“He's such a boy." “He's all boy, isn't he?"
Those are the comments I hear most often about my son. Sometimes they're said with an affectionate smile and sometimes with an exasperated sigh. Sometimes they're said both ways by the same person in a matter of minutes. My replies are always polite but inside I'm always wondering; what the fuck does that mean?
Yes, I know what they mean. My son, Brad, is rarely clean not because he doesn't bathe or put on clean clothes but because he's likely to run through some mud right after he does. Brad eats a lot and often like a pig at a trough. He knows table manners and can mostly use them when he wants to but if something is really good, or he's really hungry, his eating can become barely contained chaos. His sports are football and wrestling, the most contact of contact sports. He likes superheroes, video games, toy guns, real guns, and being in the woods. He barely cares if his clothes fit much less what they look like. He's such a boy.
No, I don't know what they mean. The second thing I'm most often told about him is how empathetic he is. Brad is adorable and gentle playing with little kids, especially little girls, and he loves doing it. He thinks the bookstore is the best place in the world. When he gets the urge to dress up he always puts together a sharp looking outfit. He has a great fashion sense and I often use his advice when shopping for myself or getting ready for a date. He says “I love you" often and still sometimes cuddles with me. He's all boy, isn't he?
There's a lot of talk online about boys that like to play with girl's toys and acceptance and understanding, and they are important conversations, but they often devolve into silliness or ignorance. In some forums there's wasted anger over McDonald's offering boys and girls toys in Happy Meals. In worse forums there's even derision towards parents that allow their boys to fit into some of the boy stereotypes as if it's impossible to raise a child that will skin a deer and still believe in the equality of women.
Of course, the opposite groups are usually worse. I think it all goes back to the stupidity of thinking we can and should mold our children into who we want them to be. If we want them to be different we think we can make them different even if they just want to play games with their friends. If we want them to conform we think we can punish them into conformance. As a society we seem to think that parents can and should be in complete control of what and who their children become.
Look at the metaphor we most often use. We talk about molding and shaping young minds. Christians have a prayer that says they are the potter's clay and, of course, Christians think of themselves as God's children. We think of kids as this liquid mix we can make into anything we want before it hardens. Well God might be able to make a person into whatever God chooses but I think the idea that a parent can, and should try to, make a child into anything they want is foolish and the source of much bad parenting.
I think sculpting is the more appropriate metaphor. When a sculptor looks at a piece of stone the shape of what that piece can be is already inside. It is the artist's job to chip and cut and polish carefully to bring out the best version of what that is. That's much closer to parenting I think. I believe most of what a child can be is there at birth and our job as parents is to just try to help them become the best version of themselves that's inside there genetic piece of stone.
What do I mean by this? I mean that, of course, we should try to instill basic morality in our children. We should try to chip away the parts of the stone that are lying, cheating, and stealing. When it comes to their personalities though, and their likes and dislikes, we should be mostly hands off unless it involves morality. I'm talking about a much more subtle style of parenting that is also scary because it acknowledges that we aren't, and shouldn't be, in complete control of who our children become.
I want Brad to be a reader so I read around him, let him know I value reading, and make books available to him. I don't force him to read anymore than is necessary for school and I don't force him to read certain things. Brad has become a reader on his own. I sometimes wish Brad were a little quieter and less assertive. Today he pointed out that I need to trim my nose hair while we were at the eye doctor. He is often embarrassing like that but I rarely punish him. I try to explain to him why it is embarrassing and explain to him when it is and isn't appropriate and worthwhile to be so blunt. Slowly he's learning to think before he speaks his mind but he isn't learning to never speak his mind. I think that's for the best.
I think that is something most parents don't understand. Often the flipside of what we think are our children's most negative aspects are their best qualities. If we punish our sons for playing dress up we might be keeping them from becoming the next great fashion designer show . If we punish our daughters for playing in the mud we might be ruining the next great archaeologists. I'm not saying never punish, of course. The parents of one of the Columbine shooters found a Nazi flag in his room and ignored it as just a phase. If I find a Nazi flag in Brad's room I'm going to beat his ass. Then as I'm icing both his black eyes I'll reeducate him about the Holocaust. Basically lines have to be drawn but if we draw too many we box our children in. Call it the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy of parenting; “Walk softly and carry a big stick."
I have hints of who Brad is going to be as a man. He's a lot like me except when he's not and I don't want him to be. I wish I was as outgoing and confident as he is. He's a lot like his mom except when he's not and I don't want him to be. I wish she could handle setbacks and frustrations as calmly as he does. My son is a young person with a penis who likes many supposedly masculine things but I'm not raising a boy. I am raising a Brad and it's not my job to tell him who he'll be but instead to make sure he becomes the best Brad he can be. I look forward to seeing who that is.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
“He's such a boy." “He's all boy, isn't he?"
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Sometimes the hardest part of writing is finding a way in. Not necessarily a place to start but more like a door that will open. Sometimes it is hard to find the station that my train of thoughts will stop at. The only thing to do then is meander for awhile and hope my internal GPS will tell me to turn left. My life has been like that a lot lately too.
The past year was one of upheaval for me personally. I started the year having my son every other week. Now I have him all the time except for two weekends a month and two months in the summer. I started the year in a relationship I truly thought was going somewhere. Now I'm single and I'm pretty sure that's going to last for a while. I started the year in a financial hole still holding a shovel. Now I'm climbing out of it.
That was the third year in a row like that. Three years ago it was lost pregnancies and the last gasps of a dying marriage. Two years ago it was the end of that marriage and moving and moving again. Then this past year, in addition to what I mentioned, my divorce became official and a friend died. This year promises or threatens, I'm not sure which, to be more upheaval.
Life is like that. It'll let you sit comfortable in your recliner for a bit with cold beer and football on TV thinking you've got it made. Then it will smack you in the back of the head and ask you what you were thinking. Then throw you to the ground and kick you in the ribs. Then grab you by the hair, spit in your face, and demand payment. Yes, life is like muscle for the mob.
Still most of us make our payments and live to see another day, another year. As Vonnegut wrote, so it goes. There's one other thing I did this past year that I want to mention, though. I started this blog. I told myself that it was just a way to pass the time while my son was gone for the summer. It turns out I lied.
It has become pretty clear to me, and probably anyone paying attention, that subconsciously I started this blog to figure out who I was after all the upheaval. I refuse to say anything as new age as find myself. I'm old fashioned when it comes to the subconscious, old fashioned in some surprising ways. Besides, I was never lost. Sure I might have been confused about which way to go but I knew where I was.
The truth is I haven't learned much from writing this but I've remembered things about myself which might be as important. It may not always be what it is but I am who I am. I am who I thought I was. I'm a damn good dad. I'm addicted to caffeine and nicotine. I'm a good son but not as good as my parents deserve. That might be impossible. I'm a night owl who will often play Nintendo or read into the wee hours of the night even when I have things to do in the morning, just as I did when I was a kid. I'm a good friend, better than some friends deserve worse than others. I'm too damn empathetic and forgiving but I don't show it often enough. I'm a bad hunter, a decent writer, and quiet except when I'm not or when I'm drunk.
There's more to me than that, of course. I could go on all day and still not mention many things a lot of you have learned about me because I wouldn't know them. It takes years to truly know someone else and more than a lifetime to know yourself. Still, I haven't changed much. I've grown and there's been some gradual changes. Some rough edges have smoothed and some smooth edges have sharpened. If you knew me at 17, though, and see me this summer after I turn 34 you'll recognize me as an older version of myself.
I've been through a lot of life altering shit and that shit has altered my life but it hasn't altered me. I guess that makes my defining trait stubbornness but I'm okay with that. It's not a bad thing. It's called consistency of character and I value it above all else. For the most part the people I let into my life to stay, stay because they are who they are and they don't give much of a fuck what anyone thinks about it. I dig that.
How to explain the women I'm attracted to and pursue then? Well, that brings up something I have learned about myself this past year. I didn't lie earlier. I didn't learn it through writing this blog but through living and dating and talking to a friend (I'll admit you're right but I won't mention your name so you can't use this as proof) and in some cases the women themselves. It's a simple thing really. I'm not happy unless I'm helping someone else.
It explains so much about me. That's why I'm a good dad and why I'm so fucked up when my son is gone. It's why I'm attracted to women in turmoil, women that haven't dealt with their pasts and have uncertain futures, crazy women. It's not just because they're good in bed but because I want to help them. That's what makes me feel good, makes me happy. Those two things are in direct conflict, though. How can I be a good dad to Brad if I end up making some instable headcase his stepmom? So what to do, what to do?
I'm sorry, I hope you weren't expecting an answer. That is why I'm contemplating a career change or at least starting back to school to facilitate one. Maybe if my job were helpful to people I wouldn't seek fulfillment of that need in a relationship. Of course I can't do anything rash that would threaten my livelihood or Brad's quality of life. So I don't know. I'll figure it out though.
That's what I hope this new year will be; a year of figuring things out. Hopefully I'll figure out my finances for good, a better and more permanent place to live, how to have a lasting romantic relationship again, how to be a better father and son and friend and lover because there's always room for improvement, how to tame my addictions to coffee and smokes and books and video games enough to get enough sleep at night. Okay, that last one probably not so much. Maybe I'll figure out how to live without sleep.
One thing I know I want to do is write more. I want to have a blog post up once a week and I want to write other things besides that. Writing could be the answer. It can be helpful to people and it is fulfilling. If only I could make money at it. All of you can help. You can click on some ads and make me some money dammit but more importantly you can say something if I let a week go by without posting. I lack self discipline and I admit I need nagging. Most importantly you can share this blog. Recommend it to family and friends and strangers on the internet. Judging from the numbers I have about fifty constant readers and that's many more than I ever thought I'd have. Still that means my readership increased by 50 times this year so I think in a full year I want another 50 fold increase. That would be 2500 readers. That's probably a foolish unattainable goal but that's what New Year's resolutions are all about.
I think I'll shut up for now. I meandered a lot but never found the station my train of thoughts would stop at. So I just jumped on a boxcar as it passed by but it's late as I write this, surprise surprise, and I think my thoughts are about to give me the bum's rush. I don't know if I've said everything, or even anything, that I wanted to say. I never do really know. I do want to say this, though, before I go; thank you all for coming along for the ride and reading what I write. It means more to me than you know.