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Parent to Parent: Chris Dudley On Why Manners Count

dudleyfamilydisneyAn NBA player for 16 years, gubernatorial candidate for Oregon in 2010, and a juvenile diabetes advocate and philanthropist, Chris Dudley certainly leads a busy life. So what’s his number one priority? Time with his family. Time with his family. And more time with his family.

Chris spoke with us one quiet early morning, from his home.

Chris Dudley: My wife and I have three children. And my wife is named Chris also. So it gets confusing sometimes, especially in e-mails. Chris and Chris. Our three children are Charles, Emma and Sam.

As parents, we are strict, but we also have some flexibility. By strict, I mean we expect our kids to make their beds, and do the dishes and clean up after themselves. And we feel manners are very important; looking people in the eye when you meet them, and shaking hands.

I grew up in Philadelphia and San Diego. My parents divorced when I was in the third or fourth grade, and I lived with my dad a good part of the time after the divorce. I have a sister — she’s three years younger. And because of limited space and finances, we took turns spending time at our dad’s house, one of us at a time. I had a really good relationship with my dad. My dad’s name is Guilford. He was originally a minister and then went back to school and got his PhD, became a professor, then became a therapist.

There are many things about my father I try to emulate. He was very measured, a good listener, and wouldn’t overreact. And that’s something that’s so important, particularly with small kids — having a lot of patience. I also try to model myself after my father’s spirituality and curiosity.

One of my best memories is of playing basketball with my father in the driveway. He was not a basketball player himself. I did not get my height from my dad. But he knew I loved it, and that’s why we played. My dad was great at not pushing me in any direction. And so when I found basketball, and I found that I loved it, he allowed me to go in that direction, and he supported it.

In this way, I really try not to push my own kids in any direction. Hopefully, I have allowed them to find their own passions. It’s maybe particularly important because of my basketball career. I try to expose my kids to a lot of different things and see what it is that they love for themselves.

Each kid is different. It’s one thing that’s very surprising to me about parenting is just how different each child is. Three kids; same two parents; and so amazingly different. The ironic thing is that I have a son who really loves basketball, even though I never pushed any of them toward basketball. He didn’t even like basketball until literally six months ago, and he just turned and now he absolutely loves it. But he found it on his own, and I’m really happy about that.

I try to spend as much time with my kids as possible. We’re very sports-oriented. Bike riding, going out on the boat — we have a motor boat and we go wake-boarding and tubing. Or sometimes we just throw the ball. I also coach their sports teams. The one year that I wasn’t able to coach their teams was when I was campaigning.

The campaign was really a positive experience for our family. I took the kids with me wherever it was possible. There were a lot of fun things such as parades and speeches and that sort of thing. The kids were really the perfect age for it: They were young enough to miss a lot of the ugly side of politics — and by that I mean they don’t show negative ads on Disney Channel — but they were old enough to enjoy the excitement of it all.

Education was one of the main topics that I felt strongly about in the campaign. The State of Oregon struggles with its public education. And as a parent I feel strongly about bullying, although it wasn’t a top item in my public agenda. Bullying today is nothing like what I remember from my childhood, the big kid on the playground sort of thing. Today it’s the Internet and cyber-bullying. I talked about it a little in the campaign, but it needs more recognition. I think the schools are struggling with it.

It takes a lot of parental involvement to know what’s going on with our kids today. I was just talking with the head of the Boys and Girls Club here, and we were saying it’s not like the days when kids had to call the house phone, speak to parents, and ask to talk to another kid. Parents are out of that loop now. Chris and I have always told our kids that we have the right to look at whatever device they’re using to communicate. There was one time where someone said something in a text to my son — it was about another kid — and Chris texted him back and said, “This is Mrs. Dudley, and this isn’t okay.” We definitely monitor that and make sure that we monitor where they’re going on the Internet. All the computers in our house are protected.

I was 34 when I had my first child. And prior to that, I remember someone saying that until you have kids, you won’t realize just how much you can love something or someone. And that love will be different than any other type of love in your life. And I remember thinking, “Yeah, whatever.” But then I had children. And it’s true. It’s not always easy. And it’s one thing that changes your life completely — some of those freedoms that you had before are not there. But it gives meaning to your life. And it’s amazing just how strong the love and the bond is between yourself and your kids.

To read more from Chris check out Domestic Square Peg.

And follow Chris Dudley’s philanthropic work for Diabetes here.

Photo courtesy Chris Dudley.

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