I am a terrible parent. It’s ok. It hurt when I was first informed of it but I have had a few years for it to sink in and I am ok with it now. I can even say it out loud in front of people with a straight face and not a hint of a tear. What makes me a terrible parent? Well, if I am going by what others have told me it is because I am too honest with my son. Well that and I have a fucking potty mouth around him.
Now, I absofuckinglouetely agree with the latter part of that but the first part; no. I don’t accept that. I am honest with the boy. Yes. But I try and maintain some of the magic of childhood. There are still the wonderful mythologies of a Santa Claus and an Easter Bunny and the efficacy of your vote in elections. I still keep up those little fairy tales with him; keep some of the magic in his life.
But some things I just don’t believe should be sugar-coated – the real important wisdom’s that will serve in life – those have to be gotten into as soon as possible, child or not. There is no sense teaching them otherwise because unlike the myths of Santa and the Easter Bunny and voter efficacy, some things we tell our children about how the world works is going to stick with them for the rest of their lives. And I think we owe it to them to be as honest as possible, but in a way that prepares them, uplifts them, and makes them feel like a real person.
With that in mind, here are a few of the nuggets I have thrown out there for my son over the last 10 years. Some are more serious than others but they all have a place if properly presented and dissected in a safe environment and with a critical eye. Maybe you can bring them up with your own children. You know, like talking to your kids openly about hard shit. Yeah, that part of parenting. You can cut the profanity if you want but I recommend you keep it honest, sincere and intelligent. Children are more responsive to that then you might realize.
So, let’s get on with the wisdom.
Get over it and keep your shit together
This useful and evergreen piece of advice has been eloquently handed down from the ancient Stoic philosophers for generations, until it landed into the clumsy hands of a balding old man who drives a Kia in Wisconsin and became this laconic little gem.
We spend so much time whining and pining over situations that are out of our control that most of our life is consumed with lost possibilities behind us instead of the real possibilities ahead of us. I want to start my son early on understanding the difference between what you can control and what you can’t control and focusing all your time on the former and letting the latter go as often as possible. Being a child is basically a testament to how little is under your control and how much you just have to get over.
This means not throwing a shit fit when you don’t get what you want or something doesn’t turn out how you planned. Life doesn’t care about your plans and more often than not you are not going to get what you want. So get over it and keep your shit together. No temper tantrums. No whining. No sulking. Instead, let’s talk about it. How do you feel? Why do you feel that way? What can we do, that is under our control, to feel better?
But this piece of advice also means cultivating a sense of calm in difficult situations, because they will always come. From infancy to death you will be faced consistently with unbearable, heartbreaking moments that will be out of your control, and the value of them, the meaning and weight of them, will be had through how you react to them. What they teach you after the fact. And you can only be receptive to the lessons if you keep your shit together.
Don’t be a shithead
Little children are shitheads. Now before you throw a hissy fit about me saying that – with your eyes all wide and your mouth agape – be a serious human parent right now. Every parent has to admit that they have moments where there precious little angel is a shithead. If you don’t believe that then you are one of those parents that everyone hates because you either ignore the dumb shit your child does or you encourage the dumb shit your child does. Basically it boils down to the fact that children are masters at being irritating for no good reason except to see what they can get away with.
Like when you just take a toy from someone else for no reason because you want it. Like when you throw your food on the floor because you don’t want it. Like when you throw a handful of sand at a kid who stole your toy or willfully take a shit in your pants just because you don’t feel like using the toilet. Fine, maybe that last one is me, but the rest are certainly shithead behaviors of children.
The advice I give my son is about remedying the shithead behavior. Just be kind. Err on the side of compassion and understanding. Don’t try to make people feel bad. Walk away from small slights and only defend yourself in big slights if you really think it’s worth the pain; for you and for whoever is slighting you. Instead of all that shitheadery; be polite and open doors for people. Let people cut in line. Smile and say please and thank you. Do small things that make big ripples. Basically, just try to be that imaginary human that everyone talks about but no one really tries to be.
Get used to getting shit on
And this leads me to my next nugget of wisdom for the boy. Just get used to being shit on. Don’t take this to a pessimistic, people hating place. You don’t walk around hating the world because you know you are going to get shit on. You strut around in your best god damn suit, freshly dry cleaned, waiting for the world to do it’s best because when it does you will be dressed for the occasion.
Getting used to taking a beating in life is not bad advice. Its advice with science to back it up. Hormesis. The evidence of efficacy regarding Nietzsche’s philosophy that “what does not kill us makes us stronger.” I have written about Hormesis in the past, but what it basically says is; things that would otherwise kill us in large doses, when applied in smaller doses, can actually make us stronger in the process. Exercise is a simple example. You exercise too much for too long and you will die. But you control the dosage and manage the damage through rest and recovery, you get healthier.
Getting used to getting shit on develops mental resilience and strength of will. It sharpens an endurance that is necessary for succeeding in big things and above all, I tell my son to chase after big things, but get used to getting shit on in the process and never stop when you do. Having the fortitude to get back up when life knocks you down is a lesson most children already know. Walking. Potty training. Talking. These skills come in fits and starts with many failures. But they keep going. The best thing for a parent to do is translate that for them to the larger experience of life and let them know that it works the same way. You fuck up, or someone fucks something up for you, and you get back up and try it again.
People are assholes
I have already written about this topic as well but it bears repeating on a consistent basis; if only because it has never ceased to be wrong. People are fucking assholes. Oh my god. If you have a problem believing this, please send me whatever drugs, meditations, chakra cleansing enemas, secret doctrines, or magic fairy dusts you are using so I can catch whatever high you are on. Me, I think people are mostly assholes. Not really always assholes but certainly always capable of being assholes.
It’s understandable though. We are self interested animals and we have a hard time appreciating the reality that there are as many ways towards understanding the world and approaching happiness as there are people in the world. And having a difficult time putting ourselves in other people’s shoes makes it very easy to shit all over those shoes and rationalize it after the fact.
This can range from slow walkers in the grocery store to bullies at school to downright vicious acts of violence and hate, but the reality of life is that you are going to deal with a lot of difficult people. And I think the best way to deal with them is to try and have compassion for them. Seriously.
Most people are assholes because they hurt. Something bad happened to them or is happening to them and they don’t know how to handle it so it comes out in a shitstorm of anger and venom and vitriol. I know it’s not an excuse but it can be a reason for us to approach a bit of empathy for the pains in our lives and to realize how they manifest on others. As much as other people are assholes, each one of us is as well.
The only other way to deal with assholes is to be an asshole yourself. This is the nuclear option and I do not recommend it. Two assholes seem to attract more assholes and before you know it you have a whole Senate of Assholes. And yes, a group of assholes is called a Senate of Assholes. I just made that up but it should totally be a thing.
Everyone and everything dies
Oh, don’t look at me like that. You have already read the other advice I give my son so why should this shock you? It’s the most truthful piece of advice I offer him. The one that has the most validity and the most value.
Knowing that things are finite in this world is a wonderful motivator for all actions and behaviors. It gives us a perspective to love harder, live better, and be greater. You are finite. This is it. Every love you have will be in this world. Every accomplishment will be here in this world. Every person you meet and thing you do is anchored here and needs your attention and engagement. If you stop remembering that you stop living and start dying.
This is as much a statement of gratitude as it should be of relief. You should be grateful to have everything you have. To reflect on the loves you have or have had. The experiences. The chances and choices and the shattered glass resurrects of a heart that can still hold love. This is your chance. The only one you have. Be grateful you have even that shot.
And be relieved when your day comes. Relieved that you put everything out there into the world. Every drop of sweat and blood and tears and breath. You let the world have everything of you and you will be relieved to put down the weight of such a fulfilled life. You will have told your story and will be ready for the close. Those are the lessons of dying. It’s not a sadness, it is a possibility.
Now, before you get your puritan bonnets or undergarments in a bunch; this article is hyperbolic. Obviously. I don’t usually phrase the advice as bluntly as I have here. I can not fucking swear for 2 sentences if I want and I typically approach these conversations with a bit more eloquence and tact, as I have done with my son in the past. But sometimes you just have to give it to them plain. The way they are bound to hear it out there in nature because that’s what helps it to stick.
Yeah. Sometimes I lose my shit and it comes out as one of these pithy aphorisms. If that upsets you, eh. I am ok with that. Like I said, I am a terrible parent. I have plenty to learn about myself in this advice and I will keep working on it until I die. And besides, people are assholes. You should get over it and keep your own shit together. Don’t be a dickhead. You should be used to getting shit on and at least you can rest assured that everyone and everything dies. Including me.