You’ve got to keep your kids hungry. You’ve got to push them into the cold water to find out if they can swim. Sometimes, you’ve just got to become King Kong and let them be Fay Wray. Sometimes.
I’ve got friends of mine that give their kids everything just because they can. Other folks I know tip toe around their children, not wanting to get in their way, actually a little afraid of the full blown humans they’ve created. There are those who I’ve encountered who want to protect their kids from every Tom, Dick and hairy situation. And a few (God help them) even want to be their kids’ friends.
Look, my love for my kids is unbreakable; it’s death-defying and even deeply religious - I actually see my kids as my ticket to a world without end (amen). But just because I’d die for them and someday will be more content to die because of them, I still never forget that this love for my children has to take the shape and outline of no other love I will ever give.
Love for our children is not romantic love. It is not the love of friendship. It is not the love of money or objects given or received. It is not the love of a job or hobby or the social issue you’d fight over, nor is it the love of someone you respect because of age or position leading you to keep your own ideas to yourself out of reverence or esteem. This love for our kids has to be as cold and calculating as it is warm and tender-hearted. It has to be bold and smart and as sharp as a well cut diamond. It has to contain a view of the distance as far as you can see so you can keep your eyes on the race you know your kids will have to run and the fights you figure they’ll need to win. Sometimes, you have to use this love to take away as much as you give and sometimes – to save your children - this love has to be as terrifying as you can stand it to be.
Give your kids video games, personal computers and cell phones the day that preschool starts along with the keys to their own car the minute they get their license and watch them start to slowly resent you for your wealth because they have no idea how hard it is to get it. Let your kids sit on the couch all day eating from your fridge and watching professional wrestling and on-demand repeats of American Idol because you are too tired to stop them, and you’ll see them keep their dreams forever locked in their heads or, worse, in that screen above the DVR. Try to keep your kids from the monster in the closet, the bully next door or any of the true pain in the world, and they’ll be looking for somebody to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Be your kids’ friends and treat them like your buddy or your girlfriend and when you have to step in to protect them from themselves they’ll likely tell you to go to hell, leaving you to stare at the car wreck or addiction or flailing, unhappy soul you’ve created.
Who am I to give such arrogant advice? I’m a guy who’s fathered through many of the above mistakes and then watched those mistakes bloom into flowers of regret. I’ve spoiled my kids with freedom and friendship and the objects of their desires just enough to know that spoiling these children made them anxious children; in the end they had no idea what to do with the power that came from those wishes that had been granted to them. I learned fast enough to let my kids earn what they got and to make sure they were ready for it when they did because if I spoiled them, the world was going to un-spoil them fast enough in any case. And I figured out that if you are not more powerful and resilient than your children you are going to handicap them for the rest of their lives. It isn’t easy to be stronger and smarter than an up and comer who is less than a third of your age, it can wear down your stamina pretty quickly, but sometimes if you ain’t King Kong with your kids, you ain’t much of a parent at all.
When King Kong picked up Fay Wray in the palm of his hand, he scared the life out of her and she fought back with everything she had. But the big ape knew what he was doing. Of course, Fay thought she knew what she was doing too: she knew all about the jungle; she knew everything there was to know about New York (see: teenager; teenage years). But the King was stronger. He didn’t set her up in a nice cushy nest with a TV and a bag of Cheetos as he went off to fight for her safety among winged pterodactyls and giant lizards, buzzing bi-planes and great white hunters. He took her along for the ride so she could see what she might someday have to face on her own. He never hurt her, he always respected her, and soon enough Fay realized that she couldn’t have done it without him. When King Kong died Fay Wray knew that it was his love that saved her life.
So if you want to argue with me about any of the above – if you feel there are holes in my thinking about what it takes to be a good parent or gaps in my logic on child rearing – I invite you to let me hear about it. Just remember that when I have to, I can become King Kong.