PAM: Hi, everyone. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Rick Rossing. Hi, Rick!
RICK: Hi! How are you?
PAM: I’m good. Thanks. It’s great to have you on the show. Rick is an unschooling, stay-at-home dad. I’ve known him and his family for years through unschooling circles and we’ve met a few times at conferences and gatherings.
But for our listeners, can you share with us a bit about your background and your family, Rick?
RICK: Sure. I’m a stay-at-home dad. I was an Air Force brat, so I moved around the country a lot while my wife was pretty much born and raised in the same place. She grew up in New Jersey. I grew up all over the United States. We have one son who is going to turn 18 this year. I have no idea how that happened! That’s pretty much it.
My wife is a software test engineer. Her job is making programmers’ lives miserable. I am a stay-at-home dad. In my spare time, which oddly enough, I have some every now and then, I create things out of duct tape, purses and wallets and whatnot. And I also write science fiction and fantasy novels.
PAM: That’s very cool! I’ve got a few of your duct tape creations. They’re very nice. One holds my old Nintendo DS still, so it’s lovely.
I was curious, how did you guys actually discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
RICK: First, before we had children, we began researching homeschooling, because my mother was having trouble with some of my younger sisters. They were having trouble in school. She was looking at options to public schooling. My wife, who is a very thorough-type person, began researching and she would share with me anything that she discovered. So, a long time ago, we decided that if ever we had kids, we were going to homeschool them.
It was a domino effect from there. Once you start questioning one thing, then other things start falling into place. Once we got to the point where, okay, maybe it is possible to educate our children ourselves without going through a public school system or letting the government do it, once we started doing that, then we started asking, what if, instead of telling our child what he’s going to learn, let him find what his interests are. And from there, it was a domino effect. We gradually became more and more free in our thinking and in our style of parenting. Eventually, we found out it was called unschooling. We said, that matches what we’re doing, so that’s what we are.
PAM: That’s really cool. That’s an interesting way that your wife came upon the idea of homeschooling, even before you guys had kids and you had a chance to talk about it and stuff. That’s always interesting to hear.
And how did the choice for you to be a stay-at-home parent evolve?
RICK: That one was kind of easy. Deb has always had a better job than I did. Once Joshua was born, we decided that, since she had a more stable income than I did, especially at that time, because I was in college. I was changing careers at the time. We decided together that she had better job opportunities than I did. So, she’s been working and I’ve been pretty much playing the rest of the time.
PAM: It’s fun how unschooling seems like playing, right?
PAM: I know for us, unschooling multiple children had some challenges, like working through sibling conflicts and figuring out ways to support different interests at the same time. And I expect that there are also challenges inherent with unschooling one child. I was curious about what your experience has been.
RICK: Well, for one thing, we’ve never had finger pointing whenever somebody asked, “Okay, who did this?” We knew who it was for the most part, so, we never had the, “Not me!” argument or anything like that.
I’m not sure if we would call it a challenge or a concern, but we used to fear that because Joshua didn’t have any siblings that he would get bored during the day or he would drive dad crazy. So far, neither has happened. Well, I guess that’s debatable. Some people would debate whether or not I’m in fact crazy. And, for my part, I won’t argue with anyone in that regard. So, we were concerned that no siblings means no playmates, no interests, or nobody to play with who was his own age. And we got to the point where we found out that it’s really not that big a deal.
He discovered friendships among people who were closer to our age than his own age and he had a better time, I thought, than I ever did of making friends with people who were not the same age as him he was. And it’s interesting, because whenever we would go somewhere, if there were families of children that we knew, he would play a lot more easily with people who are either older than him or a lot younger than him. He would be the one that the young kids would like to climb all over.
And when he was that age, he was the person that would climb all over the older kids. And so, he has always gotten along better with people who weren’t exactly the same age as he was. And we wondered if that was a problem, until we realized that none of us have friends who are exactly our age either. Because the older you get, the more diverse the age range of the people that you typically hang around with become. And so, having age-segregated peers, we decided that that wasn’t a priority any longer.
PAM: Yeah. I think we found that as well, because it’s more about the connection than the age. My kids are the first ones, when there’s little kids around, to play with them for hours. I remember Christmas Eve, just this last year, with the little nieces running around. They and my kids were just together the whole evening, playing whatever games the little kids wanted. And they had the patience for it and they enjoyed it and everybody was really focused on that. And they don’t feel bad about hanging out with other ages. That’s not something that they absorb.
RICK: Yeah. I think that, for unschoolers and homeschoolers in general, when you’re not constrained to a classroom, the idea of only being able to hang around with people who are the same age as you just doesn’t enter the equation. You can surround yourself with just about anybody. And we do.
PAM: Another thing I was curious about was whether or not Joshua ever developed any interests that stretched your comfort zones. And if that happened, how did you move through that?
RICK: Well, I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by comfort zone. We’ve never been uncomfortable with anything that he has found interesting. We have, at times, found what he is interested in less interesting than he did. For example, when he was a lot younger, he was really into Pokémon and neither one of us were particularly interested in it. But, so that we’d be able to understand what he was doing, I ended up picking up a copy of the game. I think back then Silver and Gold were the companion versions. And so, I started playing along and found out that it wasn’t so bad after all. But, other than that, we’ve always been totally supportive of whatever Joshua decides he wants to do.
Fortunately, we haven’t run into any situations where he’s wanted to do something that we really, really wished that he wouldn’t. I’m hoping that that’s going to remain the situation. But, like I said, he’s turning 18 soon and there’s a time coming when we won’t be able to tell him whether or not he can pursue something or not. Not legally, anyway.
So, we’ve tried to stay open-minded about just about anything and also try to stay involved so that, whatever it is that does want to do, we try to remain available to him. He knows that he can always come to us and ask us questions or for advice or talk about something that he’s doing, even if it’s something that we don’t know anything about.
PAM: Yeah. I think that’s a great way to keep the connection going, so that they can come for conversations. Plus, I mean, open-minded to his interest in video games, those are things that maybe other people might not have had as much of a comfort zone for.
So, I think that’s probably been really helpful for him, as well. And by trying things out, you can find some of the reasons why he’s finding them interesting.
RICK: With video games in general, I grew up a gamer. And so, for him to be playing video games didn’t seem abnormal to me. Deb, on the other hand, is not a gamer. Never has been, probably never really will be. She just doesn’t like the motion in some of the more modern games. And so, it was a little bit more of a struggle for her, so I think she was a little less comfortable with Joshua playing video games than I was. And, for that matter, me playing video games, because I can go on a game bender and decide, “I’m tired of playing this. I think I’ll stop.” And the next thing I know, it’s two hours later, it’s dark, and Deb will be home soon and I haven’t started supper yet, because I’m still playing a game, which can happen.
But one of the things that we’ve discovered is that giving Joshua the freedom to pursue the things that he wants to do isn’t a one-way street. It also means that we, as adults, also give ourselves freedom to pursue things that we want to try. And that was just profound, liberating. It was like an epiphany in our family, because I was watching Joshua get to do whatever he wanted to do. And I was still, at this point, doing the things that I thought I was supposed to do as an adult.
For example, right now, I’m wearing a shirt that says, “I can’t adult today.” I’ve got a picture of it on Facebook if somebody ever wants to see it. But it was liberating that, yeah, you can be a grownup and you can still love things. And so, my being able to pursue the things that I wanted to do, like getting into writing, getting into playing with duct tape, even playing video games, has made it a lot easier for both Deb and I to relate to Joshua whenever he wants to try something new.
PAM: That’s great. I found that to be one of the huge epiphanies, that children are people and I’m a person and we can still be excited and interested in things. That was fascinating, because I would, at first when we started, I’d get excited for them about the things that they found exciting, but eventually it’s like, hey, I’m excited about this particular thing and nobody else is. Oops. Is that okay?
RICK: Yeah. That’s okay. If we’re the only ones that like to do something, then that means that we don’t have to share it as much.
PAM: And sharing your excitement, they mirror it back, because you’ve shown excitement in their things.
PAM: Well, excited for you.
RICK: Yeah. But there does come to a point where, “Yeah, dad, I’m really happy for you, but what you’re telling me is just not that interesting. Can I go back to my video game now?” And I’ll say, “Sure, but it’s my turn. And so, when I’m done.”
Although the interesting thing is that now Joshua’s video gaming tends to be more on his computer. He’s got his own laptop. And so, he used to play Minecraft a lot and I looked at the game. I’ve played it, never been terribly interested in it, but I knew enough about it that whenever he got excited about it, I knew why he was excited and I thought that was pretty cool. Learned how to make certain Minecraft characters out of duct tape.
When I’m playing video games, I tend to do the console gaming. So, I’m more on the TV, the Playstations. And so, the upside of that is, I don’t have to compete with my son for game time. I might just have to make sure nobody else is watching TV. Of course, that does mean that I have to compete with my wife over who gets to decide what’s on the TV in the living room. Is it a video game or are we going to watch a TV program or a movie or something?
PAM: I’ve noticed that, too, with my sons. Gaming was a lot on the consoles when they were younger and they have definitely migrated more to computer-based gaming. I guess the quality is also there with the advances in computers versus the consoles.
RICK: The quality and also, I think, the customizability. The ability to download a mod for a game. For example, I think Skyrim has got a few mods on the computer version where you can, for an example, turn all the buildings into gingerbread houses or something like that. I don’t know if that mod exists, but now I think it should.
Yeah, I think I want to change all of the scenery so that it looks like Super Mario Brothers or something like that.
PAM: Yeah. That’s a great point, because you’re right. They do do a lot of modding. Downloading them, playing around with them, doing their own stuff to them. So, yeah, that’s super cool.
I was wondering if, looking back on how Joshua’s interests have grown and changed over the years, can you see a thread or two that has run through them up to this point?
RICK: Well, for one thing, Joshua has always been more of a solitary player than a team player. For example, we took him to a soccer camp one year and he enjoyed doing the drills. He liked running around with the soccer ball. He didn’t like actually playing the game. He didn’t like the team sport aspect of it as much. And so, we let him have golf lessons at one time. And he loved that, because it’s
meditative. He likes solo pursuits, things where it’s him against a video game, him against himself, as opposed to even him against another person. He’s very non-confrontational. So, he doesn’t like to compete with other people. With one exception being beating the pants off of his dad in arena games or something like that.
Way back when the PS2 was out, so at least five or ten years ago, we would play this James Bond game in multiple players. And he was so good at being able to see. His screen awareness was such that, not only did he know where he was by what his window showed, but he was able to look at my window, my part of the screen, know exactly where I was, come up behind me and kill me while I was trying to find a good way to snipe at him. And so, he got to the point where he was better at gaming than I was,
And so, a common thread, he has always been a fan of technology, I think. So, video games, typing, anything along those lines. So, I guess his common thread is he likes to explore, but on his own terms. He doesn’t like team events, although he’ll watch sports with us. And he probably gets that from me, because I’d rather watch a sport than play it myself. When I’m doing something, I don’t like to compete with other people either. I like doing something for the enjoyment of it and not because I can do it better or faster than somebody else. And I think that he follows that same bent.
PAM: Yeah. I found that. It’s interesting, because team sports are very conventionally accepted. And that’s something that a lot of parents want their kids to participate in is team sports, learn how to get along with people and that kind of stuff.
RICK: Soccer mom is a term for a reason.
PAM: When I think of my son, Michael, karate has been his sport of interest and passion. And that is meditative focus. You’re challenging yourself. And when I think about when I was growing up, I was very passionate about ballet. For 12 or 13 years, that was the main focus of my time outside of school. And it was the same thing. You’re challenging yourself to improve and you sink into the activity. So, I think those kinds of sports are just as beneficial. You find what matches with your personality, just as Joshua has found.
RICK: I think if Joshua were going to pursue a sport, he would probably be the kind of person who would take cross-country running or something like that, because with running, it’s you and the environment. And yeah, there’s other people running, too, but that wouldn’t be his focus. He wouldn’t be in it to win races. He would just be out there running, which he does like to do. He likes to run.
PAM: Yeah. And for people who love team sports, that’s great, too. But yeah, I just think the value is in how the sport meshes with the person.
RICK: Oh, exactly. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. That’s cool.
There was another thing I was curious about. As Deb was working outside the home, what were some of the things that you guys did, all three of you, to help her stay connected with Joshua?
RICK: Well, for one thing it was because of my being at home and Deb working that we ended up getting cell phones. Because Deb was always the networker. She was the one who was connected to homeschooling, unschooling groups around the area. And so, she would be in contact with all of these outside people. And so, she would know when there was an event, that something was going on that Joshua and I might want to go to so.
She would be in contact with us and we would go and go to these events. Well, the reason that we have the cell phones now is because, at one point, I was going to one of these events and because the weather was questionable, the event was canceled. And of course, I didn’t know that because I didn’t have a phone.
And so, I’m at the park and I’m wondering why there aren’t any other people there. And then, a couple of folks did show up, but they had much younger children and they didn’t seem to be homeschool people. And so, I called my wife when I got home and I said, “You know, this was kind of a weird event. I didn’t really see all that many people.” And she said, “Well, there was a reason for that.” And so, within the next week or so we ended up getting cell phones, not even smartphones at the time, just something so we could stay in contact.
And then once we had the cell phone and learned that I could take pictures with it, whenever we were doing something, I would take a picture and send it to Deb and say, “This is what Joshua and I are doing today.” “This is the big hole in the ground we’re digging and we’re playing with a hose and basically creating a mud bog in the backyard.”
And so, we would have pictures of the water experiments. If we found a turtle in the backyard, we’d take a picture of it. And then, when Deb came home, she would talk to Joshua about the picture, “What was it like holding a turtle?” or looking at a frog?
And also, she and Joshua have their own connection. Even when he was very young and she would go to work, she would tell him that there’s a part of her brain that is always thinking about him. And so, once they understood that they had this connection already, coming home, it was very easy to just settle back into family life. And that continues today.
Joshua has his own phone and he can email or text with Deb anytime of the day. She’s got her phone with her all the time. And so, there’s always a line of communication open.
PAM: Well, that’s brilliant. That’s very cool. I guess pictures have been around for quite a while now. I know I used to email little snippets of stuff to my husband, as well. Yeah. That’s really nice. That’s nice.
RICK: And we’re all always interested. We might not understand what everybody else is doing, but we’re always interested to know, did you enjoy what you were doing today?
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s connecting deeper with the person, not just the activity itself. Awesome.
I know you’ve been doing duct tape creations for quite a while, and you’ve moved into writing and publishing some sci-fi novels. And, as you mentioned a bit earlier, you’ve been getting more time now to work on your own projects as your son has gotten older. So, I was just curious what that process looked like.
RICK: It was so gradual that we didn’t even notice that it was happening until we realized that it was there. When Joshua was younger and we would go to craft fairs, for the duct tape, we would go to craft fairs and Joshua being too young to stay home by himself, had to come along with this. Well, eventually he got to an age where he could say, “I really don’t want to come, but I don’t feel that comfortable staying home alone either. And we got to a point where I told him, “Well, I understand that this isn’t your thing. This isn’t the thing that you want to do.” And it’s not fair to Joshua that we drag him along and he doesn’t get anything out of it.
So, we started paying him for coming to the craft fairs. He would help him set up and then he would find a place where he could take a nap for the entire time. Oftentimes, he would sleep during the day and play games at night. So, he would help us set up and then he would find a place where he could just crash and take a nap while we did our thing. And he would get a percentage of whatever we took in for that day.
Once he got old enough that he could stay home by himself, then it became his choice. “Do you want to come and earn your 10%? Or do you want to stay home?” And once he became more comfortable with staying home alone, then the question is always there. Do you want to come or not? And for the most part, he’ll stay home when we go and do these other things.
Well, at the same time that he discovered that it was okay to stay home by himself and that he actually enjoyed staying home by himself, he also got to the point where being able to entertain himself when somebody is there became a thing for him, where he didn’t have to have one of us to play with. He was maybe 12, 13 when it got to that point. And so, as he became more self-maintaining, I began having more free time to do things.
Joshua helps out a lot, too. He’ll read my books. I mean, he’s actually read everything that I’ve written, pretty much. He’s as good at finding mistakes as my wife is. And so, he could very well become a copy editor if he wanted to. He may or may not, I won’t push him. He can decide for himself if he wants to do that. So, he always wants to know what I’m doing, what I’m writing, but at the same time, he has his own things to do now. And I guess it’s changed.
As he became older and more independent, the necessity to do things together as a family has waned a little bit. We still do, from time to time. We usually end up either all going to a movie together, like we all went to see Star Wars together. Sometimes we will say, “Let’s have a game night tonight,” where we’ll pull out a board game and we’ll play it. Risk or Monopoly or something like that. We’ve got a couple of Doctor Who themed Risk games. And sci-fi is a big thing in our household. And so, we all rally around certain television programs together and, when time allows, we’ll play games together.
Most recently, we picked up a 500-something piece jigsaw puzzle and just set it up in in the spare room on a table where, as anybody decided that they wanted to participate, would come and put a couple of pieces in.
PAM: I love that.
RICK: Yeah. And so, either somebody would be in there by themselves putting the puzzle together, or two or all of us would be out trying to put something in there. And so, we find ourselves doing the same things. And we find ourselves going our own way. And we seem to be just as comfortable either way it happens.
PAM: That’s awesome. It sounds like you guys have all come to find a rhythm.
RICK: Yeah. That’s a good word. A rhythm.
PAM: That’s awesome. Well, I want to thank you so much for speaking with me today, Rick. I really enjoyed diving into the dad’s perspective for a bit. It’s very fun.
RICK: And it’s funny, too, because being a stay-at-home dad, a stay-at-home unschooling dad at that, I get to bust demographics all the time.
PAM: You do.
RICK: There’s not a whole lot of us. There are some.
PAM: That’s awesome. There are some. Yep. We’ll find them. And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
RICK: I’m always available on Facebook. My name, Rick Rossing, there aren’t a whole lot of people by that name. Although I found out that the name itself became synonymous with the rapper Rick Ross, where Rick Rossing actually is an entry in the Urban Dictionary. I was slightly amused and also slightly disturbed by that, but I’m easy to find. And I also frequent a couple of unschooling groups. There’s a radical unschooling group. There’s a whole life unschooling group. I’m on a sci-fi fan group called the Dragon’s Rocketship. It’s fairly easy to find. So, I’m out there, easy to find.
PAM: And your books, they’re on Amazon and all the regular places, if someone wants to look up those as well?
RICK: Yes. And I would be happy, if somebody did, one of the best things you can do for an author is to read their books and write a review. And I would ask people to do that whenever they read anybody’s book. If you buy something on Amazon and you like the story, even if you don’t like the story, write a review about it. It can be as short as, “I like this book,” or, “This book wasn’t for me.” Authors love people to read their stuff, but they really like for people to tell other people that they’ve read their stuff.
PAM: That’s awesome, dude! Thank you so much. Have a great day!
RICK: Always enjoyable.