Back In One Piece, or, A Future Written Yesterday
July 28, 2006
SC&A usually like to present out guest pieces with a preamble, so as to provide you, our readers, with a sense of direction, or purpose.
This essay, written by John, author of The Sound of Muzik (a favorite blog) defies easy categorization. That isn’t surprising- John, too, is hard to peg. He is serious, irreverant, funny and poignant- and always honest and forthright. Mostly, John makes us think. He has been through a lot and he has seen a side of life most of us would not ever have to know about. Not all of the story is pretty, a lot of it is painful and all of it is riveting It is a testament to John’s remarkable life, achievements and insights.
We wanted to wait a bit before we posted this. It is a long and thoughtful essay that touches upon much of what we have discussed, either directly or by inference.
I’ve written this post numerous times and upon proofreading, I’ve concluded that I sound like a pompous ass. There’s no way around it.
I’m opinionated on subjects… but opinions do not an expert make. I realize this and I don’t pretend to be an authority on any subject. I’m not trying to convince anyone that I actually know what I’m talking about or even that I have experience in the areas of which I’ve formed opinions. Nonetheless, I intend to share my views in hopes that something I have to say makes sense to someone.
Let’s set the stage with a true story:
One of the guys I work with was retiring from the military and the decision was made to have the going away party at a topless bar. The group was howling at the girls on the stage, throwing dollars and making lewd comments. Just as one would expect a bunch of fun-loving guys in a room full of naked women to act. The place went dark in preparation for the next performance. There was smoke on the stage and the lights came up slowly as the girl began her dance. The place went wild…except for one guy. He realized that the girl he was lusting after was his 16-year-old daughter. Unaware of the situation, the rest of his friends continued to yell lascivious remarks at the girl.
Damn…that can ruin a party.
He pressed charges against the establishment because they hadn’t checked her ID before hiring her. The place was closed down due to the number of underage girls dancing there. A good number of men in that place had daughters that were older than the girls on the stage. There’s something sick about that.
This guy wasn’t willing to accept any of the responsibility for what his daughter had done. It was the fault of the people she hung around with, or the drugs she was doing, or something in the water.
I wasn’t actually at the party but he’s a friend of mine and confided in me about the incident. I asked why he didn’t put his foot down about the people she hung out with or the drugs she was doing. He said he didn’t want to tell her how to live her life she needed to learn how to make her own decisions. Besides, we can’t control everything our kids do.
She was 16-YEARS-OLD! Give me a break.
I don’t want people to tell me how to raise my kids so I don’t tell anyone how to raise theirs but honestly, we need to step back occasionally and see what kind of impact (or lack of) we’re having on their lives.
To think that we can influence the direction of our children’s’ lives is not naïve, although, I’ve been called naïve for thinking that way. I’ve been told that parents can’t compete with outside influences. People say that if we want our children to function in today’s society, we must conform to the “modern” ways of thinking. We must realize that oral sex isn’t considered a sexual act or that it’s acceptable for your daughter to wear a thong bikini in public. If we don’t let our children do what everyone else’s children are doing, we are guilty of sheltering them.
I try to teach my kids respect and integrity. I find myself contradicting the values of society when moral issues are raised at the dinner table. This makes things confusing for kids. I try to show some correlation between my beliefs and those of their peers and teachers but for the most part, they will need to figure it out on their own.
I am a Christian. Many people assume that I’ve lived my entire life as a Christian…that my parents were Christians…and that I’m some uptight, narrow-minded, ultra conservative that has never experienced “the other side of the track”. This assumption disqualifies me, in the minds of my critics, from having the ability to understand my teenagers.
I say pshaw.
I’ve come to find rest in God. Much needed rest at that but I haven’t forgotten my past. I understand the stressful environment of a teen. The nature of the stress may have changed since I was there but the trauma is the same. I’m fully aware of the troubles my kids face every day because I spend time with them and we talk to one another.
We call the time I spend with my kids “quality time” or “bonding”. There was a day when we didn’t need those labels because those things just happened. That’s what family was all about. I guess the occurrences are rare enough today that we need to define what’s happening. I spend this time gaining insight into the lives of my kids and I do my best to draw on my experiences to help them through the rough spots.
I try to minimize the undue stress in the lives of my teens. For example; I may very well be the only parent in the country that told my kids not to worry about the state level examinations in their schools. I even offered to pull them out for the testing cycle. They opted to go anyway. I think the fact that they weren’t being pressured into it was a factor in their decision. They went because I gave them a choice.
I will not have my children be stressed over a government sponsored cash cow program. Neither do I care if they see my rebellion against the stupidity of the system. I truly hope they learned something by it. Conformity is not always the best rule of thumb.
I’ve been rebuked for joking around with my kids because I’m “damaging their self-esteem”. I’ve raised my kids to have a sense of humor. I can call my son “stupid” if he does something stupid and he knows that it wasn’t a verbal assault, defamation, or malicious slander. Moreover, he’s learned to admit when he’s done something stupid. He calls me stupid if I blunder and I know he isn’t being disrespectful. I personally don’t care what onlookers think. We understand each other. My kids are sensitive enough to be empathetic and thick-skinned enough to ward off derision. I put great stock in the ability to laugh at adversity.
My sense of humor is probably the only reason I’m still alive.
I have vivid memories of my teenage years and I shudder to think that my kids may do the things I did. I don’t mean to be hypocritical but I cannot condone most of my adolescent experimentation with things such as drugs, sex, and the like. The reason I can’t bring myself to let my kids “experience” some things for themselves is that those things screwed me up at their age. I was in a self-destructive pattern designed to elicit attention from the adult world. In today’s terminology, I was a self-harmer. I would never have been content with merely cutting myself or other physical harm. I needed to ruin the entire package.
I wanted to be an individual and I felt like I couldn’t express myself at home (I’m sure you’ve heard that one before). Some parents tend to dismiss the concerns of their children because teens tend to be overly dramatic. There seems to be a fad among teens in our area to outdo the horror of each other’s lives. They make up stories about the emotional abuse they suffer at home or how terrible their living conditions are. I have to force myself to listen to my daughter retell the accounts of how every friend she has is living in hell on earth. Makes me wonder what her stories are like. Nonetheless, I listen because I don’t want her to feel ignored.
I felt ignored (even though I wasn’t) and I sought to do things that would shock society. I felt it was the natural thing to do because my upbringing had me thinking that girls were well behaved while boys were not. This thought entered my mind during one of my daily beatings. My father’s idea of discipline came in the form of a belt. He wouldn’t fold it like most abusive parents…he wanted to make sure I would catch the buckle and I always did. This is also where I learned the difference between discipline and injurious abuse. My sisters lived in fear of the punishment they saw me receive and were always very well behaved. I, on the other hand, was rebellious and became more so with every beating. I wasn’t afraid of anything because I felt there was nothing worse than what I was already going through.
I’ve heard people say that teens have more pressure in their lives today. They can’t cope. I hear a lot of talk about suicide, self-harming, drug abuse, and other destructive behavior as a means of escape. That’s no different than when I was a teen. We had stress. There were weapons brought to school, I fought every day, girls dumped me, my father abused me, blah, blah, blah. I drank, I did drugs, I thought about suicide.
I lost my best friend in third grade when his mother shot him in his sleep. That was the first time I can remember having thoughts of suicide.
In 8th grade, the girl I thought I was going to marry one day was killed by a drunk driver while crossing the street in front of our school. I was waiting for her on the other side and didn’t know what to do as she lay twitching in the middle of the road. I could barely handle the guilt. I watched her die and did nothing.
My best friend in High School came out of the closet in our senior year which implicated me as a homosexual, opening my life to unwarranted ridicule. It all stopped when my friend took his life with a shotgun upon his father’s reaction to the news.
There were a few times my girlfriend had missed her period. Those were some tense moments.
Most every week in my childhood was accompanied by thoughts of suicide. I was depressed, I was under pressure, I didn’t know how to cope.
So, can I relate to my kids?
Yeah…and then some. The difference is, I’m there for them. My kids thank me all the time for good advice I’ve given them. I get to hear how they implemented an idea that I gave them and how well it worked out. I don’t remember ever having those conversations with my dad. Actually, I don’t remember many conversations at all with my dad…mostly screaming and pleading with him to stop hitting me.
I often made bad choices just so I could feel like I was in control of my life. If I made all the right choices, I would have done so only because someone told me to. So the bad choices were king. I joined the church of Satan because I liked the reaction I got from people when I told them about it. Satanism is what introduced me to drugs and casual/ritual sex. These activities only worsened my already weak mental state. I was committed for psychiatric evaluation at age 17. I was diagnosed as a manic-depressive sociopath. So now I had a label to add to my already screwed up self-image.
My mistakes were my own. I tried to blame my parents, but realized that their problems were caused by their parents and so on. The abuse in my family (both sides) stretches back for more than 4 generations. I decided it was time to break the cycle.
The path to maturity, for me, was long and difficult and, even now, I continue to struggle with finding my way.
Naturally, I want things to be easier for my kids. I would never blaze a path into the forest only to leave my offspring to find their own way. I will always offer my trail for their use in order to make their journey less burdensome but I won’t demand they use it. However, I will ask that they stay close enough to find their way back.
It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child but that only works if you can get the entire village to agree rather than contradict one another.
Of course, that statement was made by the village idiot.
There is nothing beyond pure academics that I want the “village” teaching my children. I can teach them values on my own. I couldn’t care less if my values differ from those of the “village” I can handle the ridicule. Besides, I’m not impressed with what I see when I view the “village” objectively. Society as a whole is far more screwed up than my family, so why would I ever rely on what society says is a child rearing best practice. I don’t give a rat’s ass what the majority says. The majority, in my opinion, is represented by the group with the most whiners and the rest of us fall in line like the good little sheeple we are because we have acceptance issues.
That said: I encourage my kids to form and voice their own opinions and they are allowed to disagree with me. I allow them to assert themselves within the boundaries of respect. I encourage individualism.
However, if one of my children blatantly disregards the values I have taught them, I know it isn’t because they have suddenly become enlightened beyond the limits of my own wisdom but because they want my attention…and they’ll get it. I believe that we should actually PARTICIPATE in raising our children. Child rearing is not the responsibility of the school system, the government, or psychiatric community. The more we pay attention to our children, the better we will know them and consequently, the easier it will be to fulfill their emotional needs.
Think about this:
Psychologists make their money parenting adults. A proactive parent can save their kids a fortune in therapy bills.
I know that I sound old school but I am certainly not old-fashioned in my way of thinking and my kids are anything but sheltered. I was raised in a liberal household and I see that it screwed me up just as bad as any conservative environment could have.
My kids are in their teens and I trust them both. They follow my rules (most of the time) and I reward them with privileges commensurate with their level of maturity.
At the same time, I feel it’s my responsibility to relate to them, not the other way around, so I’m willing to step out of my role as the domestic authority in order to make a connection. I’ll play video games with my kids instead of telling them that the games are rotting their brains. Then, when I say it’s time to stop, they are more willing to comply. I work on building credibility with them before demanding they follow all kinds of rules.
It only takes a moment to demand respect but it takes time, trust, and credibility to EARN respect. Even tougher than that is the establishment of MUTUAL respect. These are the things that make a successful parent. Any rabbit can pump out a litter but that doesn’t qualify it to be a parent.
I don’t claim to be successful. In fact, I’ve made more mistakes than I care to admit. That’s where I’ve gained my insight.
I’ve heard it said that kids are more difficult to raise these days. Well, kids haven’t changed; we have. How is it that even though we were all teenagers at one point, we view our own kids as aliens?
The circumstances and situations our kids encounter have changed due to societal shift but they are still the same species. We need to educate ourselves in the difference between their influences and the ones we faced. We accept and condone things that would never have been allowed when we were kids. As a whole, we view this as progress.
When I was a teen, sex was actually safe and we didn’t need a laboratory to get high. My biggest concerns were herpes and bad mushrooms but that doesn’t mean I would want my kids to act the way I did…even in those days. I made lousy choices when left on my own and so will my kids. All I can do is try to minimize the damage and hope that they retain the values I’ve tried to teach.
But what about those outside influences?
When I was a junior in high school, I knocked a tooth out of the head of some guy that called my sister a whore. Today, every girl’s a “ho” and we’re ok with it. I can’t wait to hear some punk assed freak call my daughter “bitch” or “ho”. I know I can get probation…as long as someone stops me before I kill him. So…yeah…I’m old fashioned in that regard.
I’m also old-fashioned when it comes to the definition of sex. I think that sexual pleasure goes hand in hand with sexual activity. I don’t care what hole you put it in.
I would have been thrilled as a teen if society had decided that oral sex was no longer considered a sexual activity. I can imagine what would have been going on at the bus stops every morning.
Hey, what’s the big deal? According to today’s values, there’s no difference between cunnilingus, fellatio, and a sneeze. Rationalization is the new fashion.
Speaking of fashion: Is it just me or does the new look seem to be “modern slut”?
I’ll let my daughter wear (modestly) short skirts and tight jeans etc…but there are limits. It seems that the word “obscenity” has been stricken from the English language in the name of self expression. I’ll even let my kids pierce and tattoo themselves. I just ask that we discuss the implications of the KIND of tattoo they get. I don’t desire to make my kid’s lives miserable; I just want to be an active contributor.
No one wants to deny happiness to their children. Is it cruel to deny them the opportunity to explore their sexual urges? My son was obsessed with guns when he was 10 but I didn’t put an M16 in his hands.
Actually, I did let him shoot an M16 when he was 10 but I was there to supervise. I can’t say that I’m going to be there to make sure he uses a rubber during sex.
Face it; no matter how we word it, we are encouraging our children to tempt fate. It’s all dangerous but we send them out there with safeguards that will only reduce the risks. There is no full protection.
If I let a toddler experiment with a garbage bag, the chances are he won’t tie it over his head and suffocate but I’m not willing to take the chance.
Condoms are not 100% effective as a form of protection. Hopefully, the one percent of parents that stand next to a hospital bed watching their kid drown in their own body fluid will find comfort in the value of exploration.
I’ve educated my kids in the use of personal protection but I will not let that be confused with encouragement to participate. Conversely, I will not teach my kids that sex is evil. I understand that they will do what they want. All I can do is prepare them to make informed and mature decisions.
My kids certainly do not lead charmed lives. We’ve been through hell but we went there together. I’ve shed tears for them. I’ve sobbed. I’ve had to watch, helplessly, as one of my children wrongfully suffered at the hands of our judicial system. I’ve also watched that same child pull through it with a level of maturity that I’m not sure I possess myself. To see one of my kids labeled as a felon because the system views teenagers as inherently bad was more than I could stomach. I nearly sacrificed my career in dealing with this situation. I spent so much time researching and talking with lawyers that my job performance dropped dramatically. I had gone from a stellar employee to a “slacker”.
Sometimes that’s the price we pay to make the right choices.
I’ve seen parents throw their hands up and say “my child is out of control. There’s nothing I can do”. I try to imagine the point where I would give up on either of my kids. At what point would their issues and problems become too inconvenient or too frustrating for me to deal with? If I had to dedicate the rest of my days tending to the needs of one of my children, I would do so.
We all have to ask the question: “How much of my life am I willing to sacrifice for my family?”
Hopefully the answer is the same when times get tough.
If I were to ignore the needs of my children or take an apathetic stance in the face of their issues, I am guilty of an abuse that is far worse than anything I had to endure.
I’m not saying that I have this parenting thing figured out but I’ve seen too many situations where a parent’s career or “personal needs” take precedence. I’ve heard parents claim that they don’t get enough “me time”. Well, you’ve already had your “me time”, that’s where your kids came from. Time is something that needs to be invested in the things you feel are important and your kids know this. We should be sure we are sending the right message.
Again, these are my opinions based on my own experiences, which are different than yours. I don’t expect that my methods or ideology would work for anyone but me.
Thanks for reading.
This post was originally publuished on April 21, 2005