Once upon a time somewhere in my kids' early childhood, my husband made a long-remembered meal. I say made a meal because, though he's a great cook, at that stage in our lives G was working insane hours at a DC law firm and we rarely saw him, let alone ate any food he prepared. It was a sad couple of years for us all; the dad landscape was pretty desolate and we all missed him. But, as I said, this one time he was home and he made some pancakes for the kids. But wait. Not just pancakes. G made Father's Famous Flapjacks [jazz hands], inspired by those featured in Sendak/Minarik's Little Bear series. He made the most of those pancakes, whipping the kids up into a frenzy of excitement and transforming humble pancakes into sought-after delicacies. In this fun-dad moment, he accidentally marketed the heck out of those Bisquick pancakes.
Man, they had longevity, too. For several years whenever they were asked what their favorite food was, do you know what the kids said? Father's [freaking] Famous Flapjacks. When we went around the birthday table saying what we loved about G, those flapjacks were consistently mentioned. Let me say this: they were probably delicious but they were just pancakes. The magic was in the enthusiasm, the story, the hoopla. And I'll admit it, I was a little perplexed. I made dinner 364 days a year but that meal G made went down in history. (And, yes, the element of "specialness" certainly didn't hurt.) I admit I wasn't very gracious about it at the time, but I did appreciate and respect that he was turning the time he did have with the kids into highly memorable moments.
This phenomenon was not limited to their younger years, mind you. As they got older G would take the girls on much anticipated Daddy Daughter Dates. He created a signature goodbye gesture when we dropped him off at work or at the airport: he blew a kiss and then kicked it like a soccer ball in our direction. And as recently as last year when I spent a week out of town, I came back to a lot of family chatter about G's newest creation, the Best Chicken Ever. These are things my kids readily and happily remember about their dad without a moment's pause. And I guess what bothered me is that I wasn't really sure they'd be able to do the same for me (that is, boring old day-in-day-out mom). And then I realized: G is a lot better at branding his particular contributions to parenthood than I am.
Oh, branding, that ubiquitous term of our era. (Some of you are probably rolling your eyes but stay with me here, okay?) According to Wikipedia, a brand is the "personality that identifies a product, service or company and how it relates to key constituencies." Successful brands are memorable, identifiable, connect on an emotional level with the audience, and contribute to myth making around the person/service/product. Father's Famous Flapjacks anyone?
We hear a lot about branding in the business & marketing world but I think it probably happens in families, too. Whether or not we're aware of it, our parent "brand" is the personal contribution we bring to the family, the stories we tell, the way we frame our thoughts and ideas and interactions for the rest of the family. Just as a regular old trip to Chik-fil-a can turn into a mini tradition of Chik-fil-A Wednesdays maybe our regular old interactions can be more memorable and meaningful with a little pizzazz: a catchy phrase, a signature gesture, a highlighted personality quirk. I liked what Annette said at the end of her guest post here, "I occasionally told them back then, and I've told them a few times since they've left home: I have many weaknesses and have made errors, but one thing I know about myself and about them is that I was a really good mother. They seem to believe my press statement." Well, here's to the occasional parenting press statements and to leaving our own individual flourishes in the mundane interactions that ultimately make up a life.
Even if the word "brand" makes you shudder with its corporate undertones, think of it this way: how will you be remembered as a parent? What stories will they tell your grandkids at your 80th birthday party? How do we let our personalities better shine through in our parenting?