How to Raise Kids (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 5)

How to Raise Kids (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 5)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

Marry the right spouse, someone who wants to raise kids well. Wait until you have time to devote to parenting.  Then wing it.

We read lots of books and took advice from our parents and relatives and older friends.  You get to see various approaches, lenient or strict, serious or silly, cheap or expensive.

Each time Jill was pregnant, I was terrified that I would fail as a father. With Natasha, it was fear that I would do something basically wrong. With Max, I couldn’t imagine fathering two kids successfully at the same time, and with Julia, how could I handle three?

I think my existential angst came from the realization that babies begin life completely dependent on parents for everything, then as you raise them, they have to grow into completely independent adults, and this metamorphosis is inherently traumatic and seemingly impossible without massive disturbance. There is no easy path.  But I believe most activities in life that are worth doing are difficult.  Raising our kids is the most worthwhile endeavor of my life.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

Roof Rats

Roof Rats
Michael Gollin
September 2014

This is the repainted work shop roof, done by painters in September. Hopefully the power wash, rust bond coat and finish coat will stop the leaks and last at least as long as my paint job about 20 years ago.


That was when, as new home owners and new parents, I bought shed roof metal paint, put the ladder up and went to work. 3 year old Natasha wanted to come up so Jill hoisted her up the ladder, only about 6 feet high on the low side of the roof. We hung out for a while.

Natasha asked me if anything lived up there. Maybe we were watching squirrels. We were goofing around like we used to. I said only roof rats live on roofs. Natasha asked me what they looked like and so of course I made the hand animal with middle finger neck and the other 4 fingers as legs. She asked if they were good or bad, and I said there were good roof rats and bad roof rats. Natasha was really into conversations with fantasy critters so she wanted them to talk.

Thus began the tradition of having the right hand good roof rat tell you the good thing to do and the left hand bad roof rat tell you the bad thing to do. They would often perch on her shoulder and use funny voices to give their opposite advice.

The good roof rat says you need to brush your teeth to keep them clean and keep away germs. The bad roof rat says get them dirty and let your teeth rot, you will look more interesting with missing teeth.

The good roof rat says it’s time to go to sleep and have sweet dreams and wake up rested tomorrow. The bad roof rat says stay up late, get tired and cranky, throw a tantrum for your parents, and be ready for a grumpy day tomorrow.

It became a very fun creative and surprisingly effective way to work through many of the decisions of childhood. More imaginative than angels and devils, or “because I said so!”. And the two of them could fight. As in real life, usually the good roof rat won, but not always.

Max saw the roof rats some, and Julia too. But over time the roof rats receded to their usual lair, on roofs instead of on shoulders.

I think our kids do know good and bad, right and wrong, and how easy it is to argue about them. The roof rats served their purpose, I guess. Anyway, they are still up there on the newly repainted shed roof if any one needs to hear from them.