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.

Quality time

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.

Cooking

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.

Play

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.

Trade

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.

Communicate

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.

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* 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?”

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