April 30, 2001
This past week my wonderful daughter Dawn turned thirty years old. As you already know, I have a relatively strange mind — which is in great part why you can find me here at WTBQ, along with some other very weird minds — but part of my weirdness is how often I respond to events by thinking in song lyrics. But hey, I am still a child of rock and roll.
So anyway, my kid turned thirty and my first thought on her birthday was: “Whoa momma, can this really be the end?”
You parents know what I’m talking about. I mean check it out: one day I’ve got this bubbly little four-year old bouncing on my knee. And then like a day later, I’ve got this mature, smartass young woman who is thirty years old claiming to be my daughter. It’s sooo weird.
Where does the time go? I don’t know where the time goes, but I do know for sure that it goes.
You parents can relate to this. No matter what we do in life there is no job, no responsibility as heavy and difficult and sometimes downright painful as being a parent.
My definition of agony was my kid’s teen years. It was as though she was under orders to see how far she could go before her father would institutionalize one of us. While my kid has turned out great, her teen years nearly drove me nuts.
When she was sixteen, I went to the nearest hospital and begged for a pre-frontal lobotomy. For me, not her. I figured she had already gotten one, so I was just making another attempt to get on her wavelength. Which was sort of silly, since at the time I thought that my daughter, my niece and all their friends who hung out at our pad were flat liners, what with their Mohawks, body piercings and unending parade of tattoos, none of which any of them had asked permission to get.
Teenagers didn’t then—and as far as I can tell don’t now—ever ask permission to do anything. They just love performing preemptive acts of rebellion. Like the time that my kid said, “Dad, do you want to see my tattoo?” I didn’t, but what choice did I have? I took one look at this beautiful tattoo of an eagle and she asked me what I thought. I told her that I thought it was a beautiful tattoo, I just wished it was on somebody else’s body.
I never read a book on parenting, and I’m glad I didn’t. They mostly seem to be written by people who not only don’t have children, but seem like they have never even met a child. There was only one book around when my kid was born: the one by Doctor Spock. I started to read it, then I realized that it was the same book my mother had read when I was born, which caused me to immediately gag and donate Spock’s book to the commune’s mulch pile.
These books tend to make people too paranoid anyway. I know young people with children who make the mistake of reading these books. When my kid was born who knew about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? When my kid went to bed after I had read her that stupid book about the mother duck and the three baby ducks for the zillionth time, the only thing I thought about was, thank God, now I can relax. Parents nowadays stay up all night checking their infant to see if he or she is still breathing.
Parents today are too paranoid to even let their kids go outside for the best that childhood has to offer: unsupervised play. In my day, we loved playing on our block, and my mother’s fallback position when my brother and I took her to the breaking point was to just throw us out of the house and not let us back in until dinnertime. Since every mother on the block did the same thing, when we got out on the street all the other kids were there ready to play. None of us ever complained about being forcibly thrown out of the house and removed from the presence of adults. When I was a kid, we thought of adults as alien beings whose only roll in the universe was to spoil our fun. I still think that way.
There is enough to worry about as a parent without letting these books add to your paranoia. Do you really want to read a book on how to increase your child’s intelligence? Or how to modify their behavior? Or how to get them into college while they’re still in the crib? Or how to feed them, nurture them and generally control them? These books are really just creating a generation of paranoid, overly controlling parents.
The definition of childhood is to be out of control, and I think it should stay that way. If you find yourself trying to control your child because you can’t handle his or her behavior, have a drink or five. That’s what I did, and it worked out pretty well.
There is no excuse ever for hitting your kid. Period.
The other thing with kids is that they know us too well. Every button in us, the overt ones and the ones we think that we have pretty well hidden — kapow, they nail it every time. Especially good at this are those creatures called teenagers.
Nobody in my life has ever been able to run a scam on me like my kid. But she doesn’t scam me anymore — not because I am any less dense than I was back then, but because I think my daughter has me so well conditioned (or maybe the term is “brainwashed”) that she can get anything she wants out of me just by mentioning it. The conditioning is so solid that she can just call me and tell me that her computer has crashed and she doesn’t have a computer and really, really needs a new one. Not just any computer, of course, but the high-end Mac, which is the only machine that can do the kind of graphics she does.
As a matter of fact, the high-end Mac is the only computer that can do whatever it is she wants to do. And even before she has finished telling me about her problem, I have written the check. Now, mind you, she has never asked me for anything. That’s how good they are with us parents.
She had a favorite scam she ran on me was when she was about eighteen. She would be going out for the evening, always running late. Just as she would be about to leave, in a hurried way she would say, “Pop, pop, I’m going out, but all I have on me is a twenty and I really don’t want to go out with just a twenty.” So just like every father everywhere, without even thinking, I would whip out my wallet, pull out a five or ten and give it to her. At that point she would give a smile that could brighten the universe, take the five or ten and be out the door with her money before it even registered on my cotton-filled brain. Having a child and whipping out your wallet are synonymous acts. You dads out there know what I am talking about.
At this point I should add that there is nothing in life that gives me more joy than my daughter.
On the other hand, having children is a constant reminder of the Grateful Dead lyrics: “What a long, strange trip it has been.”
Speaking of the Grateful Dead, we now come to the touchy subject of kids on drugs. I’m going to try to ignore the fact that in the United States today, we are stringing grade-school kids out at the rate of tens of thousands a year on a drug called Ritalin. Schools and parents are intentionally giving kids this highly addictive drug, to deal with the behavioral problems of a newly invented disease called “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Now, I suppose that some kids really do suffer from that disease, but not many.
Heck, according to the description of that disease, I had ADD and so did all my friends. At the time, we thought we were just bored to distraction by school. I can tell you this: if we had known that we could get free dope in grade school, we probably would have taken it.
My kid, my niece and all their friends tried drugs in their teens and early twenties. As hip as I thought I was, I did not know it. I know it now because my niece and daughter’s favorite goof on me is to tell me about all the times they were completely stoned while hanging out with me and I didn’t know it. They think laying those stories on me is a big hoot. I can enjoy it because my daughter is an A student and a fine photojournalist and my niece is at the top of her class in her second year as a USC med student. Neither one does drugs anymore.
Actually, my kid is now a health nut. For God sakes, she’s a vegan! To my way of thinking, a vegan is a vegetarian who has gone one taste bud too far. Anyway, my point is that they did do drugs and now they don’t and they are both okay.
People assume that I am an expert on these things. I cannot tell you how often parents ask me to tell them how they can know if their kid is on dope. My answer is that I can tell right then and there. They ask how? I ask, “How old is your child?” If the number is anywhere between fourteen and twenty, I tell them, “Yup, your kid is using drugs.” I’m just working with statistical probability here.
But really, if you discover that your child is using drugs, first of all: do not panic. Go to your medicine cabinet and take a few aspirin, Valium, Zanax or Percodan. Or just have a few stiff drinks. Just try to chill out so that you can approach the problem rationally. Then, when you realize that the problem can’t be approached rationally, head back to the medicine cabinet.
Really, though, it is my deepest belief that we instill good values and a sense of inherent value into our kids by how we behave with them. Sure, they may trip out in their teens, but they turn out just fine. Like my father always said to me, “You just have to have faith.” He had faith in me and it made all the difference.
My kid now lives in Chicago. Dawn, if you happen to be listening over the Internet, happy birthday, honey. Your father loves you, and I have no words for how proud I am of you.