September 27th, 2005

When I'm Bad I'm Better

Fatherless Children

Be they on the topic of single motherhood in the cities, workaholism in the suburbs, or nanny-parenting in the upper economic eschelons, essays and books abound on the effects of what now I feel safe guessing is two generations of fatherless children. Tyler Durden speaks of males who without fathers have not learned how to be men. I'm beginning to doubt this is the extent of the missed lessons. And like many things, this was inspired by the damned ice cube trays at work.

I go to retrieve ice and notice a tray with two cubes left in it sitting in the freezer. The Big Boss comments on my audible snort and asks me what's up. I mention the empty tray, and add that my father would have beaten me across the room had I done this.

I often see adults behaving like children and find myself pitying their mothers. No matter how much or how little effort she put into their upbringing, no mother intends for their children to be ill-mannered. Had your mother been watching you, would you behave this way? I then turn my head and see children behaving like animals and realize who they will grow up to be. The mother? Either acting as bad as the child (and the other grown children around her), quietly muttering that the child is embarassing her, or gazing off into the distance.

My father insisted I answer the telephone, "hello, this is Megan speaking," and ask for friends, "hello this is Megan, may I speak to Kristy?" He mercilessly mocked my friends who called and grunted "Megan 'dere?" and I knew damn well had he ever heard me talking that way on the phone I would never hear the end of it. He took us to fancy restaurants at young ages, and by the time we could sit in adult chairs we were expected to behave as adults in the restaurant. And we did. Leave a mess for someone else to clean up? Forget it. Take the last of something, such as a paper towel, without replacing it? Ain't gonna fly.

Mothers very well could teach these lessons, and I'm sure they are. But can mothers be both good cop and bad cop? Is this the sort of teaching style only a father can assume? I also know many of you who were raised without fathers and came out perfectly polite. Realize this is a theory, and exceptions do in fact make the rule. Without fathers, however, can children truly learn these lessons before the bad habits are ingrained? Are children as similar to dogs as they are in simile: do children, like dogs, react differently to the male voice than the female voice?

Has the laissez-faire approach to parenting that has become the vogue robbed parents of the very valuable yet volatile tool of fear? I only needed to be afraid of a pop on the behind for so long before cleaning up after myself became a habit, and fear was no longer the motivation. Is a mother as effective using fear as a father? On The Baby Human they showed toddlers of about 2 years of age aware that lipsick is for mommies and face shaving is for daddies. Do toddlers then know that physical prowess is a man-behavior and can know to either ignore, surmount, or imitate it? Does a daughter know that violence is a male behavior and threat or no threat, mommy isn't going to hit her? And how does that play into the development of a son? Does he defy his mother's fear tactic knowing that fearing women is not a man-behavior for him to imitate?

Was Tyler Durden on to more than he realized? Has the feminization of men lead to the abounding rudeness in our society? Have the absent fathers from Tyler's generation made him unsuitable for fatherhood even if he is present; will he react to his misbehaving children as his mother did? Will he be able to impart the lessons on his children his father did not? Will we be able to recover? If Tyler can teach his son to be polite, will the son maintain those behaviors while surrounded by teenagers and older who have no regard for manners, good or bad? Will negative reinforcement corrode etiquette or will the polite find a sense of superiority in their behavior?

Or will I be filling up other people's empty ice cube trays for the rest of my life?