How to be a Southern Dad
These Dads tells us how it is being a Southern Dad and give us great tips that we could all use.
Danny Merritt is a busy guy. He’s a co-founder of Nine Line Apparel, one of great retail success stories in Savannah history. More recently, he and his wife, Sarah, launched Georgia Land & Cattle, a “Southern lifestyle” company that sells locally produced apparel, home goods, and foodstuffs.
Add four young children to the equation, and it would seem there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the 37-year-old Army vet. But Danny makes it all happen with efficient time management. “If I have to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to get work responsibilities done, I do it,” says Merritt. “I make sure that my work doesn’t infringe on my kids’ activities, and my time with them. I plan my life around our kids, as opposed to the other way around.”
Merritt doesn’t agree with what he sees as a modern child-raising culture of coddling, with youngsters discouraged from standing out. Rewarding mere participation in sports, for instance, isn’t his thing.
“Teaching boys to be men and teaching girls to be ladies seems to be not cool anymore,” says Merritt. “I think it’s very important to define what is what early on. Now it’s like everybody is supposed to be the same and everybody gets their feelings hurt so easily.”
Merritt is a big believer in challenging his children to pursue their dreams. “I always tell my kids that they can become anything they want to be,” he says. “It’s almost like indoctrinating them, which is fine—I’m cool with that. If they hear it enough, then they’ll start to believe it, and those are the kind of kids we need in this country. You also have to show them that hard work is ultimately what gets you there, but first they’ve got to have that belief in themselves.”
“I tell my kids I love them probably 10 times a day. Constantly letting them know that I love them is huge; it was huge for me when I was a kid. My dad wasn’t bashful about doing that, and I’ve passed it on.” – Danny Merritt
James Riles believes in setting boundaries, but they needn’t be overly restrictive. “You have to give your children structure and parameters to bounce around in,” says Riles, a 62-year-old financial planner, father of three daughters, and three-time grandfather. “Support them in their endeavors and let them find themselves, then encourage and help them to pursue their chosen path.”
Riles stresses that boundaries have to be clear and consistent. He cautions against warning your children about the repercussions of breaking rules you may have set, but not following through on discipline.
“When children see that, they tend to push those boundaries even more,” he says. Riles believes every generation of parents has its own set of societal challenges, with the availability of boundless information via internet searches and social media ranking No. 1 today. He addressed that by insisting that his daughters find other things to occupy their time, preferably activities that also involved their parents.
“That way you can be in tune with them, and they’re in tune with you,” he says. Thanks to the internet, Riles says, children today are more precocious than previous generations—often in subjects inappropriate for their age. He’s wary of allowing kids to have too much unmonitored private time behind closed doors.
“I gave my children privacy,” he says, “but I didn’t allow them to question my authority when I wanted to enter their room to check out what was going on.” Riles is thankful that he didn’t have to fend off hoards of suitors when his daughters, whom he describes as “beautiful, intelligent young ladies,” were teenagers.
“Guys weren’t knocking my doors down,” he says. “If young women present themselves in a certain way, then guys know they can’t approach them inappropriately. They know these girls aren’t going to play the game. And, you know, I kind of pat myself on the back for coaching my girls. They felt comfortable talking about it with me.”
“Be a positive role model. You can’t ask your children to do certain things if you don’t lead by example. You have to show them, by living it yourself, that this is the life you want them to live.” – James Riles
Keith Allen is an extreme example of turning lemons into lemonade . Seven years ago, Allen suffered multiple injuries, including acute brain trauma, in a motorcycle accident. He was in a coma for three-and-a-half weeks. “When I woke up, I thought I was still in the Army,” Allen says. “And I got out of the Army in 1994.”
His recovery and rehab were excruciating and frustrating. What he didn’t realize at the time was how deeply his three daughters, the oldest of whom was 10, were affected by the outpouring of support for their dad. Neighbors, co-workers, fellow bikers, and family members told Skyler, Ashton, and Camden story after story of Keith’s kindness and good deeds.
As Allen later realized, his daughters learned a real life lesson that “if you treat people right, it does come back to you.” Allen advocates leading by example, which he tried to do in the aftermath of his accident. “Even though I was in a lot of pain, and dealing with anxiety and depression, when you have children you have to show them you can’t just quit,” he says. “You have to let them know that even when things are tough, you can’t take the easy way out. You have to persevere and fight through things.”
Keith, 48, still has cognitive limitations that prevent him from working full time. On the flip side, he’s able to spend more time with his daughters, which was actually the plan in 2007 when he left a demanding sales position at Gulfstream in order to focus on real estate sales, which had been a side job for several years.