Friday, October 24, 2014

Humor as a Parenting Tool

One of the biggest struggles of being a parent, at least for me, is that of convincing my kids that all of the hundreds of "inevitabilities" they are taught about are not really inevitable.

I have written, before, about my older son having come home and having said that he learned in school that day that when he becomes a teenager, his hormones are going to make him rebellious. His exact words were, "Did you know that when I become a teenager, I am going to start being mean to you?" It goes to show how careful we have to be about teaching. I, of course, corrected this by asserting that being mean is a choice; he can control how he acts toward me, no matter how powerful nature's pull may be. He was much relieved.

A few months ago, late in the summer, I was talking to another adult and my son (the same one as above) was with me. I mentioned that my son was going into the seventh grade. This person (an educator) immediately countered with: "Uh-oh..." and went on to explain how ("just you wait") seventh graders are so hard to handle and how he was going to change. A while room full of adults agreed, laughing the laughs of the battle-hardened parents. So, in front of him, I said, "Nah. Joe's a good kid. Everything will be just fine."

I was mad, but I didn't show it to either them or to him. When we got outside, I burst in to fake, comic tears. Joe picked up on the routine and patted me comically on the back. "There, there, Dad," he said, in a silly voice. "What's wrong Father?"

"It's all over," I wailed. "You heard what they said. As soon as the school year a few short weeks, you are going to become a monster. We are going to stop being pals. Waaahhhh..."

We both broke into a fit of hysterics over this. When we calmed down, he said, "Well, I guess we ought to do something fun soon, because as soon as school starts, we'll be enemies..."

We laughed again.

Satire is a powerful parenting tool. Most of the way through October, things are still pretty good. No dramatic changes. We laughed at dinner last night; during our bedtime prayers of thankfulness, he expressed his thanks for the "World's Greatest Family." This weekend we are going to do some target shooting with our bows...

I don't see an imminent collapse, despite the wisdom of my elders...

All hail humor, the best weapon against groupthink.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Letting Go of the Little Ones

I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.

In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.

In another picture, my older son -- though much younger, then -- is crouching and intently looking for treasures in the sand; in still another, the two of them are smiling with unbridled joy, sitting side-by-side on an amusement park race car ride. These are smiles that are empty of self-consciousness; empty of the need to appear any certain way other than simply happy. Their smiles are boys' smiles, unashamed and unaffected. Pure happiness -- the kind of pure happiness a grown up can never remember except through his children.

Monday, October 20, 2014


People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.

There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.

Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.

Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ye Olde Ego

It's amazing how ye olde ego can sneak up on you.

I have, of late, had a bit of a drummer's resurgence. I have been a drummer since the age of fifteen. I have been in a working band since the age of twenty-ish. I have always enjoyed going out to play drums. But, somewhere between the ages of, say, thirty-ish and forty-ish, I started to put my songwriting and composition first and I started seeing drums as a small part of the big puzzle.

The new drums, on a gig. 
Then, I, for whatever reason -- I think it had a lot to do with having been inspired by the drumming of Gavin Harrison, recently -- I got psyched up for the skins again. I upgraded my beloved but tired old drumkit and bought new cymbals and, then, I started...dare I say it? I started practicing again, because, now, that tired old kit is in my little studio, permanently set up. (I have gone years without an actual acoustic kit set up in my house, warming up on practice pads and electronic kits, but it just ain't the same...)

But here's the weird thing: I have been practicing poorly. I just realized it the other day. You know what I have been doing? I've been playing stuff that is easy for me. Any novice musician knows that is no way to grow. I know it full well. Still...

...the other say, I tried something: playing patterns over a steady 3/4 (waltz) rhythm. (Inspired by Max Roach's "The Drum Also Waltzes", but with a slightly more complicated foot pattern.) Anyway, whatever level your musical knowledge is, let it suffice to say that doing this is more difficult than it sounds and, most importantly for this piece, much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I tried it a few times and just quit. Just stopped and moved onto something simpler. Today, driving in the car, it occurred to me why that was. I wasn't conscious of it, but I was saving face.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Morals, Law and the Yuck Factor

Is it yucky or is it not yucky for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Is it immoral or moral for consenting adult siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

Should if be a crime or not for consenting adults siblings to have an incestuous relationship?

(Please answer aloud.)

The venerable Peter Singer wrestled with this question recently because Germany is in the process of trying to figure out the last question.

I have question one pinned down: Yes. It is yucky. And I do think it should be yucky to all sane people. If you disagree with me, that is fine. It's what I think and feel.

Question two is tougher. It brings in lots of questions, including sanity and insanity and how these mental states relate to moral choices... I could give that a whole article, but that is not what I am up to here.

Question three, is difficult, too. Unless, of course, I answer from my gut. If I answer from my gut, I will be compelled to try to stop such yucky behavior. Should a harmless spider die because I think it is disgusting? Is homosexuality as much of a crime-able offense as incest just because I am heterosexual and am strongly averse to the idea of being with a man the same as I am averse to the idea of sex with a sibling?