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An analog dad in a digital world

By RICARDO PAMINTUAN Published Jun 16, 2024 5:00 am

In a world where technology evolves faster than a ‘90s kid can rewind a VHS tape, I find myself, a Gen X father, navigating the uncharted territory of digital parenting. Once, I rocked long-back shirts and topsiders while air-guitaring to Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, U2, and RHCP. Now, I’m knee-deep in short cooking tutorials, corgi videos, and TikTok miscellany, trying to decode Gen Z and Alpha lingo.

This isn’t just a story of parenting; it’s about adaptation and resilience, punctuated by dad jokes and social challenges.

Take a recent weekend at the local mall. While ordering chicken inasal, I encountered two young ladies, both pregnant. One smiled widely while taking orders, while the cashier scowled behind the counter.

I wondered about their thoughts—dreaming of baby booties or resenting maternity wear? Did their moods affect their unborn children? This brought back my own parenting memories with the force of a tsunami.

I was a young dad, married in my early 20s, fresh out of law school. My wife and I faced uncertainty, but tackled parenting fiercely, confidently. Our children were crafted in our image, my wife literally doing the heavy lifting during pregnancy while I provided mere moral support.

I was born in the era of rotary phones and black-and-white TVs. My Pappy listened to the Beatles (think of them as the BTS of my era, dear Gen Z) on his reel-to-reel tape recorder or vinyl record player. By the time I became a father, CDs had ousted cassette tapes and vinyl, Betamax and VHS were fighting for survival, and mobile phones plus the internet were in their infancy. It’s wild to think the first iPhone only debuted in 2007, but in 1992, the IBM Simon was cutting-edge: a touch screen, portable device with a calculator and email, costing over $1,000.

In the grand saga of Gen X fathers raising children in the digital age, I may never fully master the art of Snapchat filters or viral dances, but I welcome the journey with a smile and an endless supply of dad jokes.

Parenting has evolved. My kids had a yaya (nanny) who wielded parental authority in loco parentis—fancy Latin for “we trust you with our kids, don’t let us down.” A great yaya imparts values, basic skills, adding humor with regional accents that taught my kids to say magil-you instead of magiliw in the national anthem.

Handheld devices heralded the era of impersonal babysitting. I’ve seen restless brats turn into angels once handed a phone or tablet. Take it away, and they morph into little junkies in withdrawal. Like addicts, they can’t live without these gadgets, which have become part of their bodies, if not their psyche.

Navigating family bonds in a digital era

Today’s expectant mothers, raised in a tech-saturated world, pass on this digital dependency to their offspring. Ironically, gadgets marketed as social tools often isolate users. Yaya’s human touch is replaced by cold, lifeless screens. As the children grow up, these devices provide entertainment and information, but they’re also gateways to unfiltered content. By the time anxious parents decide to give a morality lecture, their teen has seen more material online than in an R-rated movie marathon. Sex education in school is too little, too late, thus contributing to high teenage pregnancy rates.

Homework has become an online labyrinth. Gen Zs and Alphas attend virtual classes, faces illuminated by laptop screens. Despite longing for the days of library research, I marvel at the wealth of information now available with a click.

Analog heart in a digital world

Despite my best efforts, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by tech advancements. At home, “buffering” is a reason to change ISPs, and at work, the difference between a good and bad day is what’s saved before a power outage.

Navigating social media is another frontier where my analog sensibilities clash with digital realities. Internet slang is as foreign to me as Morse code. Millennials like my kids have seen tech evolve dramatically, from VHS to streaming; rotary phones to smartphones; bulky TVs to smart TVs and tablets.

Teaching moments beyond screens

Unlike Gen Xers averse to tech, I embrace it. A decade ago, I was still collecting CDs while enjoying free music through file-sharing programs. Now, YouTube Music and Spotify declutter my musical life. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Go, and YouTube are indispensable. I also use Instagram, X, Threads, WhatsApp, and KakaoTalk.

Amidst digital parenting chaos, my love for my children remains steadfast. I may fumble with technology but my commitment to their well-being is unshakeable. I teach them to balance screen time with non-digital pursuits, appreciate handwritten notes, and find joy in walks without phones.

In the grand saga of Gen X fathers raising children in the digital age, I may never fully master the art of Snapchat filters or viral dances, but I welcome the journey with a smile and an endless supply of dad jokes. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

Next time you catch your child glued to their phone (probably right now, as you read this), ponder what they’re discovering. Or better yet, don’t. You’ll sleep more soundly.