Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Apology to My Future Children For Inevitably Ruining Their Lives

Dear Future Son(s) and/or Daughter(s),

Hello from the past.  It’s your dad writing to you from 2014.  I’m 29, and I don’t know how long it will be before the first of you shows up, but your mother and I are excited about it.  We know that you will fundamentally change our lives—lives which, frankly, we really enjoy.  You’re going to be a huge challenge financially, and we’ll be giving up a lot of comfort and freedom once you arrive.  None of that is your fault, mind; it’s just the way it is.  But even though we haven’t even met you yet, we know that you are totally worth it. 

When I was very young I would have “arguments” with my parents about who loved whom more.  (Thinking back, that may have been a cognitive exercise in visualizing comparative size and distance.  “I love you all the way to the moon!  All the way to Mars,” etc.) But your grandpa would always trump me saying, “I love you more than it’s possible for you to love me because I loved you before you were born, so I had a head start.”  That annoyed me because I felt like I was losing the “argument,” but as your mom and I think practically about bringing you into the world I’m starting to belatedly concede his point.  Also it annoyed me less when a friend in high school told me about how her conversations with her mom usually went.  (“I hate you!”  “I hate you more!  You ruined my life,” etc.  Yeesh, right?)  So right off the bat I want to tell you I love you, your mom loves you, and your mom and I love each other.  In fact, we love each other so much that it’s just more than two people can handle on their own, so we have to bring you in to help carry it all.  That essentially is where babies come from.  You are the physical manifestation of your parents’ love; we love each other so much it actually creates another human being.  (We’ll get into more specifics another time.)

Having said all of that, this is a letter of apology.  Not necessarily for my blatant screw-ups, the arguments we’ll have, or the things that’ll drive you nuts about me.  I should tell you up front that I don’t really care that I embarrass you.  Well, maybe I should hedge a bit: I care about you and I care about your feelings, but I already know I’m going to embarrass you, and I hate to say it but that’s kind of going to be your problem, not mine.  I went through caring what kids thought of me when I was in middle school, and having left that horribleness behind, I’m never going back.  My life got infinitely better the day I stopped caring if other kids thought I was cool, and so will yours.  Also, the things I remember embarrassing me about my dad are now things I’m totally grateful for.  I always hated, for example, walking into the kitchen and seeing my parents—your grandparents—totally making out!  I know, right?  Then in high school when so many of my friends’ parents started getting divorced, or just blatantly hating each other, I’d see my parents kissing in the kitchen and I’d think, carry on you two.  

So no, I’m not apologizing for the things I’ll undoubtedly do that will make you roll your eyes.  I’m apologizing for straight up ruining your life. 

Of course, I don’t want to ruin your life.  I want you to have a fantastic life!  I want you to have a wide range of experiences, and I want you to grow up happy, healthy, and successful.  I want you to have love in your life.  I also want you to be a good person.  I want you to have empathy, and to care for and about others.  I want—ok you know what, this could go on forever, but you get the gist right?  I’m not going to ruin your life because I want to.  I’m going to ruin your life because apparently it’s inevitable.  It’s like a Greek tragedy: the harder I try to prevent it, the more certain it is that it will happen. 

It wasn’t always inevitable.  I don’t think my parents ruined me, for example.  Nor do I think they would say theirs ruined them.  And keep in mind, everything I read now about history and society and parenting says that they should have.  Now you might say, great, our family has a pretty good track record.  Maybe I’ll luck out too!  But you’d be wrong.  I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you haven’t got a chance. 

You see now that it’s 2014, we know so much better about everything than our parents and our parents’ parents did.  All they had to go on was the examples their parents, communities and cultures set for them.  Fools!  Today we’ve evolved beyond that.  Today we have Yahoo News, click-bait articles, blogs, and parenting books—so many parenting books!  It’s truly a wonderful time because we now know that everything parents have done and are doing is completely wrong.  Unless it was something they didn’t do consciously that has changed since.  In those cases, we know to lament those bygone days.  The best part is that we can constantly tell each other how wrong the parenting that’s going on is.  Constantly.  And the more angry and/or self righteous it makes parents feel the more “viral” it becomes.  “Viral” is a word that I hope is no longer in use by the time you read this, but it basically means: “Something that you cannot escape from and are forced to have an opinion about.” 

And that’s what brings us to today.  Everything I know about parenting is wrong.  Everything.  And unfortunately the fact that I know that doesn’t help because every new thing I learn to replace those wrong things will be shown to be wrong within a few weeks.  Now, some people might say, “just use common sense,” and that might seem appealing.  But I went to UC Berkeley.  I know there’s no such thing as “common sense.”  Everything we think of as “common sense” is a just a societal construct, probably designed to keep someone down…man.  Besides, a new study will probably come out saying that something that seems like common sense is actually the worst thing you could possibly do for your child.  Then a week later, another study will be plastered all over the internet attacking the first study for being nothing more than stay-at-home-parent/working-parent-shaming, and that really the only good thing to do is such-and-such because that’s what the indigenous people of Iceland do, or something.

Now, no one knows where these “studies” come from.  But we assume it’s like the Bible: even if we’re not entirely sure who wrote it, what the context was, what the original intent behind it was, what the actual principal is, or which things might not translate directly into our own language and culture, it’s on the Internet so it must be taken literally, definitively, and as gospel.  (You may be confused about why I’ve taken you to church all these years.  Don’t be.  I’m not dissing the Bible, I’m dissing a certain type of attitude towards it, but that’s another letter.  You can’t use this as an excuse not to go to church.)

I wish I could give you some comfort, but unfortunately the jury is still out on whether that would help prepare you for the real world or saddle you with crippling disadvantages later in life.  The world is changing, and it’s changing fast.  The things that were mantras when I was growing up would get me burned at the stake today.  Hopefully by the time you’re having children (if you’re not already in prison or something) things will be worked out a little better. Maybe it’s just that the Internet has given all of us the chance to talk directly at each other for the first time in a way no society has ever been able to before.  And maybe this initial cacophony and confusion will work itself out and evolve into something beautiful beyond our dreams.  Or maybe not, who knows.  The point is, I’m probably going to do things as a parent that everyone will know was idiotic by the time you’re old enough to read this, and according to the flood of blog posts that accompany the aforementioned “studies,” your life will be ruined as a result.

There’s a scene in an Arthur Miller play where a dad wants his son to be a great pitcher, so he has him practice pitching year round—even in the basement in the winter.  He does become a great pitcher with an amazing fastball and technical skill, but when the talent scout comes to see him, the verdict is that he’ll never be recruited professionally.  He pitches great when no one’s on base, but when the bases are loaded he completely falls apart.  He doesn’t know how to handle the pressure of having a runner stand behind him because he honed his skills in private in the basement.  The very thing his father did to help him become a great pitcher turned out to be his complete undoing.  So, jokes aside, there’s a real chance that might happen.  And I’m sorry about that. 

But hey, let’s not just focus on the doom and inevitable ruining of your life!  Let’s have some good times too!  Your mom and I have had a great time exploring a few things in the world, and we’re excited to show you some of the cool stuff we’ve found, and to discover some brand new ones together with you.  Even though it’s just the two of us right now, we have a pretty great time at our place.  It will be a different place when you get here, and there will probably be a few different places after that, but it will still be our place, and we’ll always have some great times.  You’re gonna love the music and dancing and cooking—both the stuff we make you eat and the stuff that we only let you eat sometimes—the kitchen’s a happening place.  There are some great books and book series we can’t wait to read together, and we’re excited to see the books and movies and music that don’t even exist yet that you’ll introduce us to.  And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the cool knowledge, and art, and humor, and games that we’ll learn and play and do—more stuff than I could ever write out.  Then when you get older and get out there a little there’s lots of great gross-sounding stuff like flirting and kissing and dating and such!  Of course there’s also pain, and heartache, and frustration and all that, but even that's stuff you look back on and wouldn’t want to trade.  All in all, this whole life thing is a pretty awesome adventure, and your mom and I can’t wait for you to come so we can really get the party started.  Just remember I apologized ahead of time about the whole ruining your life thing.


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