The tree and the fruit

Do you remember your initial thoughts when your first child was laid in your arms?  I remember mine.  I picked Parker up, looked at him and thought, “If he turns out to be a jerk it will be my fault.”

I realize that thought was only accurate to a point.  There are many factors involved in how a child turns out.  That thought came with a feeling of overwhelming responsibility.  I was in charge of another human being.   I didn’t always change my underwear every day and now ,suddenly, I was qualified to be in charge of another human’s cleanliness. Somewhere fate was  laughing at me.

I wasn’t completely in charge.  I was pretty sure his mom would make sure he was fed and clothed and clean and all that stuff.  I wasn’t sure of my role at first.  I figured at some point I would teach him how to burp the alphabet and pee outside, but mostly I just walked around wondering what I should be doing.

Eventually, I just pitched in with everything.  After awhile, I got pretty good at taking care of a baby.  I have never flinched from a dirty diaper, I know what the right temperature is for a bottle and I love midnight feedings.  Really . . . I do.  A parent is never more of a hero than when they give food to their crying, hungry baby.  One minute the baby is lying there all  hungry and crying and alone and the next moment there is a big warm mommy or daddy with a bottle and hugs and stuff and the world is right.  I loved the eye contact and touches that came with the feedings.  I miss that.  My boys won’t let me cuddle them and touch them will they are eating anymore.  Eli says it is “cweepy.”

At some point I realized that my first thought was somewhat valid.  I was in charge of this child and therefore a key force in his development.  I realize there are countless factors that effect the development of a child, but I have to believe it starts with parents.  Charlie and Eli are sponges they soak up everything they see.

Admittedly their absorption rates vary greatly by subject.  One little curse muttered under my breath is used in context at dinner by Charlie and chanted Gregorian style by Eli at school.  They also absorb “at home” euphemisms and they regurgitate them up inappropriate places.  I once referred to the boys’ backsides as their ‘onions’.  I guess I did it because their baby butts are cute and round . . . I don’t know . . . I guess being a guy I couldn’t just call them butts . . . anyway . . . I called Eli’s butt his onion.       This devolved into episodes of him sticking his backside out and saying “smack my onion!” in places like grocery stores and airports.  Except he can’t so much say onion and it came out as ‘ungun’.  In both cases the behavior is less than desirable and completely my fault.  It is interesting to note that their behavior example absorption rate is alarmingly low when it comes to things like not burping in public, pushing in their chairs, chewing with their mouths closed and not climbing over the back of the couch.

The problem with being responsible for how another person interacts with society is that you won’t really know, generally, if you are doing something wrong until it’s too late.  I mean I still don’t know the long term ramifications of the ‘onion’ incident.  We may not have seen the last of it.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some common sense involved.  You have to know that overt behaviors you practice are going to be displayed by your kids.  Comedian Denis Leary was recently quoted as saying that children are not born with racism, that they learn it.  He said the only thing his two-year-old son hates is naps.  I agree.

Equally, I believe a child will pick up on things they aren’t taught as well.  Like responsibility and discipline.  Remember Ethan Couch?  He is the Texas teenager who drove his Dad’s pick-up truck into a group of people near a stalled car on the side of a road.  His blood alcohol content was 0.24 and he was driving at 70 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone.  Four people were killed.  I am reasonably certain that this drunken rampage was not the first sign that Ethan was missing some essential tools for operating in society.  How do I know?  That was his defense at trial.

His defense was based on “affluenza” the name the media gave to his attorney’s assertions that his wealthy family coddled him and he never developed a sense of responsibility.    His lawyers claimed he couldn’t be responsible the accident because he never developed a sense of responsibility.  Hmmm.  My grandfather would have called that being a “spoiled little shit”.  Here’s my thought, if this was a one-time incident (Google the case of a sense of how unlikely that is), then nobody would have thought to claim he never had a sense of responsibility.  They would claim it was an accident.  A witness also testified that immediately after the accident he looked at one of his passengers and said basically the he was Ethan Couch and he would get them out of that.  How do you suppose he came to believe that?  Incidentally, he was sentenced to rehab and 10-years of probation because his folks didn’t serve him responsibility in the morning with his affluent breakfast cereal.

I’m not saying that if you don’t run a tight ship and make sure your kids have responsibilities strapped to them like life preservers that they will become Ethan Couch.  I’m saying that I have a responsibility to my sons and the people they will meet to do my best to make sure they aren’t jerks.

So far things are going pretty well.  Sometimes Charlie and Eli sing songs about their butts.  Parker is working 50 hours a week to save money for his wedding this summer.  He has been working there for five months and he was recently made supervisor of his section.  All my boys are polite and pleasant . . . at least to strangers.  They say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  They are respectful to me and reverent to their mothers.  That last one is a deal-breaker.  There is no other person in the world as important as a kid’s mother, in my opinion. We don’t disrespect our mothers here.

We won’t know how this thing plays out for awhile, but it looks good right now.  We give the boys all the tools we can.  We aren’t perfect and they won’t be either.  In this case, maybe its not about being perfect.  Maybe its about making the effort.

Thanks for reading.  We’ll see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.







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