come to evolutionary dadness part 3: Disappointing and Failing.
Remember when we were talking about the whole beating up dangerous interlopers
thing? That whole protection thing? Well, one of the tasks of a dad
is to fall down on the job and screw this up by not providing protection
at some crucial moment when it seems vitally necessary to someone, such
as you. This is essential. And Dads will perform this task whether anyone
likes it or not. Let's pretend you're a dad for a moment. Maybe, in
fact, you are. Here's how it'll go:
to some ethnic group that certain uncouth and prejudiced people refer
to by a series of degrading and disgusting monikers. Your kid will see
this happen in front of you and you will not do anything about it. Or
your kid will get sick and you will not be able to make them immediately
well. Their heart or their leg will be broken and you will not be able
to immediately fix either one. Your boss will yell at you in
front of your kid and you’ll just take it. His teacher
will pick on him and you won’t raise an effective finger in his
defense. Injustices will occur and you will not protest. Bad things
will happen and you’ll just let them while your kid watches. You
will fail morally, you will fail in courage, you will fail in understanding,
in judgment, in competence. Something important will need to be done
and you simply will not do it. And you will make this visible, no matter
how circuitous the route, to the people who need to see this most, your
kids. You’ll fail their mother; you’ll fail at work; you’ll
fail at life. There will be some task, and you will not be adequate
This is important.
Evolution firmly believes, very firmly believes, that real life is dangerous.
It would like your offspring to know this. It is under the impression
that as long as you are competently protecting them from life’s
dangers, they will not get the hint. It is under the impression that
they will have their heads firmly up their butts, lost in a fantasy-world
in which everything is fixable and dangers are negligible, unless they
are forced to confront the shocking truth, in the person of
you, that everything is not fixable and no one is going to
come to their rescue every damn time. No matter how much they'd like
someone to. That failure is part of the deal. They need to move from
being protected to getting it through their thick skulls that at some
point they are going to have to protect themselves and that there aren’t
going to be any damn guarantees while they are doing it.
your critters to take life seriously at certain point, treat it with
proper respect, get the hang of disappointment since it is going
to be a recurring companion in their life, and understand at
a gut level that not everything works and that people fail.
to learn this. Nobody wants to teach it either. This little
task is going to put everyone in a bad mood. You are not going to particularly
enjoy failing in front of your kids, especially since it is going to
be at something that you really would have preferred to succeed at.
Too bad. Your kids are going to enjoy it even less. Think Willy Loman
and Biff, realizing with stomach-dropping finality that his hero dad
was just a damn adulterer, whooping it up in cheap hotel rooms with
even cheaper women.
If your own personal
dad was even half a man, you will have seen him fail in some dramatic
and essentially unforgivable fashion. If you are even half a
man, you will remember the moment when it happened. If, on
the other hand, things got all messed up, you will not remember and
you will still be trying to tell yourself that everything is fixable,
that failure is not necessarily part of the deal, and that people can
always protect each other.
excessively if you still haven’t figured this out. It takes a
while. The core emotional components sink in right away; sorting them
out takes somewhere between a year or so and the rest of your life.
Just tuck this handy life fact away somewhere in your consciousness
so you will be the teeniest bit prepared for your own moment of unforgivable
If you are one of
those types who is trying to skate by being competent and understanding
and a ’good’ dad and all the rest of it, be aware that your
kids have evolutionary mechanisms too and they will earnestly try to
help you out in the failing department.
If you haven’t
done something they can’t forgive you for by the time they are
thirteen or so, they will start making strenuous efforts to scoot you
in this direction. They will make impossible demands, test, and push,
and prod for the truth, confront, over-idealize and any other
damn ingenious thing they can think of to get you to disappoint them
and fill them with absolute contempt. They know they need to
grow out of you, and if they don’t, if the two of you conspire
to keep their heads up their butts, they will suffer for it. Getting
over the protective dad ideal is, in evolution’s opinion, necessary
for long-term survival as an adult, and it doesn’t look kindly
on people who skip this step.
If this particular
task goes right from your point of view, as the dad, you will feel it.
You will fuck up in front of them, or something will get fucked
up and you won’t fix it, they’ll hate you, and
you’ll stand there and let them live through it. You’ll
force them to live through it in fact by not apologizing for it. Or
by apologizing for it but not promising to do better. It will be your
own personal ‘life sucks, deal with it’ moment between you
and your outraged child, and while this will take a certain amount of
steel on your part, you can do it.
It isn’t exactly
fun. In fact, sometimes it’s downright painful. But if you do
it right, it feels like letting go. It feels like getting rid of something
that was too heavy to carry around any more. It feels like some tiny,
everpresent uptightness in you has eased and you can breathe a bit easier.
Like you’ve jumped a hurdle. Done something you have wanted to
do, and known you needed to do for a long time.
It is a
letting go. You are letting go a bit of your kid, and the strain of
complete responsibility for his survival and trusting that he or she
is ready to face the real world, including you, on their own. Not all
of it at once. But bits and pieces. This failure business being one
of the most important pieces. At the conclusion of your dramatic
failure, you can heave a certain sigh of relief.
Not so for your
kid, if things pan out correctly. The poor kid will not only have to
say out loud that they hate you, they’ll have to feel it too.
If they don’t say it out loud, their eyes will and that’s
a bit tough to take. They’ll have to chew on what they’ve
seen, process it, get annoyed, come to terms, and so on.
do this correctly, they will come to the conclusion that you’re
no hero, you’re not any better than they are, maybe even worse,
and they are just going to have to grow up and do things themselves
if things are to be done right. This moment of confrontation
with failure is a powerful motivator to get kids to grow up at all.
It is the terrible anger and the driving desire to be better than you
at some crucial life endeavor that gets them over the hump and scoots
them downhill toward growing up whether they originally wanted to or
and confronting whatever injustice they just witnessed, is one of those
toxic encounters that stimulates their defense systems. They
don’t like it but it’s good for them. They stop relying
on you for everything they used to rely on you for, and they no longer
have to surreptitiously question your judgment. Now they know for an
absolute fact that you don’t know everything and that they are
better than you. This business of being better is important, and all
parties to the transaction want it, even if nothing of them look forward
to the transition. Every generation needs to try as hard as it can to
be better than the last. It may be doomed to failure but the effort
is the only thing that keeps the damn species going. It is hard to be
as good as, let alone better, but each generation needs to try.
This important business
of dad’s failing in front of their kids is one source of the famed
generation gap that asserts itself from time to time. The upstart
generation takes critical stock of the previous generation’s failures,
fueled by an outraged acquaintance with the personal failures of each
of their personal dads, and then irritably swarms around the planet
proclaiming vociferously that its way is better. Generations
that don’t proclaim that they are better have no heart, no morals,
and no guts. Generations like this do pop up; write ‘em off, and
wait for a pissed-off, failure-hating, dad-blaming one to come along
and then you get somewhere. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll
like where you end up getting, but at least you will get somewhere.
It may get a bit
tiresome when the upstart generation gets all snotty, but don’t
worry. Soon enough, a bunch of them will become dads too, and then they’ll
fail and they’ll be in exactly the same boat you’re in now.
It all works out.
Unless of course
it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Some dads absolutely
positively refuse to fail in front of their offspring. They can’t
hack it. This is bad.
There are two common
categories of dads who refuse to fulfill this vitally important task.
We’ll refer to them here politely as assholes and wimps.
Asshole dads, alpha-guys who can’t stand to be anything less than
alpha 24/7, can’t stand to lose at anything. Your titans of industry,
your despot rulers, your company CEO with a heart of evil and six billion
dollars in shareholder money as a reward, and so on. You know, your
Saddam Husseins. They can’t stand not to be right about everything
even in front of their kids. These people are terrible dads
and produce some of the worst children history has ever witnessed.
The typical result
of your classic asshole dad is the effete wuss, the parasite, the lazy
conniving dissolute wastrel who lives on dad’s money while fucking
his brains out with any number of lazy conniving dissolute money-hungry
women procured in various spots by various means. Your vacuous
wealthy asshole date-rapist who shows up in the occasional sensational
trial. Your paragon of character weakness.
The other classic
result of the asshole dad who absolutely refuses to be wrong in front
of his kids is the aggressive conniving ambitious asshole in training,
who longs to overthrow dad’s empire so he can install himself
as the next despot. Children of asshole dads, dadswho refuse
to fail, have no moral compass, and consequently, no morals.
they have no moral compass is because repeated bitter experience has
proven to them that choices have no consequences. No matter
what they do, no matter what, dad will always win, dad will always be
right, reality will never intrude and it doesn’t make any damn
difference whatsoever what their childhood longings tell them, it’s
always the same, dad wins, dad’s right. It’s a world without
variation, without victories, without failures, without anything that
matters at all and the only thing they have to gauge anything by is
the slight variation in personal pain they may experience by
fucking their brains out or overthrowing dad.
Why try to be anything
other than a dissolute wastrel when it makes no difference. Why indulge
in the kind of sentimental feeling that would encourage you not to make
everyone else’s life miserable if it makes no damn difference.
When things make no damn difference, the person who can’t make
a difference, or exercise meaningful choice, becomes powerless. Powerlessness
is possibly the least attractive trait human beings are prey to and
just surviving it, immorally or dissolutely, is about all your average
person can manage. Although there are the occasional children
of such dads who manage to escape and find some place where their actions
make a difference.
If you are the victim
of an asshole dad who was never wrong and never failed, that’s
what you need to do. Escape to some place where actions have meaning,
where people aren’t always right, where they try and fail, and
where whether what you are doing is right or wrong in some vaguely discernible
sense, has some consequence. Get away from the fucker!
It will do you and everyone else a world of good. Fake your
own death if necessary, in order to escape, but get out and
realign your moral compass.
Not all assholes, by the way, are asshole dads. Sometimes assholes fail
lavishly and generously in front of their own precious offspring, while
jealousy guarding their standing in the world at large. And
some people who are not all that hot in the real world compensate by
being never wrong in front of the people who need them to be wrong the
most, their families. This may be ironic, it may be predictable,
but it is always a mistake. Fail, men of America, fail for your kids,
fail for the future of humanity.
And that goes for
you wusses out there too. And so we'll deal with you next...
dads are afraid to fail....