Despite my best efforts, I think I’m going soft. My son is turning me into a wuss.
My wife likes to “joke” that I am a robot (I use quotes because she’s never laughing when she says it and I’m pretty sure it tears her up inside), or that I have no heart, because I never cry at commercials or movies or TV shows.
I like to think it’s because I’m not shallow and/or because my father raised me to believe that showing emotion was a sign of weakness (my father is John Wayne).
But having a child seems to be reducing my stoicism in uncomfortable ways. I’m beginning to care about people.
Before I started this blog, I was well-known (and less well-liked) as someone who hated kids. Now that I am a father and I have a blog about the experiences that go along with raising a son, the friends I have left like to call foul. They call me a hypocrite, or an asshole, or they don’t call me at all because they think I’m a hypocrite and an asshole. But they obviously don’t read my blog, which is ostensibly about not letting being a parent ruin my life but is actually becoming about not letting Other Parents ruin yours.
Regardless, I do my best to avoid the sappy, obnoxious, compliment-baiting practice of posting pictures of my son and raving about how amazing he is. In fact, while I can’t pretend I don’t love my son, I do spend a lot of time insulting him, both specifically as a person and more generally as a drain on my life.
But loving my own son did not come as a surprise to me. Nor does the fact that I still – listen up, haters! – can’t stand other people’s kids. Obviously, after winning the Younger Games and being delivered the best looking, most intelligent child of all time, all other children pale in comparison. Especially when they are being loud and handsy in my vicinity. Other people’s kids suck. It’s just a fact.
What has come as a surprise is how becoming a father has made me more tolerant of, and sensitive to, kids in general. I am beginning to see them more as a developing segment of the human race and not just bratty, selfish, spoiled punks who won’t let my kid use the slide.
Since I’ve had a child of my own, I relate to other children differently. It has become hard for me to see a movie or a tv show or to read a book or see a news story about a child and not immediately imagine my son in their place. And that’s a dangerous thing. Because it makes me seem weak in front of my wife and my son and the people who saw me reading Room on the subway and could probably tell that I was kind of almost close to crying. (I didn’t actually cry; I said “reducing my stoicism,” not eliminating it! I told you who my father is, right?)
And it’s not just affecting my view of kids, either. I knew having a son would force me to view the world in a different way. Over the past two years I’ve been forced to learn about – and in some cases have even grown to care about – things I never had any interest in before, and I don’t just mean the price of diapers or the best way to get applesauce out of the carpet.
Things like: the quality of schools in my area, the possibility of my son being bullied, or of being a bully, the cost of healthcare, and the safety of playgrounds, and the easy accessibility of pornography, and the dangers of football, and on and on and on. But I didn’t think it would suddenly make me care about other people. I am going soft!
I don’t want to care about other people; life’s a lot easier when you’re selfish. And being nonchalant (at best) and callous (at worst) towards the suffering of people that aren’t you is “cooler” than being a nice guy. (That’s why so many teenagers get seduced by Ayn Rand. Objectivsm is super-cool!)
Of course, most teenagers grow up and realize life is less rewarding and more lonely when you’re a selfish douche-bag (especially when you’re also a pretentious one who thinks he’s living with integrity because he read The Fountainhead), unless they’re really really rich and pretend the tangible things their money buys them can conquer all of those intangible things. But everyone already knows that super-rich people are assholes; their success offers them instant justification for all sorts of wrong-headed behavior, behavior for which they’re rarely called out because they’re so rich. It’s a disgusting cycle. But hey, vote Romney!
Having a kid is the nail in the coffin of your phony isolationism. You can no longer act above or outside or indifferent to the world when your most precious possession forces you to wade out into and reckon with it every single day. So when I talk about my kid ruining my life, I am usually careful to stress that he’s ruining my social life, which is 100% true, and somehow not that big a deal.
Because in most other ways, he’s improving my life, increasing my empathy, and turning me into a better human being. No matter how hard I try to stop him.