Monday, April 30, 2012

The Price of Difference

Ever since my boys were born, I have been trying to piece together an accurate picture of what I was like when I was a child. I'm not sure how well I am doing, but I know that some of my success as a dad depends on figuring it out.

In my memory, there doesn't remain a lot of negative stuff. I got teased a little, but that doesn't feel like a big section of the tapestry of my life. I spent a lot of time by myself, but I enjoyed it -- still do. I went through spells of jealousy that I wasn't one of the most popular kids, but, still, I had friends. When I look back, I can see occasions when the door to superficial popularity was opened for me; timidity, not superior logic, saved me from stepping through.

I was a good athlete, but never one of the best -- I was always a "starter" but never really a standout on the field; I got to be either the hero or the goat on several occasions. 

On Valentine's day, in grade school, I got quite a few less Valentines than a lot of the kids (this is before teachers started "protecting" our kids by requiring each student to provide Valentines for everyone), but by high school, I found I got along well with most "groups" of kids. People seemed to like me because I never drew lines around them, especially not boundary lines. I found high school generally insulting and constantly boring (except for English class, where I was allowed to generate my own ideas) and I never wanted to be there after the afternoon bell or after practice was over. I wasn't one of those kids who went to games I wasn't playing in or to any nighttime functions that I could avoid. 

On the whole, I have no real attachment to my high school years, though I am happy to have learned that a few of my classmates, with whom I have recently reconnected, have become extraordinary adults.
Past moments of happiness remain vivid to me. They usually involve solitude and a pair of stereo headphones; or a book; or a blank sheet of paper; or an impossibly silent pine forest at dawn. But they also include summer nights of deep conversation with good friends and the friendships that can only come from making music with others.

But what I can't seem to get a hold of is how much I suffered, especially as a kid, as a result of the fact that I did "my own thing." If I can't figure that out, how can I gauge how much my kids can take? -- especially on nights when they hit me with sadness about not "fitting in"?

Like tonight.

One thing I did, as a kid, was to think for myself. Somehow I had an instinctual understanding that if the majority of people did a particular thing, that thing was probably foolish. I could sit happily at a clandestine basement party and watch everyone else get plastered and not care a jot for the "peer pressure" all of the adults had warned me would be so hard to resist. I was never roped into doing "bad" things because my friends were. But the thing I remain most proud of is that I never joined in with the crowd when they were making fun of another kid. As a result of these qualities, I walked the social borders a bit.

But did it hurt me a lot? Did I feel like an outcast? I just don't remember it very much, if it did. For me, the price of being different doesn't feel, in retrospect, to have been very high. But are the blemishes of the past getting beautified by distance? 

If I'm remembering accurately, then maybe we who tell tales of the woes of "growing up" are just melodramatic purveyors of brownish-purple prose. (We all love to tell a good suffering story, because we look like the emergent heroes in them.)

If I am not remembering accurately, I am in danger of underestimating the pain of my children.

It's one hell of a job, the parent-thing. 

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