My Own Good News

Blogging has been light lately, as work has heated up a bit at the same time that my oldest son (Biggest Guy) came home from his first year at college, and my other two sons (Middle Guy and, unsurprisingly, Littlest Guy) finished out their school years, which always seems to involve a lot of interaction for me as a parent, both in terms of one-on-one with the boys, and in terms of school activities which I just can’t bring myself to miss.

Actually, that’s a misstatement – it’s not that I can’t bring myself to miss it, in the sense that it’s a chore I endure – but that I’ve come to delight in it.

Part of the philosophical change I’m going through is an appreciation of the pleasures of this kind of everyday life; in my own life it’s a true gift to have learned that I can have as much fun sitting at Little League closing ceremonies chatting with my neighbors as I can have doing the other, higher-profile things I love.

Much of what I plan to write about in the next month or so is both critical – of the fact that we seem to have trouble with the mundane details of things, and that we look on them as obstacles to the grand Romantic gestures that too many of us convince ourselves are what matter – and hopeful, because when you get away form the Washington-New York-Los Angeles media axis, and out to the Little League fields, lots of people do center their lives around the small accomplishments that real life is made up of.

I don’t deny the attraction of Romantic acts, or of introspection, or even of snobbery and elitism – and I think that a world made entirely of dutiful suburban communities would be horribly bland.

But somehow, the pendulum has swung a little to far from those kind of virtues, and I’d like to see it swing back.

I’ve been blessed to be led there by my three wonderful sons – for those of you who don’t have children, or who have young children, I cannot tell you what quiet elation comes from sitting with your son and realizing that you like and admire the man he is becoming. The credit is his alone, but the pleasure – that’s mine.

16 thoughts on “My Own Good News”

  1. I’m caught halfway in that place. I know exactly what you mean by this, but I continue to find most of the things that most people enjoy to be boring and uninteresting.

    Perhaps I’ll come to see it differently as I age. Part of me hopes so. My son is a constant source of joy to me, yet I find sitting around at soccer games not particularly fun–I enjoy his enjoyment, but that’s about all, and keep hoping hell find interest in more intellectual endeavors. That’s where his dad’s always been, ever since he was a young boy.

    I’d never pressure him in that direction, merely show him the way. I wonder at times if I’m a bad father, because normal things like sports and socializing with neighbors mostly bores me, and I prefer solitary persuits.

  2. It bored me at first as well, and I ‘tolerated’ it because I wanted to be a good dad. Sounds like you do too…

    But somehow I’ve found something in it that’s hard to explain….not impossible, I hope.

    And I’ve come to believe that there is a philosophy and politics one can advocate that’s based on it.


  3. I know what you mean, though my children are still small, I rarely feel obliged to be there, I want to be there when something is going on. Maybe it is because I waited until I was in my 30’s to have kids; I was finally willing to give some of my time to kids.

  4. Dean/A.L.

    I think you are both describing feelngs that all parents go through. I have two girls, 11 and 16, but the issues are similar.

    When they were younger, I too resented going to the Grade 1-6 concerts, where every song grated on ears used to listening to CD quality sound produced by professional musicians.

    That started to change when I noticed the effects on them when the grandparents did or did not show up. I got to thinking, “How would they react if Mom and/or Dad were no-shows”? This could be seen in the faces of kids whose parents did NOT show.

    The conscious decision to start a family is usually accompanied by much soul searching and introspection, and the realization that another entity will have future claim on your time. The days of all fun and play are over! Unfortunately, not every parent reaches, or maintains, this feeling of responsibility.

    The events are still boring on one level, but on the deeper level of raising a child to take his/her place as a considerate, responsible adult to take YOUR place in society, this boredom is replaced by a deep and satisfying sense of pride and joy that “Yes, I have taken on the ultimate responsibility (raising the next generation) and am succeeding.”

    This becomes especially prominent as they get older, and you see them acting in more adult ways (debate teams, high school sports, field trips to faraway locations [the 16 y/o went to France in April 2003]) the boredom is completely overcome.

    As for “pressuring” a child?? Forget it! It is guaranteed that if you try to force your child in a particular direction, the child will go in the opposite direction. The most you can do is break trail for them, and hope they follow you. They may branch off on their own, and follow a different path, but as long as you continue on, the chance exists that they will return to your path. (In my own case, I returned to my parent’s recommended path at about 39 y/o, after heading down many dead end paths)

    If they take a different path, and they ask for help, you should give it. Who knows, you might learn something new and useful.

    Philosophy & politics-

    I agree you can articulate and follow a P&P based on the above.

    It boils down to the desire to see your family, neighbors, society, and race (I’m speaking of the entire human race, not the different colors found) continue successfully after your death. Your actions in life can be totally selfish, giving you all the material comforts and power you want, but leaving the world worse for your children, or you can devote the effort to leave things better for your kids than they were for you, while still getting some of the things you want. This is not an either/or decision, but covers a large range of actions. You can choose where you stand on this range, and most probably will move about during your life.

    I’ve just run out of time, but hope I’ve given some food for thought here.

    Thanks for posting on this most interesting topic and giving me (and others) a forum for discussion,

  5. Dean, Armed-Lib and Friends,
    When I get present to the miracle of life, MY life, then I am in awe of virtually everything. I am aware that today, NOW, is MY LIFE. I have LIFE, HERE… NOW… and on to the next here, now, and the next, and the next…

    I’ve been hooked, addicted to ‘some day’, ‘real soon now’ and ‘we’ll see’… I’ve sacrificed them for “I bear witness… I testify AT THIS MOMENT…” because there IS NO OTHER moment.

    Am I gushing? Do you feel turned off by my openness? And yet, you have the courage to admit that things in your life aren’t working too well, so I share with you… being present to the miracle of life, here and now, lets me enjoy what is enjoyable to my sons, my wife, me, us, those with whom we’re sharing our life… I’m in love.

    Friends, this is NOT a practice for the ‘real thing’, despite the clergy who want us to wait for ‘someday’… I’m alive! I AM ALIVE, so help me God!

  6. AL, Phil, et. al.

    My kids are 7, 5, & 2 so I am right with you.

    I’ve learned to use soccer, piano recitals, and dance recitals as time to turn off my mind until my kid is actually doing something.

    I chat with the other parents, but don’t expect much from it. Part of this is my absolute inability to remember names, though I will remember what they *do* for years.

    But I have slowly been assembling an interesting group of could-be-friends (who are not in the High-Tech field!) for cookouts and a monthly poker game. A car sales manager, a retired lawyer and late-life dad, a finance manager at a cell phone company, a marketing consultant, the CEO of a local biotech.

    Not a computer/software person in the lot. And quite a variety of education, from high-school to Ph.D.

    And all of them effortlessly take my money on alternative Saturday nights on the back porch.

    Somehow I’ve turned into what I always wanted my parents to be – there, involved, less-frequently-pissed-off-than-other-dada, friends with their friends parents.


  7. I can relate so well to your entry — and it appears that everyone commenting also knows just what you are talking about. From the moment my eldest was born I knew that I had to treasure each moment, to savor all of those mundane daily events — a baby’s laugh, a toddler piling blocks, “Look Daddee, see birdie,” and soccer games and softball games and music lessons and computer games and hikes and “Dad, can I borrow your car?” — and now my youngest, my baby, will be starting college in the fall. Never fear, my eldest and his wife will be producing a grandson next month and the cycle can being again.

  8. “…when you get away form the Washington-New York-Los Angeles media axis, and out to the Little League fields, lots of people do center their lives around the small accomplishments that real life is made up of.”

    A society without these ‘small’ accomplishments doesn’t HAVE any Grand Romantic gestures – unless it’s self-immolation, because that society will be coming apart.

    What we see at these times is mundane, but this kind of low-level civil get-together is the base of the “democracy food chain.” Like plankton in the ocean, it’s everywhere, almost unnoticed, and the building block for all of the grand stuff that sits on top.

    “But somehow I’ve found something in it that’s hard to explain….not impossible, I hope. And I’ve come to believe that there is a philosophy and politics one can advocate that’s based on it.”

    I look forward to the explanations. As for the philosophy, Amitai Etzioni’s Communitarian movement is probably your best place to start:

    “The easy part is identifying what has gone wrong with America: the pendulum has swung too far toward a preoccupation with individualism. Too many people shirk their communal and civic responsibilities. Special interest groups have gotten out of hand. Moral agreement has crumbled.

    The difficult part is finding effective ways to restore social and moral consensus without a small group of people imposing a set of behaviors and values on all of us. We need ways to restore the family, without reviving a 1950’s mentality; to stop criminals and drunk drivers, without opening the door – even a crack – to a police state; to curb the spread of AIDS, while protecting privacy. In other words, to restore social responsibilities and a commitment to community, without puritanism or authoritarianism. This centrist philosophy is at the core of the communitarian movement.”

  9. This is why the Left falls down a lot. People who are attracted to the Left like Grand Gestures and Meaningful Actions. They see themselves as Special. The last thing they want to do is live in a suburb and get to know their boring neighbors and run for city council or attend a zoning hearing or something.

    Then they decide that mainstream society is too “stupid” or “deceived” to follow them. No, mainstream society is just rolling its eyes and being polite to people too self-absorbed to respect them.

  10. PS Any political position has characters like this – Objectivists come to mind – but the Left these days seems to be nothing but these characters. There used to be an unpretentious working class Left, but they’ve been gone since WWII, I think.

    A few of the SDSers went to work in auto plants and steel mills on assembly lines, organizing the workers. I don’t agree with their politics but I respected those guys much more than the Abbie Hoffmans and Bernardine Dohrns.

  11. Wow!

    If I may add a comment from the distaff side, I’d like to thank you all for letting me peer into your male psyches for a moment or two. I don’t want to come off as angry, just mystified really. Now I know what is going on in the head of the man who’s eyes have just glazed over as I answer his benign question–what do you DO?–with the response, I’m home with two small boys. Tick, tick, the drift begins…well, one of the eternal verities of life in the suburbs is that married men and married women should not be seen engaged for too long in thoughtful conversation. It just won’t do.

    Forgive me, but your collective ruminations about the simple life of the suburban family have a ring of condescension about them–rather like one of the English Romantics contemplating the joy of manual labor, a thing he’d observed from time to time from the comfort of his sitting room.

    You are either a member of your family and your community, or you are not. You cannot deign to speak when it suits you, remain aloof when it doesn’t. Well, of course, you can, but then you are not really of the community and do not kid yourself. Community is a process, not a static thing. You can’t visit it once in a while. You have to do your part to maintain it and keep it up. This can be a part time job or full time one, but it is a job either way. I little respect, even a month after Mother’s Day, would go a long way.


  12. Gosh, Kelli, there is so much annoying about your comment that I’m hard-pressed to pick a place to begin.

    As a (not for long) single dad who has been lucky enough to be able to work part time for the last few years, I find it a constant source of amazement and amusement that moms somehow believe they are the only ones who have the keys to parenting or any commitment to it. When I worked full-time (50 hours+), I also managed to spend time with my kids, and had the interesting experience of meeting lots of stay-at-home moms who were checked out of the PTA and T-ball and AYSO because they felt that delivering the kids fulfilled their obligations, and who – liki their male counterparts – had other things that were far more important than the activity going on right in front of us.

    Sorry, but what I’m talking about is not a sex-linked characteristic.

    I am amused and sad that you manage to see the entire world through the lenses of gender, and would like to gently encourage you to consider the possibility that some things may be gender related – and others not.

    And to close, I’ll suggest that the only place I see any “ring of condescension” is in your comment…


  13. Concur with AL, there Kelli, on a couple things, but sympathize with what I think is your meaning. I’m a stay at home dad with two preschool kids, retired from business while wifey continues the career.

    I too see the lack of appreciation of how important and how hard the parenting job is, especially when as you say, sometimes people seem to think its a copout to be doing that rather than working.

    But to be fair to men, I think I can say with some authority that you just cant realize how hard it is until you do it full time. It was actually easier to be a “good dad” when working a 60 hour week, than to do it all day. Dont ask me why, but I think its something about our genes.

    How do single parents do it? I dont know, but god bless em.

    -my two cents.

  14. I remember having this conversation a few years ago, with a group who seemed to think it was immoral to bring a child into this world, so full of evil and suffering. I couldn’t help but wonder if there were a future for the race, if people really believed that.

    This discussion has given me hope.

  15. Folks,

    This is a great line of discussion – one that should happen more often between parents AND those not elbow deep in family routines.

    Now my comments: I have 4 chldren, now 15-23. Call me crazy, simple-minded, “boring”? – but I enjoyed the recitals and games (even practices! -coached many and observed and helped out -the “coaches” so need admind help – extra adult bodies etc…).

    Oldest was a daughter / ballarina (not necessarily in that order) – I volunteered to participate in a pas de deux class for a couple years and it was one of the most treasured experiences of my life. Getting to truly understand her passion, commitment, effort and amazing ability as well as an inside introduction to performing arts was very enriching. She danced professionally for a couple of years then moved on – but I learned so much.

    My son enjoyed the outdoors (and so do I) so we did the Scout thing – then together we did Search & Rescue. It was fabulous and I learned about and appreciated a community of people dedicated to helping. I also learned about my son – his physical capacity, endurance or tolerance of discomfort and his tenacity – up close and personal. It was not to be missed.

    Rather than go on (my other two children and their activities are just as compelling) – the point is, for me, the seemingly mundane was not when the participant was my child and I could even “get into” the drama for the chldren surrounding them I grew to know. Whether it’s performance, competition or doing a task/job the “stuff of life” is how people (children and adults) react to the conflict, interpret the art or perform the job or deal with the drudgery of practice or exercise. You encounter the spectrum of success and their reaction to it – there are tragedies and triumphs – all fodder for the active mind. And, yes, some of it is “routine” but that is a lesson to be learned and mastered also.

  16. There are two comments I’d like to make.
    First, there are a good many parents who are not involved in their children’s lives. I speak as one who was, and especially as one who coached AYSO for five years. About the second year, the parents stopped showing up. Some were downright ugly about the requirements such as getting the kid to practice or the games. So when you participate, you are with a select community; parents who value their kids.
    Second, as Tocqueville observed, the Americans are notable for the facility with which they can form ad hoc groups to deal with situations, getting along just fine despite social and other distinctions, and then just as easily break up when the need is past.
    No matter how high-falutin’ you think your brain is, and how superior you are to the underclass who actually seem to like this stuff, it would be useful to at least pretend, on account of you might need a friend sometime, or at least an acquaintance who isn’t too proud to help another person with the mundane stuff.

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