Belleville.
“I always thought they should go somewhere, so we could go visit them. But no. Four of them are in Belleville and one in Troy,” he said.
The Woods family was always close, he said. They made a point of family dinners and church activities, with four of their kids being close enough in age they were often mistaken for two sets of twins. Early on, the kids were 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 years old, he said.
“It sounds like a lot until you sit them all down at the table,” he said. “After the oldest got married, my wife still set the table for seven.”
Of course it was often more than seven at the table, with a friend or two or three taking seats as well.
Sometimes there were other kids literally camped out in the backyard, too, like when one of his son’s friends needed a place to stay after his family kicked him out.
“He was living in my backyard for two weeks. I had no idea.”
Now that they’re grown and have children of their own, and even more grandchildren than he can count, he and other grandfathers from PSOP reflected on their early years as parents.
If he had it to do again, he said, “I’d put them all up for adoption when they were cute!”
But to do anything different, “No, probably not.”
I think what we did, we did pretty good. I think the way we disciplined my kids, I’d be in jail today.
His own three sons and two daughters parents much as he and Dorothy did, Ivan says, with an emphasis on church and stable marriages.
“I think what we did, we did pretty good. I think the way we disciplined my kids, I’d be in jail today,” he said.
“I used to call my son ‘Stupid.’ Then he called me ‘Stupid.’ I started saying ‘poor judgment’ after that. He wasn’t stupid, he sometimes used poor judgment,” Ivan said.
Despite sometimes using that poor judgment, he says they all turned out all right. He says they remember and act on the lessons he and Dorothy stressed: Be independent but take care of others; go to church, do your thing.
‘Don’t trust them’
“We had babysit kids before going into the service, and changed diapers and all that stuff; we were both level headed,” said Herb Brady, 65. “Kids were not really an issue for us ... of course when they got older they got obstinate. Hit 14 to 15 years old, they get a little rebellious.”
“Then they get older and tell you how you screwed up and made them miserable,” Herb said.
But his three children can’t think he’s all that bad now.
“I wasn’t such a horrible parent that they won’t trust me with their kids,” said the grandfather to six.
It is a little tough watching his own children parent, noting that they are more trusting and permissive than he was.
“I was always afraid,” Herb said of his children’s young years, referring to possibilities of abuse or abduction. “I am not going to have that happen to my kids.”
Today, he sees his children as more permissible with their own children, and a lot more trusting. They say the grandchildren know what they’re doing.
“No she don’t, she’s 8 years old,” he says.
His advice? “Just be patient, and be diligent and keep an eye on them. And don’t trust them. ... There’s too many people who want to have a negative influence on your children; you have to be diligent.”
“This is the real world, and you’ve got to be careful.”
‘Proud of them’
Wayne Winkeler, 64, “didn’t have a dry shoulder for 10 years. Snotty children for forever,” he recalled of his boys, each roughly two years younger than the next. At one point, his boys were 8, 6, 4, 2 and newborn.
“How did they get along – generally, the old saying about ‘he’s my brother, and I can beat him up, but if you touch him ...”
He told a story about the younger brothers having some trouble with another boy. The oldest went to the boy and told the boy to leave his younger brothers alone.
The boy said, “‘Well who are your brothers?’ and he said ‘I’m not telling you.’ Pretty smart on his part,” Wayne said.
The boys always stuck together, he said.
“If there was a broken window, nobody knew how it happened. Had to punish the whole group,” he said.
There’s a hundred things I should have done different. For me it was always, I saw the wrong stuff ... I was proud of them, and I loved them; that was the main thing, no matter what I did or didn’t do.
When all the boys were growing up, he found the little things would grate on him.
Those little things “go on every day. Pick up the sock 20 times, the 21st time you get a little irritated. But someone hits a deer in a minivan, you see a little clearer.”
But the boys turned out all right.
“My dad told me a lot of good things, strong work ethic,” Wayne said. “It’s amazing my sons all, for sure, got that. ... You don’t think of the impact you have sometimes.”
Wayne’s sons were independent early on, “with five kids and both of us working.” They did their own laundry by the time they were 8, although at least two may have had pink underwear at times from not following the advice to divide the laundry.
“I worked a lot of overtime, to keep the lifestyle that we were accustomed — a house and some groceries,” he said.
“There’s a hundred things I should have done different,” he said. “For me it was always, I saw the wrong stuff ... started looking at some of the good stuff I’d done too.”
“I was proud of them, and I loved them; that was the main thing, no matter what I did or didn’t do.”
‘All I had to do was point a finger’
About six months ago, Bob Simpson, 85, found out that his oldest son had once knocked a hole in a bedroom wall by swinging a hockey stick at one of his sisters.
“They put a banner over it. Mom said, ‘Oh gosh, don’t let him find out,’” Bob said, laughing.
It’s not quite how his middle child, Nancy Stone, of Smithton, remembered it, but it was close.
“I don’t think Mom knew about it either ’til we moved,” she said.
Dad was strict, Nancy said, but not overly so.
I really didn’t have to say much to them, all I had to do was point a finger.
Nancy and her sister and brother went on to have children and grandchildren of their own. By December, the family expects to welcome Bob’s 20th great-grandchild.
“When the family gets together, everybody has to wear a name tag,” he said.
Bob agrees he may have been strict when his children were young. He was a police officer in East St. Louis, then went on to be a Deputy U.S. Marshall for 20 years.
“I really didn’t have to say much to them, all I had to do was point a finger,” he said.
That’s exactly how Nancy remembers it.
“Most of the time he just had to look at us and we knew we were doing something wrong ... I don’t think to this day I’ve ever talked back to him,” she said, although maybe she might have muttered a little when he was out of earshot.
Because of his job, he was gone a lot and his wife “did most of the work.”
“We came up at a time when things are so much different than they are now ... I’d probably beat ‘em every day to make sure they stayed in line,” he said.
That wasn’t quite true.
“My oldest daughter, I hit her in the face one time. I can remember like it was yesterday. I rue it to this day,” he said. He doesn’t remember what she had done, “sassing me probably.”
“It liked to have done me in.”
He doesn’t remember slapping or spanking any of his children after that, but says they were good kids.
“We babied them, they got most of everything they wanted. ... I always like to say grandkids were spoiled, but mine were spoiled too.”
Nancy says her parents taught them respect, and she went on to teach the same to hers.
“I wasn’t as strict as him, I don’t think; but I still taught my kids respect, and they’ve never been in trouble. (Talking back) was just something you never did do. I never hear mom or dad talking to grandma or grandpa in any negative way. That’s just how we were taught.”
Bob’s advice is pretty simple: “Tell them to just stay sober and take care of their babies.”