We had some friends over for dinner this past weekend, a couple who are expecting their first child in a couple of months. And the mom-and-dad-to-be are smart enough and decent enough and passionate enough to already be putting a lot of mental energy into considering what kind of parents they’re going to be. (In other words, they’re a lot like me and my wife, or at the very least reminiscent of where we were at a little over two years ago.)
I should point out that I like this couple and there was no egregious artifice in having them out to our place for a meal, but at the same time to be brutally honest they are not top-tier friends. I don’t feel especially close to them, and they exist for me in the emotional sphere of warm regards, as opposed to deep affection. Some people have a small and tight inner circle of friends and relegate the rest of the world to passing acquaintanceship at best, and some people cast a wider social net and have very close friends as well as fairly close friends as well as just-okay friends as well as used-to-be-totally-good-friends, but-have-drifted-somewhat, but-still-make-the-effort-now-and-then friends, etc. My wife and I fall in the latter category.
It may seem like an odd thing to confess, but there it is, and the reason I confess it is because what struck me the most about the experience of hanging out with an expectant couple is how emphatic I was, all night, in expressing my opinions about parenthood, child-rearing, and such. Because I usually consider myself someone who keeps his own passions from boiling over, most of the time, except when I’m around people I know and trust and love. And slim though the margin may be, our weekend dinner guests do fall somewhat shy of those know-trust-love signposts I usually observe. Yet I spouted off volubly to them anyway.
Clearly this is the chink in my armor, where for metaphorical purposes my armor is my Gen X tendency to come at everything from a skewed, ironic perspective. If I may speak on behalf of all my generational cohorts, there’s a tendency to overemphasize really trivial things while underplaying the basic fundamentals. Of course I have really strong opinions about human nature and morality and spirituality and love and the things that actually, at the end of a lifetime, matter. But you’ll almost never hear me shouting about those things, certainly not as often as you’ll hear me going off about Star Wars or Batman or Arkanoid or a million other things which, although they’ve all been responsible for moments of true happiness in my life, do not actually in the final analysis matter in and of themselves. It’s just that the energy has to go somewhere, my self-expression has to have some outlet, and it’s easier or safer or less scary to get all worked up about lightsaber techniques because if someone dismisses what I’m saying as dumb, I already knew that it was. Whereas it’s harder to roll with it if I bare my soul about why I think we’re here, and someone says that’s dumb.
So I don’t know if it’s the fact that raising a child is such a new experience for me (yes, even still) that I haven’t developed the same mental defenses around it, or if it means more to me than almost anything else and the sheer force of that means it doesn’t particularly need to be defended, or what. Possibly both and a whole host of other factors besides. But this is my revelation-of-the-week, that I am fully capable of going way out on a wire, without a net, to speak at length to anyone who’s willing to listen about my own deeply-held convictions on the joys and struggles of parenting.
The funny thing is that what got me truly fired up was the whole notion of opinions and personal passions and how you should go about passing them on to your children. Or not, as the case may be. Because nothing drives me quite so crazy as seeing an infant dressed in a flagrantly, humorlessly political onesie (regardless of whether or not I happen to be sympathetic to the politics in question). Given how difficult I find it sometimes to be unironically opinionated, I should applaud anyone else who isn’t so circumspect, and in general I do, but using your offspring as a prop to that end just sets my teeth on edge. And I think the reason for that is because I think it’s important that children, in the self-actualizing process of growing up, should be able to form their own opinions about the Really Important Stuff, which is kind of hard to do if you’ve always been part of Daddy’s sloganeering apparatus.
And the irony does not escape me that my own little guy is too young to, for example, really say that he likes Spider-Man. He has, at best, the flimsiest notion of who Spider-Man is, despite owning two different t-shirts with the wall-crawler on them and (as of yesterday’s post-daycare shopping excursion when I took him to Target for shoes) a brand new pair of sneakers with a red and blue webbing motif. So you could say that I dress up my own child as part of Daddy’s geeking-out apparatus, and that may very well be true, but in this case I think it’s an undiluted positive to say that that’s ok because it’s all meaningless fluff. My little guy may grow up and decide he prefers a different pop culture touchstone, or maybe even that all of my juvenile obsessions are too lame for him, and that’s ok, because none of it really matters. For as long as it lasts, though, it’s some good harmless fun, and in the end, I’ll be able to live with whatever comes of it.