I wasn’t always a dad. No, my life wasn’t always Father’s Day ties and puns and being a bumbling, cartoonish man with khaki pants and an “Awww Shuckys!” Demeanor.
Honestly, my life has never been any of that. I don’t understand what this interpretation of Dads is these days. From the gun-polishing jealous man who greets suitors of his daughter before dances in a manner that would actually be considered criminal Menacing, or the guy who sits around in his tighty-whities watching football all afternoon, drinking beer after beer…these are hard stereotypes to live up to.
I am the dad who has hugged my daughter as she cried her eyes out over feeling so alone, or pulled splinters out of my kids’ fingers with the point of a sharp pocketknife. I am the dad who goes to a job that sucks every day to keep his kids clothed, ticking his life away like the dulcet tune of a Pink Floyd song, or what Sting said when he sang:
Another working day has ended.
Only the rush hour hell to face.
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.
Contestants in a suicidal race.
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance,
He knows that something somewhere has to break.
He sees the family home now looming in his headlights,
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache.
Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door
Of a cottage on the shore
Of a dark Scottish lake
I am the dad who has told his kids No as many times as he has had hot meals.
I was also someone’s son, in a time when things were vastly different. I know that someone always throws out some ancient quote by a Greek philosopher three thousand years old about how the younger generation is worse than the older. Hahaha. Yes, so clever. But I am genuinely concerned about our current situation.
It is no exaggeration to say that “Back in my day, my dad would have kicked my ass if I had done something like that.” Today, we have no such thing. Social Services gets involved, because who better to tell us how to discipline children than the government. Governments never did anything bad to children.
But it’s more than just the fear of being jailed for telling our kids “no.” It’s something else. It’s the competition parents now have because they aren’t around a lot. Honestly, if we were, we would be like our parents before us and all the guilt of not being there or having kids around irritating the hell out of us would make them lose their charm quickly and we wouldn’t have grown adults living at home into their 30s.
We all work hard; most families have dual incomes just to make ends meet. We have drifted apart as families too. Parents have less authority. We are expected to be buddies. Without recess or the “safety” of neighborhoods being what they were 30 years ago, playtime is now relegated to organized sports. Which of course lend themselves to two forms of behavior: competition and conformity.
Competition not only between the kids playing the sport, but also with their parents, who are either projecting their own failures/dreams of being the best to push their kids on to “greatness” or are terrified to settle for second place. Those participation ribbons are to keep the kids safe from feeling like failures in the eyes of their parents as much as they are to instill some false sense of achievement.
And conformity. The games are played by following rules. In a very scientific manner, we determine who is physically/mentally superior by winning games with the same rules and limitations. Except that is bullshit too. Kids with more money, time, and genetic advantages win games. And the team with the most resources to exploit these kids, aka money, time, training, etc. are the ones who win.
Winning is fun!
Except it isn’t the point. Winning used to just be a goal, but the games themselves were supposed to be fun. And for the kids who didn’t give a damn about throwing a football or hitting a baseball, they had other games. Bike riding. Pushing each other around in a wagon. War games. Laser tag. Throwing rocks at shit. Shooting things with pellet guns. Climbing up stuff. Setting things on fire. Playing with dolls. Just dicking around on skateboards and rollerskates. Coloring. Swinging on swings and sliding down slides. Ice skating without dreams (for the parent) of becoming a figure skater or hockey player. Digging a hole in the yard. Throwing empty bottles against a brick wall. Blowing shit up with fireworks.
Only those things are not set by rules and timers and buzzers and are dangerous and scary and a lot of adults don’t understand them. There are no rulebooks, referees, and no monetary measured results from college recruiters. They are infinitely more fun, but lead to civil unrest and violence. Funny that when kids were breaking beer bottles they weren’t shooting up schools. But lets blame the violence in video games for that.
If kids don’t like organized sports, or more to the point, sitting on their asses all day in classrooms, something must be wrong with them. They must be medicated to focus their attention! Which the drugs used to do this are not only addictive, but side effects include depression, anxiety, and (cough, cough) murdery feelings.
Parents are blamed. And so, parents are forced into Helicopter-parent roles. Fifteen years ago, when I started working in higher ed, we hated Helicopter-parents. People so terrified their kids might make a mistake that they did everything for them. Now, it is the staple of their existence.
Recently I took my son out of Cub Scouts. I’ll talk more about this in a future blog, but a big reason was they expectation that parents become Helicopter Parents. We had to accompany our kids everywhere, doing everything with them. Half the time expected to do a lot of things for them. Unlike when I was a kid and I was expected to listen to adults in charge and learn new things, Helicopter-parenting means we have to simultaneously be there to protect our kids from the bad touch, while convincing everyone else we aren’t child molesters.
Have you ever been to a kid’s birthday party? In the old days, you could drop your kid off at a party and just go to a bar for an hour or two. Maybe go home and take a nap. Read a book. But now you are expected to be at the party the whole time. Not only are you now trapped in a loud and obnoxious venue with a bunch of other people’s screaming kids, but you have to socialize with their parents, many of whom you wouldn’t want to share a bus with much less hang out at a freaking pool party with all afternoon.
That is my idea of hell. A bunch of middle-aged people who haven’t seen the sun in five years trying to not look at each others nipples in knee deep water as their kids splash around.
So, parents have to hang out the whole time with their kids. We have different expectations now. No longer are kids expected to entertain themselves, much less figure things out for themselves. They lack a lot of common sense now as a result. I have three kids and honestly, all of them have been so Nerfed in this society that they have difficulty crossing a street on their own.
I feel bad for them. I really do. They can’t help this. As parents, we are expected to witness and give approval for every detail of their lives. And when another parent does it better or different, the kids feel neglected. But they aren’t being allowed to learn about the world first-hand.
I live between an era where we were not only expected to do this, but rewarded with things like getting our driver’s licenses at 16 and being able to go on dates or get jobs and make our own damned money. Preparing to get the hell away from our parents. These days, such things are nearly abuse. Kids cling on, expecting parents to pay for everything. The entitlement of college tuition, room and board, all of it.
Parents are reprimanded for saying no. Whether it is because saying yes stretches us beyond our means (sorry, but a smartphone isn’t a Need) or because we are denying our children a better life!
As a dad, I do spoil my kids. I lost my daughter to it in a way. She detached from the family and decided to be wherever being allowed constant access to texting her friends or looking at memes would go totally unrestricted. My eldest son freaked out because I suggested he and his siblings walk to the library on their own and he never came back from his mother’s house.
My youngest is of the old school. I feel bad for him because he would have thrived in the 80s when marauding hordes of kids cruised the streets on their bikes, riding to the arcade, sharing Cokes, building tree forts, etc. You know, all the shit everyone who watches Stranger Things just love, but never actual do.
We lived like that when I was a kid. Bullies were dealt with appropriately, with quick and effective measures. Kids could think on their own, and not just about how to score as many points during a game as they could. We sometimes just goofed off for fun.
I’m not a Helicopter-parent. And I don’t plan on becoming one. Even if this era wants to drag me there kicking and screaming.