IN life, we wear many hats: Husband. Neighbor. Employee. Best Friend. But of all the many roles we play in life, the one I consider most important is this: Being a father.I have one child. Her name is Jana Marie Mendez Pages. Oh, the stories I can tell you about Jana!
When she was two years old, my wife Jasmin taught her the “plural nouns.” So one morning, Jasmin asked, “Jan (pronounced “Yan”), what’s the plural of… dress?” Hmmm. She stopped to think. (The answer, of course, was “dresses.”) Her reply? “Saninas!” Correct! We laughed. At another time, her mom asked again, “Jan, what’s the plural of… slipper?” (The answer, we know, is “slippers.”) Her reply? “Tsinilas!”
She’s very funny. A few years back our family spent New Year’s Eve at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug. Looking out of our 15th floor window to gaze at the fireworks, we all shouted “Wow! Wow!” at every light that flashed across the night sky. After so many “Wow’s,” Jana stared below and redirected our attention. “Wow!” she said, pointing to the parked yellow car below. “Wow… Taxi!” We laughed and laughed. Imagine the absurdity of shouting “Wow!” at a taxi while we all marveled at the fireworks?
LAUGHTER. Jana envelops our home with laughter. What else do we do together? Sweat. This is one quality of Jana I’m proudest of. She can topspin a forehand and slice a tennis volley. She bikes. Swims, dances, and relishes hammering that baseball with a foam bat. She’s a member of her school’s 8-and-under football varsity.
You know what else we do? Jackstones. Yes, jackstones. You know, the game where you throw up a ball, scoop up plastic sticks, and keep score? With Jana, she likes Korean Jackstones. (Same rules, different blocks.) So here’s a confession: I’ve turned into “The Official Korean Jackstones Expert.” I’m not that good, but I’ve played it dozens of times.
Had you told me years ago that I’d be spending weekends sitting on the floor and playing this “sport,” I’d say you’re from Mars. But I love my Jana. And Jana loves Korean jackstones. So John loves jackstones. Right? Didn’t we learn that in math? You see, here’s the lesson. As a father, the two most important words our children love to hear are: “I’M HERE.” I’m here. Remember that… “I’m here.”
A STORY. There were four five-year-old boys sitting around a circle one afternoon. “My daddy owns a really big company and he’s the president and he buys me so many toys!” bragged the first child.
“My daddy owns an airplane and he flies to all these different countries every week!” said the next one. “My daddy is the world’s best doctor and he has so many, many patients and he stays up all night helping them!” said the third one. The fourth child was a little shy. Finally, he mustered all the energy and screamed, “MY DADDY IS HERE!”
Now, answer me, which child was the happiest? Back to sports, I love playing sports with Jana. It’s the perfect excuse to bond with her. Here’s a tip: Want to be closer to your child? Do sports… together. I recall the first time I brought Jana wall-climbing. For the first 30 minutes at Metro Sports, she sat planted on the bench. She was scared. I was, too. But I mustered enough courage to climb the 24-foot wall. Soon, I convinced her to do the same.
After an hour, we climbed side-by-side. When Jana was scared, all she needed to do was turn to me then I’d smile at her and tell her the two most important words: “I’M HERE.”
READING. That’s another important but underused activity. Picture this: Your child sits on a couch and you place a Harry Potter book on his right hand and the TV remote control on his left hand. Which item, I ask, will he throw away? The remote control? Hahaha. We wish. No way! How can books compete against cable TV, the Internet, the PSP, the XBox 360?
“Books,” today’s children will declare, “are extinct, dad!” No way! Books are fuel for our brains. When a child watches Sponge Bob Square Pants, does his mind work? Yes. It says, “I’m inactive.” Technology, sad to say, has destroyed reading.
At home, reading has always been a priority. “Before you can watch TV at your Lolo’s house, please read books first,” is the unwritten house rule for Jana. The result? She loves books. It also helped that when she was only two weeks old, we’ve read aloud to her. Today, she craves for books. From Arthur to Goofy (her favorite, and a must-buy for all is the book “Goofy Shapes Up”) to the Berenstain Bears to Winnie the Pooh—she absorbs them all.
I thank God for my girl named Jana.