Life

Father's Day and coronavirus: Dads say the pandemic a chance to spend more time with the kids

Ernie Cox (center) sits Wednesday with his daughters Sofia (left), 15, and Aster, 11, at Riverfront Crossings Park in Io
Ernie Cox (center) sits Wednesday with his daughters Sofia (left), 15, and Aster, 11, at Riverfront Crossings Park in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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After watching some of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conferences about the state’s response to the novel coronavirus and seeing the American Sign Language interpreter, Ernie Cox’s younger daughter expressed interest in learning it.

Together they found an online American Sign Language class and she quickly has been picking up the language over the last few weeks, Cox said.

Cox has worked to create a new normal for his two daughters, Sofia and Aster, while they’ve been stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and his wife, Samantha Solimeo, has kept working full-time from their craft room. Sofia will be entering her junior year of high school and Aster will be joining seventh grade in the fall.

Families across the nation have seen a huge shift in their lives as the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and businesses. For partners of those still working full-time, that can mean bringing an added focus on keeping the kids safe, healthy and sane.

Cox, who taught at College Community Schools and will begin teaching this fall in Cedar Rapids, said he’s been fortunate to have a mostly open schedule, with only a few meetings off and on and some weekend and evening work. After taking a few weeks to get settled, Cox said he tried to keep the kids on some semblance of a schedule, with a few hours of education every day and some sort of physical activity, whether it be taking walks at Riverfront Crossings Park, riding bikes or doing a home workout.

“It did put me a position where I was trying to keep the kids running in a somewhat-normal existence,” Cox said with a laugh.

As a teacher, Cox said it was important for him to make sure the kids maintained their academic skills, but education didn’t have to mean traditional schoolwork.

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In addition to Aster learning American Sign Language, the family also bakes and cooks together as a way to practice math, and they are reading about aspects of history that one typically doesn’t get into in school — like America’s history through the eyes of indigenous tribes. They’ve also spoken at length about the protests for racial equality and justice happening across the United States.

Sometimes he would put away the screens and see how his kids react to not having much to do, he said, because it’s good to let kids be bored sometimes. It can help them figure out something new that they want to learn about or do.

“We started adding things that were really driven by their interests and things they were passionate about,” Cox said.

When Davenport schools announced they would not be returning last spring to in-class instruction, Steve Ott asked his two kids what they wanted to learn that they might not be able to in school.

They went on nature hikes, built a firewood holder and even went snowshoeing during a late-spring snowfall.

As a way to keep his kindergartner, Madeline, and second-grader, Aubrey, on schedule once school began online, Ott would make them breakfast, pack their backpacks and send them on their bikes around the block. When they came back, he was in teacher mode. They would work on school activities until lunchtime, when Ott would take them outside, tell them to have a great day, get in the van, get back into Dad-mode and take them to grab their school work and a free lunch from the school.

Ott started his own leadership consulting business last August, and has been working from home since. When businesses stopped operations, his own work was basically put on hold as well. However, Sarah, his wife and the chief strategy officer for the city of Davenport, has continued to work full-time and in the office. While the kids did get sick of their dad occasionally, Ott said the rapport he was able to create with his daughters was something good that came out of all of this.

“I often think that they’ll look back at this time, not as a really stressful or annoying time, but instead as ‘Man, that was the greatest few months of our lives,” he said.

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Both families have made sure to help their kids understand what is going on in the world right now, and why they can’t go see their friends or do normal activities. School teaches social and emotional skills as much as academic ones, Cox said, so he would ask his kids about how they were feeling and tell them what they should know about the novel coronavirus and how it’s affecting their lives.

Ott said he’d use a podcast microphone and interview his kids about what they’ve been experiencing and what they have learned.

“They get it at a root level,” he said. “I think they almost feel empowered because of that.”

As for Father’s Day, Ott doesn’t get to know what the plans are. Cox said he’s going to read the newspaper and play board games with his family, and let them make him a nice dinner.

“I’ve never been so grateful for all the time we’ve had together,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8371; brooklyn.draisey@thegazette.com

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