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posted: 9/7/2011 12:01 AM

Pick up your shoes and other fatherly advice: The tall and short of it

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By Kent McDill

If it is true that children grow in their sleep, then my 15-year-old son, Dan, is one night of rest away from being taller than me.

On the other side of the coin, my youngest child, 12-year-old Kyle, could use a couple dozen extra nights of sleep.

When your children are born, you do the ritual counting of fingers and toes. You make sure they can see and hear, and then you spend several years just trying to make them smile, because that's the best part.

Eventually, you worry about weight. Is my son too heavy? Is my daughter to slight? And how long is baby fat supposed to last?

But height? I never gave much thought to concerns over height.

But our family is sort of height-challenged. Turns out its my fault (I peaked at 5-foot-9). The kids don't say "thanks" for the good things they get from you, like their self-confidence or optimism or sense of humor. They say "It's your fault" when they realize they aren't going to reach 6 feet tall.

How many conversations have you had in your family that start with, "I think Sarah has your (eyes, ears, forehead, whatever)"? We want our children to have some trait of ours as a way of passing on our legacy. We want it to be one of the positive ones, like intellectual curiosity, and not the negative ones, like fingernail-chewing.

What my wife, Janice (5-foot-2), and I apparently passed on was a struggle with vertical growth.

The first child, Haley (now 17) was always going to be small. Her size was a benefit to her skating competitions, because she was just so darn cute and adorable and petite. That sort of thing works in skating dresses. (It certainly worked for me.)

But one day she came to realize she wasn't growing the way her friends were. She was kind of stuck at 4 foot 10 inches, and her friends were leaping over 5 feet tall. This was when Haley was still in middle school, and I made her a bet that she would reach 5 feet tall by the time she was 18 years old, or I would buy her a car.

We are now arguing over who gets to pick the vehicle, because Haley stopped growing at 4-foot-10 inches. Her driver's license says 4-foot-11, because she had to fudge one way or the other, and she chose to fudge up.

For a while, Haley resented her parents for making her short, because her height was a disadvantage to her first stated career goal: runway model. Even when Tyra Banks did an "America's Next Top Model" season on short women, the shortest was 5-foot-4.

Today I think she likes being short. It makes her stand out (when you can see her). Kyle is another matter entirely. He is about 4-foot-6 right now, entering seventh grade. He is the shortest kid in his class, the shortest kid on his soccer team. He's not very tall.

Short in boys is different from short in girls. Even though Kyle still has a growth spurt left, he is never going to catch up.

I was always the shortest kid in my class, too. I don't ever remember suffering because of it, although I probably did. But I worry about Kyle. He already thinks he is being overlooked in soccer, and I don't want him to get paranoid about his height as he moves forward in life.

I also don't want him to blame me for his lack of height. I want him to blame me for making him so darn handsome.

What makes Kyle's plight more noticeable is that I do believe Dan is going to be taller than me. I know he is waiting for that day. I don't know what he has planned, but it's not going to be pleasant.

Do you know what I get blamed for, from all four kids? Their last name. Like my sisters and me, they have all been called "Pickle" at one time in their lives, and everyone wants their name to be McGill. It's a burden I could not avoid passing on.

At least we didn't name either of the boys Bill or either of the girls Jill. That would have been bad.

As I was nearing the end of this column, Dan's twin sister, Lindsey, peered over my shoulder to see what I was writing. She read it, then said, "You know, Dad, I got your nose. And I'm not happy about it."

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.