Chris Castro became a dad seven years ago when he and his wife, Tricia, welcomed their son Benny. The couple also has a 1-year-old daughter, Marigold, who appears on this month's cover with Chris. The family of four lives in Oklahoma City where Chris works as the art director for the creative firm Choate House and Tricia teaches at Christ the King Catholic School. Both of them have art backgrounds so their house is full of evidence of their creative endeavors—art and photography on the walls, a rocking llama Chris made Marigold for her first birthday and a guitar he's currently learning to play. Chris shared his thoughts on raising creative kids, starting family traditions and the value of making memories with his kids.
What were your early thoughts about fatherhood?
I met Tricia when we were going to the University of Oklahoma. So we started dating really young but I think we both wanted kids even from early on. If I could ever imagine having kids with anyone it was her. There was one time I had a little slip of the tongue really early on in dating. We were talking about parenting for some reason and I just started a sentence with, "When we have kids," and that was just really weird. I remember asking my Dad once how I would know when I found the person I was supposed to marry. He always just said, "you just know." I never understood that until I met her. We both love to cook and I remember one day when we were dating we went to the Asian market and picked up some stuff and we were cooking together. I looked at her and I just knew. I called my Dad and told him I finally understood what he meant. It was such an abstract thought until that very moment. I was in love right off the bat.
Tell us about your parenting style.
Tricia and I have really different approaches and I'm very aware that I need her to balance me out. We were raised in polar opposite ways. Wherever I have an inadequacy she's so good at stepping in and filling the gap. Not to sound cheesy but our parenting style really revolves around just having fun. We're also big on communication. I grew up in a family where we had every meal around the table with the TV off. That's important to us now. But I never want my kids to think that's some kind of old-fashioned thing. I want them to think it's fun. I let Benny pick out some music before we sit down. We have a no-phones rule and a no-Pokemon rule at the table. That's hard to enforce sometimes but it's been great to just have that time to really connect and communicate with everybody.
You and Tricia are both very creative. How do you foster creativity in your kids?
Tricia's been really good at that. The best advice I got from her was just to plant the seed but don't force them to do anything. Let them start an activity but when they're done with it, let them walk away. I try to just let them approach it in their own way. A common mistake is to want them to pursue something so badly that there's pressure there. Then it kind of takes away the whole point of being creative.
I also learned a lot about this from my own parents. My dad came from a family where everybody did the same thing. They were all schoolteachers or teachers at a university in Mexico. Being a teacher is a really well-respected thing there. My dad really wanted to be a carpenter but everyone gave him a hard time about that. In some ways I grew up in a strict household but he always encouraged us to do whatever we loved. He could draw really well so when I was a kid I would watch him draw and he'd give me a piece of paper and let me draw. My dad was really good about not telling me how to do something but letting me figure it out on my own. I'm more structured than he was but the practice of doing something instead of always doing it right is important.
Do you have any special traditions you do at home?
A lot of things really revolve around eating for us because Tricia and I just love to cook and we love to eat. With kids, it can be a little bit of a challenge sometimes. We try to be considerate of their preferences but we also always encourage them to eat what we eat. Benny tries whatever we eat but if he doesn't like it he doesn't have to eat it. It's fun that food has played such an important role in my relationship with Tricia and now it plays a big role in the whole family. We like going to the farmer's market together. We like to try new places. Benny's favorite restaurant is Golden Phoenix (2728 N. Classen Blvd.). The steamed lemongrass chicken has been his favorite dish since he was really little. The restaurant is not a typical Chinese place. There's a whole roasted pig and barbecue ducks hanging from the ceiling. It's a fantastic restaurant but it's not the typical place a kid would pick out. I love sharing experiences like that with him, though.
Another favorite tradition is a book Tricia started called Sunday Thanks. We think of things all week that we're thankful for and then when we sit down to dinner on Sunday we write them all down and talk about them. We write down where we are, who's with us and what we're eating. It's a place to put specific things from that week, not just what we're thankful for in general. That really facilitates conversation and I love that she does that.
What's been your favorite stage of fatherhood so far?
Each moment is so great. When Benny was 6 months old and he started really interacting with me, I thought it couldn't get any better. But then when he was about 2, I was working a job that let me spend a lot of time at home and we'd always have these long mornings hanging out together and I thought that was the best. But now that he's 7 and he plays sports and he likes going to football games or the movies with me, it's like I'm hanging out with a really good friend. It's amazing. It's the sweetest time. Marigold goes to bed early and sometimes Tricia falls asleep early too, so Benny and I just watch a football game and have a snack together and that's just my favorite thing. The weird part of parenting is where you think you don't want your kids to get any older. But then they get older and everything changes and you just love every minute. Knowing what's in store with Marigold makes me that much more excited. I always wanted a daughter so to know that just around the corner will be a lot of memories I can make with her and that's just a blast.
What stage are you looking forward to the most?
Now that Benny's in school, he and Tricia ride to school together so I'm getting to spend more one-on-one time with Marigold. I'm excited for her to get a little older so we can do more things together and I can continue to foster that relationship with her how I have with Benny. There's also something so nice about seeing the relationship form between your kids. Marigold is still so young but she loves her brother and Benny is so great with her. I'm looking forward to seeing more of that relationship between them.