Sunday, February 27, 2011

Doing the Wrong Thing is Better Than Doing Nothing -- Rad Dad 19

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Note: we will have a Rad Dad Release Party on March 26th at 7pm at Actual Cafe in Oakland. Please come say hello and pick up some copies of Rad Dad (and other zines - there will be a zine table), listen to two bands with papas in them (Team Nisto and Nomi), and hear a few radical parents read!




Parenting has taught me a lot about dealing with things I’d rather not deal with. I’ve been forced to breathe deeply and make the call to the doctor at three in the morning: um, my daughter won’t stop crying, and when the doctor asks why she’s crying, I’ve had to confess, well I kinda dropped her on her head today.

That never feels good to admit to.

Or I’ve had to clench my mouth shut tightly and just let my daughter have her feelings, be disappointed, resist the urge to placate her, to try to “make” her feel better by saying something inane like, well your little ten year old friend who won’t share with you is a jerk.

Definitely, not good parental role modeling.

I’ve also learned to deal with larger, seemingly inhuman bureaucratic systems such as the institutionalized schooling with all its rules and policies that seem to believe learning only takes place in a classroom. No, I don’t think it’s fair that my seventh grader gets an F in classes because I took her on a trip to see a sick relative. I’ve learned to face a police and justice system that views children and particularly teenaged men as criminals first and foremost.

Parenting, however, has also demonstrated that there are the choices we need to make between letting some things slide while focusing on others.

My daughter, arriving home ten minutes later than she said she would, might be ok now and then. I can raise an eyebrow and shrug off her, what, the bus was late, exasperated remark when I ask why she’s not on time. Because when she’s out at night and forgets to call when I explicitly explained that I expected her to, that ain’t something you can let slide. It’s something you have to address, and it’s difficult to hold her to the agreed upon consequences. It’s painful to hear her anger, her frustration, to be the target of her unmitigated teenage rage. And that shit’s scary.

So parenting has taught me how to stand firm face difficult situations and also that some things are negotiable, that there’s a balance between holding your child or your community accountable and creating transparency in your agreements. However, this is not an essay about my children.

Let me stop stalling.

A friend of mine was arrested for domestic violence. There’s a story there. There are reasons for his anger and even empathy around the whole situation: towards him, towards his partner. The whole affair is sad. In the end, perhaps it will all be for the best for both of them and their kids.

But there is no excuse for violence in a relationship.

None.

Ever.

The crisis is over. She’s moved out of their home. They have a routine set up. Things are almost back to normal. People in my circle of friends are even joking about it.

And that is what bothers me, what makes me uncomfortable.

I started to ask around: what is my role in all this now? How do I address this with my daughters and son? How to be a true friend?

I don’t want to be the one to constantly bring it up every time I see him, but I also don’t want a ‘business as usual’ type friendship, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ relationship because that is so much easier: pretend it never happened.

I remember when the Chris Brown and Rhianna incident occurred. I immediately talked to my kids about it, especially my youngest daughter who was very into both of them. I asked how they felt about hearing the news. I didn’t want to let this opportunity slip: a chance to address the unacceptability of domestic violence, to establish a clear ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.

Some things can slide; physical and emotional abuse can’t.

But what to do with my friend? Why did this feel so much more difficult?

Soon after all this happened, I spoke with another friend of mine, a woman, a person who had been in an abusive relationship in the past, and she gave me some advice I hold dearly now. She said when she was going through it, that she wished people would have done something, anything. She looked at me and stated: sometimes doing the wrong thing is better than doing nothing.

I understood immediately that that was why I was so uncomfortable. I could see how easy doing nothing could have been. Denial is powerful. But as parenting has taught me some things can’t slide and so sometimes you just gotta grin and bear it. You have to face it.

I knew I needed to talk to him before he moved off the block, so one night when he came over to borrow something, I did.

We stood out on my stoop, and we talked. First I expressed my anger and disappointment. I told him I knew it would be work, but that I wanted to be the kind of friend who is wiling to both stand up for someone and to hold them accountable. I expressed my concerns about how he was taking responsibility for his actions.
I did however acknowledge that I had no answers, only questions. But I told him I’m willing to struggle to find those answers with him, together.

We hugged, and he left.

A few days later, I raised the subject again with my daughters and my twenty-year-old son who was visiting. He heard all about it from his mom and his sisters. Everyone was arguing over it. Gossiping about it. In fact, my youngest daughter and I saw the cop cars in front of their house when it happened and I said to her almost in jest, I hope that’s not what I think it is. I cringe thinking about how uncritical a statement that is in regards to domestic abuse.

So we were all sitting around the table, my two daughters and my son eating dinner. I confessed, I am angry that I don’t know what to do or say. I feel like a hypocrite ridiculing Chris Brown, and yet when it happens on my street I’m at a loss as to what I should do. Just because I’m a friend with someone doesn’t mean they’re not accountable, you know.

My youngest daughter shook her head and said finally, you know it’s not your fault dad, as if I was acting foolish.

Getting chastised by your kids is another thing you learn how to deal with from parenting.

I know, I said, I just don’t want to sweep this under the rug.

It was then that I realized I was looking at my son was sitting across from me. He was looking at me.

I realized I haven’t had a conversation like this with him ever. As a man. As a person who might disagree with me, who might not see it the way I do. I was terrified.

My son breathed in deeply.

I know dad, he said I know, and he looked me in the eye, that shit is totally fucked up.

Not the most eloquent response, but it was clear that he meant it.

It was one of the most reassuring moments in my life. It’s strange to love this young person so much, and for years feeling like I could control or at least strongly influence his actions. Now he stands taller than me, muscular, lean, a man, and I have no control over anything anymore in his life (well, except for kicking in money for his rent), and yet I still have such expectations of him. And he may let me down in the future, may make mistakes in relationships. But one thing I think he knows is that domestic abuse is a line you don’t cross.

Hearing him say that with such conviction, without equivocation in front of his sisters was a profound moment for me.

As the weeks pass, I still bring it up with my daughters now and then. In fact, now, my middle child has a boyfriend. I see how quickly I will have little control in her life as well. It’s hard to let go. But I’m gonna do it. With love and with encouragement and with trust.

They taught me that.

I will not let things slide anymore and this is a lesson I dedicate to all those who are victims of violence: from the batons or gun barrels of the police, because of the words and intimidation of bullies, or even at the hands of their own family.

I promise you I will never look the other way.

I promise you I will do something whether it’s the right thing or not at the time.

I promise. I will.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cold Weather Parenting; or, For the Love of Snow

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People don't complain about the fact that they will eventually die. The same is not true of taxes or the weather. Though immortality remains a dream, the earthly draw of the next best thing -- a sunny locale, tax-free and with yearly lows around 65°F -- remains powerful for those who feel that more spiritual satisfactions are unattainable. Thus the popularity of such strange places as Arizona and Florida -- a desert and a barren swamp -- not just for retirees, but for those who seek to trade the certainty of death for the hope of a painless earthly transit; to trade a snow shovel and jumper cables for the tax-deferred serotonin boost of high-volume sunshine. The post-orgasmic lull of uniform, indistinct seasons stands as a questionable rebuttal to the wisdom of Job, or a defensive denial of what Melville knew as the cosmic significance of anything powerful, vast, and white -- like a really big whale, or a howling blizzard.

We do not trade in sunshine futures, Junior and I. We attend to the fundamentals of making a life, the way factories used to make things, where it makes most sense to do so. We take what comes with, and let it infuse us with the energy and beauty and dynamism of all the changes that accompany a planet's traverse around the sun.

We are adventurers of the polar season that visits our city once a year. This is our story.

********
My son was born on a particularly cold and clear day in January. One of the first instructions I was given as a father came from a nurse of the maternity ward, concerned that my child might freeze to death because I had chosen to sit close to a window while holding Junior against my chest. "Of course a man would sit next to a window with a newborn baby!" she said, only half jokingly.

Since then, I have learned that the kinds of drafts one does indeed encounter near windows in winter are the subject of a global folk mythology that, at the extreme, equates cool breaths of air with demons and malevolent agents of the Evil Eye. A cool breeze to the neck can trigger mononucleosis; chilly droughts on the chest, bronchitis; an improperly swaddled infant, vitamin B-12 deficiency and improper brain formation.

But the nurse in the maternity ward had a point. Ferociously cold January weather with below-zero wind chills is an inhospitable environment from which a newborn must be sheltered. My goal as a new father, moving about snow-bound and often glacially cold neighborhoods, was to provide a cocoon of warmth and protection, an environment so stable and secure that only the changing shade of light inside Junior's stroller, or the muffled sound of Daddy's profanations from deep within the hood of his snorkel jacket, might indicate that we had passed into and out of a rampaging storm of sleet.

Junior's Cocoon and Gear

(Begin Excursus)

I should state here that the only excuse for "being cold" is "being stupid." Survival, and even enjoyment and triumph in winter weather is fundamentally a question not of the weather itself, but of the gear used to render the weather irrelevant. In the early 21st century, even the cheapest winter clothing is very warm, and at the higher end, quite stylish. Providing the cocoon necessary to keep baby warm is a technique of winter parenting that extends to the parent as well. Yet, while Junior is toasty and warm and romping on the snowdrift above the buried and abandoned Yellow Cab, yon 20-something office drone goes hat-less for fear of matting his gelled hair -- though he may be wearing one of these, the bikini of men's winter head ware:


Male Ear Bikini


As I say, said office drone may be clenching his red and bared fists as he leans into the wind making its way from the Arctic Circle and down the middle of LaSalle Street. In his free time, this same fellow and his friends can be seen hailing the same Yellow Cabs on Clark Street, wearing little more than imported Polish Fonzi jackets and blue jeans that have the property of transforming from soft denim to chafing sheet metal at around 32 degrees. These hardy fools -- and I know, because I was one -- lack the most basic wisdom of any cartoon character from South Park: that you must insulate every inch of your body in appropriate gear, and get used to spending most of your time that way.

(End Excursus)

As much as I enjoy the seasons, I will not deny the grueling exertion demanded by the wet, sloppy snowstorms of late February and early March. The snow dropped in these gales, unlike the powder that falls at colder temperatures, blows horizontally into your car and soaks everything it touches. Pushing a stroller through the pools of slushy ice (the scientific term: "frazil ice") that fill all the inconspicuous depressions in streets and sidewalks, sometimes even entire intersections, across which the cocoon must be not pushed but lifted, can be exhausting and wet enough to compromise the most weatherproof boots. Junior, in his cocoon, is oblivious to these dramas, and once home the parent wisely chooses to remain there. Junior is still napping heartily at this early stage, meaning that, as he snores through the winter blast, it is possible to read much great literature.

As Junior enters the toddler stage and becomes correspondingly more mobile, I begin to entertain hopes, as all upper Midwestern fathers do, that he might come to enjoy what winter has to offer. The prospect presents twin advantages: of being able to share the animal and aesthetic pleasures of bracing air under brilliant skies, snowball fights, the transcendent beauty of snow-covered landscapes, and the mysterious silence of a snow storm in process, as well as being able to kill bad cases of cabin fever by simply getting out of the house.

It is an understandably slow and awkward process, so shortly out of the womb, his Edenic nakedness so recently covered, for Junior to encumber himelf with boots, a hat, mittens clipped to a huge poofy jacket or even bulkier snowsuit, all over at least two and probably three layers of clothing and sometimes topped off with ski goggles. Each item is resisted. And so we negotiate, as Junior's second and third winter seasons wear on, each of these items, occasionally assisted by Junior's own animal intelligence alerting him that HEY! it really is better to wear your gloves when your fingers get cold!

But alas, even at the height of winter #3, it is all still too foreign, too messy. Our first sled ride, more dad's idea than Junior's, ends with a debacle: a child spilled on the curb, snow going up the nose, and tears coming from the eyes. "I don't like snow" is the motto of this period, and Dad resigns himself to a routine of indoor activities along with all the other parents: soccer class, various bookstores, caffeinated museum trips, play-dates, and the local super-heated tot-lot in the company of all the nannies. The hearty naps continue as before, and still more great literature is read.

Junior and Fellow Snow Enthusiast

It is in the current, fourth winter that the breakthrough occurs, and Junior, to the great joy of his father, discovers his own joy of snow. In December and January, he begins to kick at the snow with his boots, to make patterns with his tracks. He watches with keener curiosity as the more adventurous child of our friend climbs a pile of snow thrown off the street by city plows and citizen shovelers, layered with last fall's matted leaves and gravel and laced with streaks of blue Slurpy-colored snow melt, and sticks his head into the snow to better dig at it with his tongue. Not long after that, he tells Daddy, "I want you to teach me how to ski," and Daddy, with a borrowed pair of Junior-sized Nordic skis, complies.

I began by completely shielding Junior from winter; now it is his playground. I feel fortunate that I have the energy to lift him to the top of the six foot snowdrift that has buried the Yellow Cab, to shove his sled over the edge; a passing woman, looking for her own car buried in a drift still further on, tells me it is Junior who is fortunate to have a father who will go play in the snow with him. She flatters me. It is no work at all. We all know that what you once loved as a child, you can never fully turn away from.

[A version of this post is also available on the Outdoor Baby Network.]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Revolutionary questions

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About two weeks ago, Pip dug out from the far end of our bookshelf two children’s biographies that had belonged to me as a kid and had somehow managed to survive all my subsequent moves and book purges. One recounted the life of Thomas Jefferson. The other was about Benjamin Franklin. Re-reading these books for the first time in about two decades, while popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were toppling dictatorial governments in the background, made me very aware of the almost magical ease with which the transition from revolution to stable democratic governance occurs in America’s founding mythology. This awareness made me question whether this mythology will ultimately do my children a disservice. Will it lead them to expect at an intuitive level that any dramatic break from established patterns will resolve itself neatly and in a way that is universally good? And, as such, will this expectation lead them towards a naive embrace of revolutionary change at the expense of careful and programmatic efforts (such as happened with the Bush-Rumsfeld strategy for creating a democratic Iraq)? My own experience makes me think that this is not a totally ridiculous question.

*****

First let me explain why I use the term ‘mythology’ instead of ‘history.’ Usually the term ‘mythology’ is used to describe the stories of gods and heroes told in times or places where the explanations of science do not predominate. What is sometimes lost in the retelling of the tales of Hercules or Prometheus or Beowulf is how these stories functioned in their time to explain how the world came to be what it is and why certain practices or institutions or values were important. Myths are mechanisms for transmitting cultural knowledge across generations. The ‘truth’ of a myth lies not in the factuality of the characters and places and dates it contains but in the themes and relations that play out within it.

When mythology is understood in this way, the only difference between it and history is the historian’s claim that the events described “really happened.” At her core the historian is a story-teller. She takes details gleaned from various sources and spins a narrative thread of power, destiny, hubris or luck that pulls those details together and makes them comprehensible. It is this thread that is the critical element of the knowledge or meaning we seek to gain from history. While I am not suggesting that the facts are irrelevant, a focus on the factuality of a historian’s account can often distract our attention from the work that the account’s narrative thread performs. Mythology brings no such distraction.

The power of this narrative thread is even more significant when it comes to presenting history to children. We talk to kids about basic facts and important people in order to give them a foundational understanding of a historical event. Not only do these necessary simplifications demand a strong narrative to make them understandable (and interesting), they also blur facts that may complicate or confuse that narrative. As a result of this blurring, historical figures in children’s books are usually not real people. Instead they represent clearly defined values or ideas that support the direction of the narrative. In many respects, this makes stories told about, for example, the Founding Fathers very close in form to ones told about the gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus.

*****
I spent some time as a child idolizing America’s Founding Fathers. This was in part because I have a genealogical relationship with one and in part because I lived in southern Virginia where, if you want to, you can feel a strong residue of the American Revolution and the early years of the United States all over the place. I certainly did. I learned early on that the state motto, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” or “thus always to tyrants,” was adopted as a direct challenge to King George III and the British Parliament. I was very proud that Virginians wrote the Declaration of Independence (Thomas Jefferson), commanded the Continental Army (George Washington), and crafted the Bill of Rights (James Madison). I enjoyed visiting places like Monticello (the home of Thomas Jefferson), Mt. Vernon (the home of George Washington), Red Hill (the home of Patrick Henry), Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown because they gave me the sense that the place where I lived was critically important to the very beginnings of my country’s existence.

All this exposure to America’s founding mythology made me particularly open to consuming any story that included the possibility of a democratic revolution. I have eagerly watched the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events of Tiananmen Square, Yeltsin’s rise in Russia, protests in Iran, independence in East Timor, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the democracy protests in Georgia and Ukraine, and the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt with an almost na├»ve sense that history is being made in the most positive of ways. While I know my history well enough to understand that the reality of these situations is complex and difficult, the mythological narrative of the American Revolution that I learned as a child still inclines me to believe in the idea that these events will ultimately enable people to gain their “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

*****

The power of this mythology is also such that the critical documents of America’s founding – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – sit in my mind in much the same way as they do in the National Archives: side by side. These are some of the narrative high points of America’s founding myth and their cohesion within this myth make it difficult to remember that the Declaration and the Constitution were separated by 11 years and the Bill of Rights was added another four years after that. I often forget that the Constitution was at least a second try at forming a functional government and, even after its ratification, was by no means a guaranteed success. These complications don’t fit into the narrative thread that I originally learned.

But what if they did? What would it mean if the National Archives displayed the Articles of Confederation in between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? What would it mean if we added a person like Daniel Shays – the Revolutionary War veteran and debt-ridden farmer from Massachusetts whose rebellion laid bare the impotence of the national government under the Articles of Confederation – to the pantheon of the Founding Fathers? What would it mean if those books Pip pulled from the shelf mentioned the uncertainty, turmoil, and failure of the United States in the first years after the revolution? Would he react differently than I do to stories of revolution? Would he sense a little less magical destiny and a little more struggle and trial in the core of his American identity?

I don’t know, but I want to give something like this a try. The practices that this kind of struggle demands – experimentation, negotiation, perseverance – represent qualities I want my children to embrace in both their politics and their personal lives. It will serve them much better than the aura of predestined greatness that pervades the current version of America’s founding mythology.

****************************************************************
Interested in stories about our family or just some thoughts about being a parent in this day and age?

Take a look at my blog at http://www.postindustrialparenthood.blogspot.com/

There's a new post every Thursday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Daddyfreak: A Q&A with Steve Almond

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Courtesy Steve Almond

Steve Almond wrote one of my top 10 books of the twenty-first century, Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. More recently, he published another book that I like quite a lot, the memoir Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. But I truly became a Steve Almond fan when he started writing columns about how fatherhood had changed his perspective on politics. In this piece for Salon.com, for example, he explains why he “totally loves tax day.” Here’s reason number two, “Children, It Turns Out, Are Extremely Fragile”:
This hadn't occurred to me until I had two of my own. I now spend a lot of time worrying about stuff that I never used to worry about. Such as: the quality of my drinking water and food and local public schools and parks and playgrounds and roads. And thus the notion that my taxes actually pay for things required by my fragile children has managed to burrow its way through my thick American skull. Paying a small portion of my income for these collective benefits is not only a basic civic duty, in other words, but it is in my interest.
Since I’m also a dad and since I also totally love taxes, it seemed obvious to me that I should meet this person Steve Almond. That actually hasn’t yet happened, but this past December I did interview him over email. Here are the results, exclusively for you Daddy Dialectic readers:

JAS: Do you have in your mind any image of an ideal father? Are there any dads in real life or popular culture or literature that you see as being someone for you to emulate?

SA:
Most parents have some hallowed vision of the perfect parent—who loves unconditionally but also sets limits, who overcomes his bullshit for the sake of the kids. But these visions are mostly self-punishment. My own sense is that nobody knows what the hell they're doing, especially today, with so many roles having shifted. I know for a fact that I screw up every day, mostly out of my own emotional neediness. I try to please the kids too much. I lose my cool. I send mixed messages. And so on. The problem with parenting in the precincts of plenty is that fathers (and even more so mothers) hold themselves up to this impossible ideal.

As for the pastures of literature, it doesn't contain a lot of ideal dads. Nor does popular culture. The reality is that being a parent is an incredibly private, day-to-day business. It's a million little moments and decisions, not some calibrated Hollywood plot. The person I admire the most, and try to emulate, is my wife.

JAS: What does she do that you try to emulate?

SA:
She's just a lot more patient and thoughtful, better able to control her frustration, more organized. Etc. There are exceptions, but generally speaking most dads would do really well to emulate moms. Not saying moms are perfect -- nor should they be held to some higher standard. I just think they're better equipped emotionally to deal with kids, who are basically lovable but also irrational creatures.

JAS: What pisses you off about fatherhood, if anything? I don't mean what pisses you off about being a father--I mean about the idea of fatherhood. Or to put it a different way, do you ever feel like the kind of father you're trying to be is at odds with what kind of father the rest of society wants you to be?

SA:
Again, the main thing that pisses me off is my own weaknesses and failings. I'm not inclined to blame "society" for that. About the only large-scale thing that society wants people to be—at least in America— is consumers. But that applies to everyone.

JAS: Sure. So how do you raise your kids to not be little consumers without turning them into total freaks in the eyes of their peers?

SA:
Yeah, my kids are small enough that peer pressure—at least to buy stuff—isn't a factor yet. So I'm not speaking as some kind of authority. But one pretty common sense thing would be to throw your TV out the window. It's not doing anyone any favors spiritually. We have computers and let the kids watch videos, but no commercials. We try to limit the over-stimulation in general. Honestly, I'm not sure what sort of kid would consider another kid "a total freak" because they don't own enough junk. That sounds kind of crazy.

JAS: Hmmm. I think you're underestimating the crazy that's coming your way; I'm especially conscious of this right now because of Christmas. Now that my son's in elementary school, I see kids routinely tease or even ostracize each other based on the stuff they don't own. "What? You don't have a wii? What a dork!" There’s shame in not owning the latest crap. And actually, I think the refusal (or inability) to consume is perceived as very challenging in both the adult and kid worlds. Lots of people think my wife and I are slightly freakish for not owning a car or a TV; they seem to see it as some sort of failure—maybe I’m being paranoid and insecure, I often think some see it specifically as my failure as the father, since the father is supposed to be the breadwinner and thus the provider of junk. Our natural response has been to surround ourselves with people who also don't own cars and TVs and other crap, though of course then you start to live in a bubble. This to me is a classic parenting dilemma, for people across the political and cultural spectrum: how do you raise a child so that they can resist the negative aspects of the culture while still being equipped to thrive in that culture?

SA:
Yeah, sounds like you're facing the same dilemma we are. And you're deeper into the disconnect. I can see why you feel you're living in a bubble, but to me the slavish devotion to material crapola is the ultimate bubble. It keeps people insulated from what really matters. I'm pretty sure I'm not saying anything Christ didn't say in his Sermon on the Mount. My argument would be that, as a parent, if you're troubled by the values of the dominant culture, you should seek to change that culture, in whatever humble ways you can, and to urge your children to do the same thing. I hear you on being a breadwinner. But part of my larger point is that fathers are also moral actors, both in the small but crucial world of the family, and in the larger world.

JAS: I haven’t made a systematic study of it or anything, but my perception is that your writing has taken a more political turn in recent years. Is that a wrong impression? If it's true, was the political turn influenced at all by becoming a dad?

SA:
Absolutely. Look, I've got skin in the game now. Back when I was single, it just didn't matter to me as much that we had a bunch greedy, deluded maniacs holding this country's moral progress hostage. Now it does. They're fucking with my kids' future. A lot of parents—particularly prosperous, over-determined, parents like myself—get sucked inward by parenting. It's a trap, because our apathy and moral disengagement is going to cost our kids in the long run.

JAS: Ok, so, how do you escape from that trap?

SA:
Again, I'm not an expert, just a concerned loudmouth. My kids are quite young. But I'm guessing, based on my limited experience, that the biggest thing is the example you set. I'm not saying we read our kids the Marx/Engel Reader at night, and ask that they recycle their poop, but we do try to send them the message that we're pretty lucky to have all the great stuff we have, that we shouldn't take it for granted, and that one of their big jobs is to learn to share. It will get more complicated as their awareness of the world grows. The idea is not to hide them from reality, or vice versa. But that's really a process, and an inconvenient one. Most parents are so exhausted by parenting that they tend to turn away from social responsibility, and toward convenience. That's just what Madison Avenue wants. Get the juice box. Get the SUV. Get the mollifying toy. I'm not suggesting that we do things perfectly. We don't. But we're trying in the ways we can.

JAS: In an op-ed you wrote for the Boston Globe back in 2009, you argue that all good parents are "de facto socialists," because they are constantly trying teach kids to share their stuff. What kind of response did you get to that column?

SA:
Just what you'd expect. A few people saying, "Hey, yeah, that sounds reasonable." And a ton of folks saying, "Kill that commie!" That's American discourse at the moment.

JAS: At the end of the piece you ask—but don't really answer—"Why are Americans afraid to express their morality in the political arena in the same way they do as parents?" Why indeed? Where does that disconnect occur?

SA:
In large part because our entire culture (and economy) is predicated on keeping all citizens in a state of insecurity and overstimulation and exhaustion. Also because the political system is fueled by special interest money, folks who are paid, in essence, to make sure a genuine morality doesn't intrude on the business of the government. We saw a brilliant example in the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That was about greed, pure and simple, and virtually nobody would say that. The Fourth Estate, which also runs on a for-profit model, is in the business of making money, not serving as the peoples' representative in Washington. I think most Americans see "politics" as some kind of absurd sport played on cable TV. It's become unmoored from issues of morality. And, like I say, most parents simply want to get through the day however they can. Amid the inconvenience of children, they don't want the further inconvenience of having to consider themselves moral actors.

JAS: You write a lot about your (sometimes raunchy) life, and you’ve blogged for Babble about your first child’s life as a baby. Has the relationship between your life and your writing changed because of fatherhood—for example, do you feel yourself to be reluctant to write down certain experiences? As your kids get older, how are their lives going to fit into your writing, if at all?

SA:
The more pressing question for me is how my writing is going to fit into their lives. And I don't entirely know the answer. Obviously, I've written a good deal about my life. But there is a realm of privacy, both for me and for my wife and kids, and that's something I take seriously. It's part of the reason I stopped blogging for Babble. And I'm sure I'll hold back on writing more and more stuff as they and their friends become readers. Nobody wants to go through adolescence with their dad taking notes and writing "humorous" columns about them. That being said, my wife and I hope we're raising the sort of kids who recognize the value of storytelling. (We had considered not teaching the children to read, but they seem to be picking it up pretty quickly.) My hunch is that they'll want nothing to do with our work. But we certainly can't hide what we do. Honesty is always the best policy. Or at least, the inevitable one.