Why do I bark at my children? Not snap at them necessarily (or unnecessarily for that matter, I’m a little too controlled for that), but why do I deem it necessary to have more in common with a drill sergeant than a yoga instructor when speaking with them?
Do I think it’ll turn boys into men?i Is it because I fear they won’t have a better life if I don’t? What does a better life even mean? A better life than mine? Is that even a thing? Is it possible to just give them the same life as me – no better and no worse – accounting only for differences in time/place? Can barking help me achieve that?
These are all very good questions — ones that I’ve been asking myself this past week as I took pause to reflect on the way I’d been raising my boys of late.ii So here are a few of my current thoughts on the matter:
To start, I certainly don’t want an easier life for my boys. An easier life for our respective children is a commonly adopted, if implicit, parental objective that is tragicallyiii and all-too-frequently conflated with better. It’s also, incidentally, how you end up with “safety first” instead of “safety third…ish“. So forget easier. Besides, a couple of “spectrum“-related challenges aside, how much easier could my life have possibly been?
So what about harder? Maybe I should seriously consider the Tiger Mom/László Polgár approach to parenting? If only I had unrequited desires that I needed to project upon my innocent children, vicariously living through them as they achieved heights I’d only dreamed of but never myself approached. If only I had that size of chip on my shoulder… Alas, my chipped shoulder is shaped a little differently, and just having kids at all, whilst also enjoying the considerable degrees of flexibility and freedom that I do, more than scratches the itch. So harder is out too.
What does that leave us with? Knowing full well that my personal path is unrepeatable, as my parents’ path was for me, and as my boys’ path will be for their children in due time, what do I hope for my children? And then how do we get there?
I guess that the overarching message that I aim to convey is simply summarised by that old Ben Parker line: with great power comes great responsibility. I want them to embrace their responsibility as members of the elite, because however “unfashionable” it may be to be above the hoi polloi at the moment, there’s always and everywhere such an elevated class, and their inclusion into this class is pretty well unavoidable at this point. As such, their challenge will be to rise to the stature of their stations and the nobilities of their ranks… and the odds are downright against them! Regression to the mean is particularly fierce in this regard. Something like 50% of “successful” families give it all away in the next generation, 70% after two generations, and 90% after the third. And while some vestigial “status” may remain with the second and third generations, that’s before you factor in the increasingly zero-sum dynamical world that my boys are about to grow up in, where somehow their father “took” something from those less fortunate and “more deserving,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. So banking on sumptuary laws to uphold their status in 2080 amidst the 17th Athleisure Epidemic is about as sensible as drinking hot tea on a hot day.iv
So why do I bark at them? Why do I use a chest-resonating voice a full octave lower than I use with anyone else ever?v Why do I feel the urge to be at an absolute minimum verbally “tough” on them? Because their social milieu is the wickedly Soft-Socialist Canada and I have to shelter them from it? Because my contrarian streak would likewise be utterly subservient to their every whim and fancy had we been raising them in Hard-Socialist USSR? Because I believe in gendered households and gendered parenting?vi Because I don’t want my kids to have so much fucking anxiety later in life for lack of disciplinarian/authoritarian figure at home? Because I want them to understand respect and hierarchy, which exist as fundamental components of all human societies and cultures, especially those that malevolently work so hard to pretend otherwise?
And what if I’m still being counter-productive? What if the world is indeed urbanising and feminising, then wouldn’t I be better off modelling teamwork, collaboration, salesmanship, and political savviness? Or do all teams still need leaders? Leaders who can, y’know, lead — lead by engaging, communicating, and playing the role demanded of them by their teams and situations? Doesn’t all power demand responsibility?
And shouldn’t that responsibility sound like something? Maybe a bark is exactly that: nothing more and nothing less than the sound of responsibility.
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- Like the Boy Scouts used to do? ↩
- This reflection was precipitated at least in part by the completion of Niko’s first season of outdoor soccer, during which I had to at one point ask myself who was this man controlling my lips and vocal chords, barking at the lanky not-yet-five-year-old to “FOCUS!,” “GET THE BALL!,” and “PAY ATTENTION!” When had I become the stereotypical hockey dad I’d always judged as low-class, the one I never knew first-hand?
- Ironically, successful parents who do indeed achieve their goals of giving their children easier lives very frequently resent the laziness they nurtured and fostered. So how do you give your kids a silver spoon while still raising strong, independent adults? ↩
- Why the Somalis I know insist that drinking hot tea on a hot day is some kind of “trick” that only they’ve figured out is beyond me. Give me the fucking ice water already! ↩
- Not that I’m all bark and no bite, but the barking definitely outweighs the biting, as well it should given that my boys are both incredibly adorable and sweet little boys under the age of five. ↩
- For the record, I’m more against soy-boy dads than I am against butch alpha-lesbian dads. Genders don’t actually matter so much as the gender roles matter. Yin and yang matter. ↩