Every time I take Holden to his doctor's appointment, I leave feeling like shit about my abilities as a parent. There are so many things that can go wrong, vital components of development that you have been put in charge of, and are royally fucking up. For instance, my kid isn't talking. This is probably because while attempting to promote my fledgling, stupid career by being rigidly dogmatic about writing at assigned times daily, I'd distract the kid by turning on the TV. NPR says TV is bad for kids and stunts growth. I grew up in front of the fucking TV. So did my brother. And look how we turned out. OK. Bad example. But how the fuck can you be a parent and try to get any work done without a little distraction? So for a few weeks, between the age of 9 and 11 mos., which are apparently the most critical to your child's developing mad skills to be a winner, I, with my well-documented limited coping abilities and severe anxiety, selfishly turned on Yo Gabba Gabba to give me a few minutes to finish writing, while my wife enjoyed her precious sleep. Plus, the kid fucking loves Yo Gabba Gabba. It was win-win. Right? Wrong. I got some writing done, all right, and in the process retarded my son's verbal growth, dooming him to a life of communicating like one of Dr. Necessiter's test subjects.
Being a parent is fucked up, and you cannot win. In baseball, you are paid millions to fail 7 out of 10 times. As a parent, all you need to do is fuck up once, to have that fuck up repeated for your kid's friends and families, and future husbands and wives for, like, forever. We all have the story, the time our mother made us sing the "Star Spangled Banner" in front of her friends because, at 8, we were fucking tone deaf. The time our father humiliated us at our baseball birthday party by striking us out. It's like this Onion article.
Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults
SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. "Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life's difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood," lead researcher Daniel Porter said. "And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being." The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.
As a man, when you have a kid all you want to do is do a better job than your father. All the inappropriate, mean, and hurtful things he said ("Joey will feed the cat," says Mom. "Joey is too stupid to feed the cat," says Dad), won't be repeated by you. You practically outline a goddamn how-to manual of all the ways to succeed at this.
Now I know there are men out there who get along with their dads, think highly of them, have a wonderful relationship with him, and I am very happy for P. Scott Cunningham. But, by and large, the majority of my friends have had tumultuous relationships with their pops, to say the least.
This past Saturday, at Lip Service West, we featured Hin Leung, a student at Cal, who read one of most powerfully devastating and emotionally wrought pieces you'll ever hear. It was about his being in high school back in Hong Kong and finding out about his father's affair. Hin deftly frames the piece with a chess game and fatherly advice, about standing tall, never surrendering, being a man, which Hin repeats at the end. Whereas the advice in the beginning is sage and sound. After his father's fall, those same words only invoke the the phony and pathetic. Hin is young, his anger just and real. I am somewhere in the middle, and while I don't condone infidelity (see my second marriage [whore]), I have more sympathy for fathers in stories like that than I used to. Because I know how complicated this life gets. There is little left of the black and white, right or wrong, all/nothing views of my youth. Because I am no longer the son. I am the father.
Yeah, I just compared my parenting to Superman. So fucking what? Besides being fucking strong and all-around awesome, Superman is pretty fucking smart too. The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son. We've been doing that dance since the primordial ooze, and mankind's been moving forward OK enough. Until now. Because apparently TVs and cell phones and milk and 8 billion other modern accouterments are conspiring to undermine my best efforts. (For a little context, my mother-in-law says I am poisoning my son by feeding him milk. Just fucking great. She also thinks cooked food is poison, not that that means jackshit when Holden gets the sniffles. Virus he caught from one of the other kids at day care? Nope. In between stifling his ability to speak, I am apparently also poisoning my child by letting him drink milk like millions of other kids.)
I really fucking hate the Bay Area. When I was growing up, fuck, man, we got plopped down in front of the TV for days. And my brother and I drank a goddamn gallon of milk between us a day. We also played in gravel pits, rode bicycles without helmets, and used wasps' nests for a pinata. We rode motorcycles (without helmets), hit in batting cages (without helmets), and walked across thin ice through the spring. I look back, and there are large chunks of time where I don't remember a single adult interfering.
Then again, I am looking at it from a kids' perspective. Maybe my mother knew where we were at all times. Probably. She was a good mother.
The weird thing is now being on the other side of that line.
My cousin Celeste bought me a new pair of slippers for my 41st birthday. They are handcrafted, comfortable. Justine's friend Jane came over the other day.
"You know those are old man slippers, right?" Jane said.
Fuck, yeah, I do. And I like walking on my front lawn with my old man slippers and terrycloth bathrobe to retrieve my goddamn paper, too. It is time to accept that I am not John Bender anymore. I have become Richard Vernon.
I always figured I'd remain hip and relevant. I am not equipped to be the grown up.
I like being the Good Time Charlie. This transformation has been the strangest part, going from siding with the 16-year-old, fuck you, POV (to which I still cling mightily) to the, "Hey, put down the candy and eat your vegetables." It's primal man, just kicks in. I want to be "the cool dad." I will not be the cool dad.
We're going back east for Thanksgiving to see my cousins, who are on Facebook. Lately they've been posting pictures of the whole goddamn family shooting guns. Little kids, too. Shooting guns. What the hell? I'm considering canceling the whole damn trip. I talk a good game about letting Holden ride motorcycles and box. That kid ain't fucking riding motorcycles. And he sure as shit ain't boxing. And he's wearing a fucking helmet when he rides a bicycle (but not because I think he should; it's a state law out here). Frank Zappa said speed turns you into your parents. Well, you know what else turns you into your parents? Being a fucking parent.
What happened to me? I feel like Ice Cube after they gave him some money and a hug.
I closed with this song the other day, but it's been running through my head a lot lately, so you'll forgive an old man if he repeats himself.