11.27.2010

Parenting, Pleasure, and Adulthood: Revealing a Life (Well) Lived



What is the task of the parent? Surely, it's to keep the critters alive — fed, clothed, sheltered, educated (although that can mean many things and take many forms), loved (this, too, can take many forms). But is that all? And what do these things even mean?

Parenting today — at least the parenting of predominantly white upper middle class San Franciscans — seems to involve sheltering children from the nuance, subtlety, pain and pleasures of adulthood. We are asked to shield our children — we don't curse, we don't cry, we don't kiss, we don't yell, we don't ignore by reading a book, we don't go out too often, we don't, we don't, we don't....

Parenting has become a thoroughly masochistic endeavor, a martyrdom. I have close friends, dying before my eyes as their jobs suck their life blood, who feel obliged to continue in their misery so they can keep their kids in their middle class homes, in their middle class schools, wearing brand new Baby Gap, and eating organic bananas.

Our kids assume — they assume! — that we will play with them, more or less non-stop. We'll sword fight and wrestle, play with Legos and stuffies, go to the park, the pool, the zoo, play chase and tickle. All the time!

I feel guilty for wanting to take the time to write, to read, to think, to fuck, to drink, to love, to frolic, to sleep, to relax.

And what kind of kids are we breeding? Self-entitled shitheads.

I want to suggest that good parenting is not shielding a child from adulthood — from its pains and pleasures — but is showing a child a life in motion, a life lived with zeal, with passion, a life ripe with nuance and negotiation, with lively thought and secrets that will only be revealed when they are older.

Am I suggesting we weep all the time in front of our children? That we fuck in front of them? Of course not. But not because they're our children per se but because that's just downright rude.

I want my kid to see me interact with other adults, see us discuss Godard and Burroughs and laugh maniacally at things my kid could not possibly understand. I want him to hear me curse and know that that's what grown ups do: they speak emphatically! I want my kid to see a life well lived — and, barring that, at least a life lived.

This may sound easy but I am up against powerful forces that would have it otherwise. Forces that tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I should hide my adulthood: the boy should see me work and play with him and little else. He feels entitled to that. All other adults in his life treat him like that. So when I tell him I am going to write for a bit, he feels neglected and I feel like a dick. For wanting to write!

And so I tell you this: When I tell my kid, sternly, to go play on his own so I can write, so I can read, so I can think; when I go out at night to drink and flirt and fuck; when I pour myself a cocktail as I cook and tell him to be quiet while my friend and I discuss Nietzsche: this is not my lack of love. On the contrary, it is nothing less than my supreme, profound love — a love that often makes me weep, right in front of him so he can see that life remains a place of passion.