Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why It Sucks To Be A Dad

"Next you're going to tell me Mon Mothma is my mother!"
Becoming a parent is a life-altering experience, but I suppose that goes without saying.  My wife and I didn't go into it blind, though.  It was part of The Plan when we got married.  Having kids was a conscious choice made by two consenting adults of (relatively) sound mind and (sometimes questionable) judgement.  It was a huge shock to the system, but it wasn't a shock.  I mean, we weren't ready to be parents, and we knew that, which is an important place to start for any potential parents.  If you think you're ready to be a parent you are most definitely not ready.  As a parent you automatically seem to just know other parents all of the sudden, almost like they can fucking smell it on you.  Somehow they always seem to know and they always come over to talk about kid shit (usually literally and sometimes figuratively). 

One thing I hear a lot of from parents is complaining.  And the more I hear, the more I fear for future generations, because if their parents are already this stupid, what chance do they have?  They've probably inherted their parents' stupid gene, and if they were lucky enough to dodge that bullet, they have a lifetime of stupidity indoctrination to overcome.  The odds are not in most of their favours.  I hear stupid shit like "I'm not getting enough sleep," or "I don't have any time to myself," or "My spouse and I aren't having as much sex as before," or "It's so much harder to go anywhere in public or to go on trips," or "I don't have as much money as I used to."  And when I hear this stupid shit all I can think is "Well, duh!"  What the fuck did you think was going to happen?  Your wife would pop out a kid, you'd put him in his bedroom for eighteen years and then you'd open the door to find a yuppie in a cheap business suit ready to head off to a dead end job like his dear old dad while the two of you travelled around the world getting into adventures like Indiana Jones?  I mean, before he found out that his kid turned out to be Shia Labeouf and had to live with that terrible, terrible disappointment.

Now I'm not saying that all those complaints aren't valid, because they're all true.  Becoming a parent means that you have to give up a lot of your independence and "freedoms."  My wife and I weren't entirely prepared, because you really can't be, but we went into the whole parenting thing with our eyes open.  There have been a lot of sleepless nights.  There's been a lot of the household budget reallocated from my DVD/Blu-Ray fund to diapers and tiny clothes.  There's been a lot of time redistributed to playing at parks that normally would have been spent playing video games or watching movies.  I can't just pop out to the movie theatre or the bar with friends.  There's no such thing as "popping out" any more.  Any excursion requires days -if not weeks- of logistical planning.  There's not a whole lot of going out with just my wife any more.  Apparently it's technically illegal to leave your three year old at home babysit your six month old while you go out with your wife to do score blow in a back alley before robbing a liquour store and beating a drifter to death with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup.  Well, I guess it's all kind of a legal grey area really.  The point is kids make life more complicated and I have now lost more shirts to puke and urine than I have socks to semen.

But all that shit doesn't bother me, really.  I mean there are some shitty days when I lose my temper and I wish that for one hour my life was less complicated.  And I don' feel guilty admitting that some days I don't want to come home from work and don't want to deal with kids.  Some days it seems like it would be great not to have a family.  But that (usually) passes pretty quickly.  When I think about the birth of my children, and all the milestones, and all the triumphs, and all the shit, and all the times my daughter ran to the door smiling to greet me after work and all the times my son laughed when I sneezed and all the times that little bastard peed on me while I tried to change his diaper and he got that satisfied look on his face and I couldn't help but smile because I know that satisfied feeling after a good piss, and all the times my daughter asked me to go into the basement to visit King Kong or Yoda or have a light saber battle and everything more than balances out.  Having kids -despite all inconveniences- is actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I wouldn't trade them for anything (unless the price was right).

No, I am not quite the asshole I may have led you to believe with the title of this article.  No one could be that terrible.  Or could they...?  Congratulations.  You might be slightly less stupid than I probably assume you are.  Now comes the volta of my article, where I turn everything on its head.  Having kids isn't the worst part of being a dad at all.  The worst part about being a father is being percieved as being as being a father.  And I'm not talking about the Dirty Old Man Syndrome where middle-aged, married dudes somehow seem to require the attention (or percieved attention) of much younger women to somehow validate their own self images.  What I'm talking about is how one's identity is constructed, or at least interpreted.  It's essentially the same problem I have with people asking me what I do for a living, as if that's going to tell you anything about who I am as a human being.  It's not that I particularly hate my chosen career, it's that I hate getting pigeon-holed (or corn-holed) by a complete stranger because of my vocational preference or because of a biological function.   I remember both times being at the hospital for the birth of my kids and being referred to by the nursing staff as "the father" even when I was standing right there and they could have just as easily called me "hey you," or "that guy," or "mister" or "sir" or assigned me a number based on the order in which I came into the maternity ward.  It just really bugged me being referred to as "the father."  They way they used it seemed like such an antiseptic term.  Cold and impersonal.  You might as well just have called me "walking sperm bank."  All of the sudden my entire identity was boiled down to depositing my sperm into a viable uterus.

I hate having to play all these fucking social games with people, but sometimes it's necessary to expedite an undesireable interaction so I have to play my role.  But what makes it worse is that my identity apparently has to be boiled down to some single facet that every slack-jawed yokel can easily digest.  On the other hand, I suppose you're sitting there scratching your head wondering quietly to yourself how we're supposed to get to know each other if we can't ask each other mundane questions about our jobs and familial relations.  How else do we begin to piece together the identity of a person we just meet if we can't start playing amateur detective and gathering tedious facts about their life?

This is a problem.  I will concede... well, nothing.  I have found a solution to replace the annoying aspect of social interaction known as "small talk" thanks to one Chuck Klosterman.  If you don't know who Chuck Klosterman is then do yourself a favour and stop reading this and go out to the nearest bookstore (or for the socially crippled) and pick up any one of his books and I guarantee instant, lifelong hapiness.  Suffice it to say the man is a genius well ahead of his time.  For Christmas I recieved a somewhat unorthodox gift.  It is a product called Hypertheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations which is essentially a box filled with fifty cue cards each with a hypothetical question written on it.  The product's author is Chuck Klosterman (see how it all ties together?) and most of the hypotheticals (or maybe all of them, I'm not sure) you'll recognize from his books, at least one of which you've finished reading which is why I assume you're back here. 

Anyway, Klosterman offers a little explanation about this product on one of the cards, which I suppose technically brings the count up to fifty-one and makes one of my earlier sentences wrong, but I was younger then and impetuous.  I've changed now, I assure you.  In his introduction he says, and I quote:

"Some people are extremely good at making small talk.  These people are better known as "idiots."  These are the kind of humans who can talk to a stranger for 40 minutes without learning anything essential about who that stranger is - they talk about the weather and about other people, and they mention what kind of car they drive and how old their children are.  They have conversations in public that are ultimately no different than silence in an empty room."

To me this makes so much fucking sense.  Like countless others before me I have endured excrutiating social interactions at various gatherings with friends of friends and complete strangers that I have had to have inane, soul-sucking conversations with apparently mind-numbingly boring, vanilla-flavoured automatons who apparently lead even more boring lives than a blind nun.  And although sometimes I've tried to break the mould I know that in some situations I've probably fallen victim to the Small Talk Syndrome (women know about shrinkage, right?)  myself and bored someone else to death.  And during the whole process, the final phase of which is discussing the terrible wedding reception/bar-mitzvah/baby group/family gathering/highschool reunion/Uncle Frank's release from prison and meeting his new boyfriend party with a fellow victim -be it a friend, colleague, or in my case usually my wife- we end up deconstructing each other so that we end up simply boiling people down into archetypes that we file away in various, oft-forgotten realms of our brain RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-style.  We file under S for Sports Guy.  We file under A for Aggressive Vegetarian.  We file under C for Cunt.  We file under D for Dad.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  In his intro to Hypertheticals Chuck Klosterman goes on to say:

"... I see no value in asking someone a friendly, nonadversarial question if neither party cares what the answer is.  Instead, I prefer to ask questions where the solution is irrelevant - I pose hypothetical questions where how one answers the query matters far more than the literal conclusion.  There is no "right" answer to these kinds of questions.  The end never matters; what matters is how you get to the end.  What matters is how you think, not what you think."

Fucking brilliant.  However, where Klosterman's intent with these cards seems to be to create more stimulating conversation and more engaging social interaction to me it becomes more a question of identity.  Or more acurately, perception of identity.  If we took his advice to heart, if we asked each other questions about being trapped inside Bruce Springsteen's body or about kicking a friend in the ribs to save his life, then we cut through the bullshit and right to the heart of the matter.  I mean, what's the point of asking me questions that are easily (and somewht troublingly) available on the internet?  But if you ask me a hypothetical situation, if we enter into actual dialogue that requires us to explain how we arrived at a certain conclusion, not only might we have had a more interesting conversation, but also at the very least we might file each other under more interesting archetypes.  File under N for non-linear thinker.  File under P for Potential Psychopath. 

More importantly, though, engaging with each other in this way is far more productive.  Being a dad is great, but it's not the be all and end all of my identity.  Nor is being a teacher.  Nor is my obsession with watching and collecting movies.  Nor is my penchant for STAR WARS merchandise.  These things are not the beginning of who I am: they are byproducts of how I think.  What I do is a result of how I percieve the world around me, and that method of perception is at the very core of how we construct identity.  I think if one of the nurses at the hospital had asked me a question about whether or not I would save a friend from a grizzly bear attack in order to avoid a lifetime of rain (just buy Hypertheticals and read the damn thing) I think it would have eased some of the tension I was under at the time and I wouldn't have had to be just "the dad."  In a perfect world, in a perfect world...             



  1. Thanks to severe emotional problems I was THIS close to crying while reading about the joys of fatherhood.

    Then the usual eerie calm settled in and I felt nothing.

    Good article. Good 'un.