(Crossposted from The Indigestible.)
I bash kids’ shows regularly and frequently attack religiosity. It’s easy for me to do that, since I don’t have any kids of my own. I can sit on my butt and theorize, and I can talk endlessly about what I’d support or reject in my own kids, if I had any. I thrash McDonald’s, I smoke NBB, I deride and belittle fundamentalism.
But have I really thought about what I would do if I had a kid of my own?
As it happens, I have, because I’ve been looking into adoption.*
I can start by saying it would have to be a boy, or at least my first would need to be. The reasons are multifarious and intricate, but they boil down into two main points, both fairly simplistic and frankly stereotypical:**
1. If I had a daughter, when she began dating boys, I fear I’d be one of those dads who frighten all her dates away with threats of neutering and such.
Probably not — not really — I mean, once she got to that age, she and I would have had more than a few converstions by then about sex and its ramifications; I would trust her. But still, the idea of looking any given fifteen-year-old right in the eye and smiling at him as though I didn’t understand everything that was running through his terminally-horny brain would be a bit tough.
I know this is a patriarchal ownership-style problem. I know it. And that’s one reason I don’t think I could work well with a girl; I wouldn’t want to force her to live through my own coming to terms with my issues. At my age I still don’t think I could deal with some of this, perhaps a lot of it; why should I make someone else suffer for my own lack? Better she had a more liberal home, one without a man with phallocentric hangups.
2. This is more convenient to me. I was never a teenaged girl, so I can cop out. Since I never had to experience it, how could I possibly relate to it in my own daughter? From my selfish point of view, a son would be more simple to understand.
First ejaculation? Right on time; let’s change the sheets. First exploration of porn? Big deal, done that. A little extra time in the bathroom in the mornings? So what, no problem, just get up 15 minutes sooner. Chafing? Well, here’s some Vaseline. Try that, have fun.
For a girl … hell, I’d be half done in at menarche.***
But, you know, I can’t be a dictator. There’s no way I’d be able to order my kids around, try to mold them into perfect little icons of mindless obeisance to my will. I abhor such jackbooted thuggery when I see it in the real world; why would I want to apply it in my home?
So how would I actually handle a son, if I had one?
I think I’d start with laying the ground rules; letting him know what I considered important parts of life. Food, shelter, clothing, a warm and safe bed, a home to retreat to when the world turned sour, respect — respect is not just a human dignity; it is important to human worth, identity, life — and I’d include in the list of necessities books.
Lots of books, as many as he wanted, without limit. Even if he set a barn on fire I still think he’d have his books, just as he would have all the other necessities of life. Even if what he was reading wasn’t strictly on my list of Good Ideas?, if it was in a book, I’d let him have it.
Because there is a special, very private space you enter with a book; it’s not just a bunch of words telling you things. It’s an interactive space, a place where you are inoculated with new memes, wherein you explore other worlds, words and ways of life that otherwise you cannot have. Books are sacred. They are the closest thing to holy I recognize, and he would have that holy place all to himself, whenever he needed it.
I mean the real thing, not the generic 90’s style drive from McDonald’s to the soccer pitch that included a five-minute conversation with me and just me alone. I mean evenings when, after dinner was done, the homework wrapped up, we’d turn off the phone to enjoy some real relax time, watching a decent movie or a DVD show, possibly something current on cable; and on weekends we’d get out into the sunshine and air. Hiking, biking, doing the town and seeing the world; visiting the occasional museum or observatory; whatever seemed to suit our fancy.
Some of the best times I’ve ever spent with anyone include road trips that last an hour or more, when we’d eventually have nothing else to do but talk to each other. It’s amazing how well you can connect during those times.
A hand-made breakfast for him pretty much every morning, maybe served in bed sometimes on special occasions (birthdays, for instance); barbecues, dinners, general foody kinds of things where he would at the very least know that I had put in a little time just for him; and, if he had the interest, I’d drag him into the kitchen and show him how to make the foods he loved best, so he could become a decent cook himself.
A couple years back the cereal-in-a-bar manufacturers showed a commercial featuring Mom lobbing bowls of cereal toward her husband and children; the bowls transformed into cereal packets in bar form they could unwrap from their Mylar sheaths and eat in transit to work or school.
How useless was that woman? Apparently profoundly; the commercials are no longer on the air. (And why was it Mom? Why didn’t Dad get his lazy ass out of bed to hurl milk-drenched crockery at his family?)
I would never throw food at my son, and if the day ever dawned that I was unable to provide him with a tasty, nutritious and homemade breakfast, it would be the day of my funeral.
Cooking is good. It helps people bond, and sharing tasty recipes is a massively-important but underrated social trade. Working in the kitchen with kids can be richly satisfying, teaching them how to be self-reliant while bonding with them deeply as you chop, sauté and grill, talking about anything that happens to cross your minds.
With card games like Pokemon or Magic; with 360s like Halo or PGR; with Wii; paintball; darts; Clue or Risk; Monopoly or chess.
Athletics: Yes. If he had a penchant for running, if he loved swimming, surfing or skateboarding, if his favorite thing to do was get on an MTB and thrash all over the trails, of course I’d support that. Soccer, football, b-ball, the other b-ball, golf, hang gliding. Dance, karate, rock climbing. Whatever.
Playing opens the mind and, when it’s physical, expands the body. Playing is testing limits, trying new things, exploring and learning and doing.
Play is preparation to be an adult. And when you are an adult, play is learning how to handle other adults — which are, more often than not, just big kids.
I’d do things with him sometimes that he wanted to do, and he would do things sometimes that I wanted to do. It could be him spending the evening kicking my ass on the 360 or Wii; or it could be me dragging him to a play or concert. I’d plug his iPod into the stereo and listen to his tunes; and he’d be exposed to my ancient tribal rhythms as well.
We’re talking cultural exchange here and learning that history isn’t dead; that others speak to you through different means; that new music, new languages and new ideas enrich the mind and heart, make them flourish.
While a lot of the above have to do with a this/that approach to our lives, underneath all of it would be a constant thread: Communication. We’d trade ideas, goofy jokes, hopes and fears … and talk, talk and get to know one another, learn about each other, and hopefully somewhere in the middle of it I’d be able to model or instill the ideas of respect for others, curiosity about the world, willingness to explore, and the certain knowledge that, when things got too rough, I would always, always have his back.
Adults don’t always have the answers. Kids offer surprisingly deep insights into life. Rapport opens the doors to a sweet, loving interchange that lets minds flourish — yours and your kids’. This isn’t just theory. Parents know this, and kids in homes with parents like that know it too.
Now if he wanted to do these things in the context of watching CN or Nick, playing with his Legos, dressing up like Barbie or high-sticking opponents in hockey … that would be okay; because no matter what, he would still be my son, and wherever he went in life, however he chose to live, whatever path he would select, even if I loathed a lot of it … he would still be my boy, and I would still be his dad.
We’d have a lifetime of things we did together that told us both this inerrant, wonderful truth.
And that’s how I would start, I think, if I had a son.
I’d spend the rest of my life getting it right, getting it wrong, and growing right along with him.
* Don’t even start, fundies, on how a nonheterosexual shouldn’t have the right to take a child into a home of “perversion”. Until you are all ready to adopt the children you want to see forced into the world by your stupid anti-abortion stance, you have no platform of any legitimacy from which to utter your diatribes. I’m trying to help by offering a home of unconditional love and acceptance. What are you doing — apart from hurling feces and ranting your spew into a world already full of hate?
** I know. But it’s my choice, not yours.
*** It’s a documented and well-researched fact that (statistically) adoptive children come into more loving, stable and good homes than biological children, even kids adopted by non-str8 or “unconventional” families. One reason is that adoptive parents really think about being parents; it’s not just forced on them by accident of biology. Adoptive parents choose to be parents. They don’t get there by mistake. It takes months of classes, years of work and a lot of thought. It’s not fifteen seconds of friction followed by, “Oh, shit, the rubber broke, now what?”