No Right

I have previously written about my family, about how large it has become in successive generations, and about how prolific we are at producing offspring. Well, if you read that you probably know that I am nearly unique among my family as one of a handful of people who never had children. Actually, I think there are three of us, but my cousin Shawn died last year, so the number dwindles. If my brother and his girlfriend have a child soon, I will be in a club with one member.

I have never presumed to tell anyone with children how they might improve their parenting. Advising a parent on how to raise a child, especially if you have none, is an invitation to a verbal assault, if not something more violent. Where everyone seems to have opinions on everything, whether they are experts or not, from things like cooking to sleep disorders to weight loss. Wives’ tales and home remedies abound, and anyone you meet will likely have something in the way of advice on their best recipe or how to get a stain out. But parents are very sensitive about how they raise their children, and they resent having to take classes or read books on how to improve, even though every one of them could use some help.

As a childless couple, my wife and I avoid couple with children, essentially to keep from being silent observers when the topic of conversation turns to kids. I’ve been stuck there before, having to hear stories about their teenager or their toddler, and how their child is evidently the only one who doesn’t clean his room or do his homework. (I wish I could jump in and ask, “what if your son told you he was gay?” That would be a fun conversation, provided it continued.)

But I remain silent. I wish I could place the same constraint on parents. No one with kids should have the right to discuss being childless.

“Have you considered adoption?” This is where I usually lose it. Anyone who has ever tried to have children, for many years, has of course explored the option. But I cannot get into why we decided not to, for the moment. My wife also gets very upset, for good reason, when a couple complains that they have been trying to get pregnant with no avail, for FOUR MONTHS!

Try 12 years.

When I see bad parenting, it burns a hole in my soul to not be able to speak. We did get an ear-full when we tried to warn a friend of ours about her daughter’s behavior. It went beyond simple observation. There were, and are, things this parent might never know about, and it’s a miracle this kid is alive. This parent proceeded to chastise us and tell us we had no right to give her advice because we have no idea what it’s like to raise a child. She was fairly abusive, and I hope she reads this.

When a parent has trouble with their teenager, and he or she tells me about it, I wonder if they are soliciting advice or some feedback of any kind. What am i supposed to say? I often see the irony of it: I am the guy with no kids, so maybe I can be objective in my response. Sure, I’ll tell you what you want to hear. But it won’t be the truth. The truth is that no one is a good parent without the advice of friends and family, even those who are childless.

The haves and the have-nots will rarely agree on things, whether it’s about raising the minimum wage, or the ability to have children. And as a have-not, I admit that I resent those with children, especially when they appear to flaunt their wealth. Who could blame them, though? But it burns me when I see people who have kids while being abusive and neglectful toward them. Children are a gift, and they should be cherished. Some people should never be parents, and the universe has decided they should be. Go figure.

 

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Not My Type

I’m not a typical guy. I’m “straight”, and I’m married to a woman. And that’s where the stereotypes begin. Growing up male has its own peculiar baggage, where fathers hope to instill their sons with a desire to hunt, fish, and/or play team sports. The stereotypical American dad will wear his son’s team colors to games, or he might even coach his son’s little league team or drive the equipment truck. Some dads absolutely insist that their sons grow up to be carbon copies, where they can vicariously live out their fantasies of becoming the star quarterback, because they never lived up to their own potential, if they had any to begin with. Well, I’m being kind of cruel. But jocks…okay, now I’m stereotyping.

This brings me to, well, me. As much as my dad probably wanted me to be athletic and love it as well. I fell in love with music, and I joined the marching band. And I flourished there. I loved it so much, I advanced to the first-chair position in the trombone section by my 10th-grade year. This was where I knew I belonged. My dad…adjusted. I was aware that he had wished his sons would excel in sports. My brother would at least go to the little league baseball city championship. By my dad came to football games, not to see the game, but to see and hear the band play on the field. He was proud of me.

Later I would learn to sew and cook – quite well, if I might say. By the way, I’m not talking about making throw pillows, here. I’ve made jackets, dresses (for my wife), shirts, vests, coats, and more. I actually get excited going to fabric outlets, and I bought a costume design book recently that I’m really enjoying.

And I’m currently in a baking phase. I’ve been making homemade “artisan” bread for a while now. We don’t even buy bread at the supermarket anymore. And I experiment with sauces, soups, and vinaigrettes. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t think if I can make something, rather how to make it unique. I’ve developed some signature dishes that people actually ask for. And I love to cook. You can’t keep me out of the kitchen. Thanksgiving is my favorite  holiday for this reason.

I was having lunch with co-workers, my boss. We passed a Jo-Ann fabrics store – the one I frequent – and my boss made a smart-ass comment, at which the other co-worker laughed loudly and added further smart-assedness. I said nothing. I think my boss knows I sew. But I didn’t want to start that conversation. And I hope he doesn’t know I make dresses and skirts for my wife. But this is a public blog, and I make no secret of who I am.

We don’t live in a perfect world, but in that hypothetical perfect world, people would be accepting of others’ differences. Not tolerance, but true acceptance and understanding. I wish I could tell my family about my views of God and faith. I wish I could be open with my friends and family about how I feel about Prop 8. I wish that all my friends could be in the same room together without coming to blows. (Actually, I would wager that some of the people in the room would simply walk out at the first sign of bigotry and name-calling from some of the others. Actually, why am I friends with those assholes?)

I’m happy that I live in a place where I am free to be who I am. Just recently, in Sudan, a Christian woman was sentenced to be hanged for marrying a Christian man. Fortunately, she was exonerated, or at least her execution was delayed. But you can safely say that religious freedom is almost, but not quite, guaranteed in the US. Be that as it may, many Americans are anti-Muslim. But, okay, not as much as the Arab world is anti-Christian. A stereotype, of course. Actually, there are many Christian Arabs, and there are many Christians living in Palestine. We adhere to some of the preconceptions we were taught when we were young, and it’s hard to shed them, falling back on the things we believe to be true, like that Saint Nicholas was the basis for Santa Claus (no), or that George Washington could not tell a lie (not likely). We’re practically pre-programmed to believe what we’re told or what we read. I see Facebook posts every so often promulgating obvious falsehoods and myths. Much of the time, the truth – or at least the facts – can be quickly ascertained.

When we look at a person, do we not judge them on appearances? Don’t we also want to be accepted and loved? Does no one see this incongruity?

I’m sure we all know what is right. But we still judge. We still assume we know what type of person the other is. We see a tall woman, and we assume she played high school basketball or volleyball. Maybe she was the drum major or leader of the chess club. Maybe the nerdy kid is actually a brilliant strategist. Maybe the strong silent type is really listening and can be your best friend.

I am of a type. Je suis un type.