Culture guides this father's parenting style

Uruguayan dad incorporates customs from home as he keeps a close eye on his kids

June 18, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Juan Tassano moved his wife, Adriana, and children, Sofia and Mauricio, from Uruguay to the United States, he thought he was prepared for anything.

He grew up in Uruguay, and his wife grew up in Argentina. With their upbringings - his in a small town and hers in the city - he believed the two of them had all the bases covered to tackle the U.S.

"Being a father in Uruguay is no different than being a father in the United States, but it includes different things in this country," said Tassano, 47. "And no matter where you live, the best way to understand a father is through his children."

During his acclimation to America, including the adjustment to new parenting styles, attending cultural events and convincing his children that father really does know best, he developed a new respect for the plights of dads.

Tassano brought his family to the U.S. in 2000 for five years. Their move became permanent in 2003, when Tassano moved his family to Bel Air after being hired by Amtrak.

He said that since coming to America, he has learned valuable parenting lessons.

"Becoming a parent is like getting a driver's license," Tassano said. "You can become one without college or any prior experience. So you are bound to make mistakes."

But Tassano trusts his instincts and lets his own upbringing in Uruguay guide him in America. For example, the people of Uruguay make an effort to know each other, said Tassano. When you walk down the streets, everyone you see is either a friend or a relative, he said.

"We had friends in Uruguay for 40 years," said Tassano. "In the United States, people move every year sometimes. It's harder to have long-term friendships and get to know people."

Tassano noticed that at a recent sleepover his daughter had, some of her friends' parents made no effort to get to know him.

"Some parents came to the door, shook our hands and left," said Tassano. "Others didn't even come to the door. I know there are other fathers here in Bel Air that want to know who our children are with."

Sofia, 14, said that at first her father's rules were difficult to explain to her friends. For example, her friends didn't understand why Sofia couldn't walk a few blocks to a Starbucks for lattes.

"She's too young to be out at the local cafe on her own," said Tassano. "We come from a country where people have open doors. The U.S. is not that way."

Tassano wants his children to be socially accepted, but he also wants them to be safe.

"When our children want to go to someone's house, we invite their parents over for pizza or to talk to them," said Tassano. "We can't invite everyone at Starbucks to our home."

Sofia said her friends have grown accustomed to her parents' rules.

"At first I got mad at my dad when he said no," said Sofia. "But my friends love my parents, so they respect what they say."

Tassano compared his parenting style to a road. "Parenting is like a road with white lines," said Tassano. "When you see the lines, you know the limits. We are responsible for drawing the lines, and you can't add the lines later."

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine compiled a study recently that shows that parents using what they called an authoritative style, like Tassano's, have the healthiest and most successful children.

The study measured the incidence of obesity among children of parents using a variety of parenting styles. The children of such parents fared the best.

Those parents had the most well-adjusted children and the lowest incidence of children suffering from obesity, said Kyung Rhee, the co-author of the study. She wasn't surprised.

"Parents who are firm but flexible with their children, who are sensitive to their child's needs, had the lowest number of obese children," said Rhee, a pediatrician. "We kind of expected that."

The study also shows that children of the most strict parents have the highest incidence of obesity. This was a surprise, said Rhee.

Although Rhee said she doesn't know why this occurs, she has some preliminary thoughts.

"It may be that children with strict parents have an inability to develop their own self-regulatory abilities," said Rhee. "They don't learn to listen to external cues. And they don't learn to make decisions for themselves."

That's something Tassano said he knows he has to allow his daughter to do.

Sofia, a straight-A student, will attend C. Milton Wright High School as a ninth-grader next year. She plans to attend a college in New York City.

"I tell her, we'll move as a family to New York City," said Tassano. "But I know that I can't do that; I have to let her go."

Tassano said being a father is not a cause. It's not about being a friend to his children, and it isn't just about being the head of the family.

"It's about being able to grow up with your kids using your best instincts," he said.

One thing Tassano does to bond with his family is drink mates, a South American tradition.

The mate - the Spanish word for a gourd that rhymes with latte - is a cup carved from a gourd. It's filled with tea grounds called yerba mate.

Tassano demonstrated the ritual on a recent evening at his home. He started by pouring boiling water into the cup and drinking it with a metal straw called a bombilla. When he finished his drink, he poured more water into the cup and passed it to his wife and then his children. While drinking the mates, they chatted.

"We have mates as a family and have friends over for mates, as well. We use it as a bonding time," said Tassano.

Regardless of his methods, Tassano hopes he's getting through to his children.

"Kids are like sponges," he said. "They copy everything from their parents. Kids have to learn the limits, abide by the rules, and as a result, we as their parents can give them freedom."

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