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The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenting and the Fatter, Less Relevant (but Fully-Realized) Dad

Parenthood is isolating.Kids make you a recluse.

So many of us find our way to Facebook. But from what I’m told, Facebook has gone the way of the dinosaur insofar as social media is concerned, which is fine with me. This gets rid of all the youthful riff-raff and their unintelligible slang.Seriously. I’m far more comfortable with outdated technology as long as I’m rarely asked to change and can avoid being constantly reminded of my impending irrelevance.

Anyway, Facebook is where grown ups, people of a certain age, can see and be seen. It’s a place to brag and to bitch. And to bitch and to bitch and to bitch. It’s a place where, if you construct your network right, you can find endless support and understanding from peers in the same boat, not to mention a good deal of criticism and snark. Some warranted, but mostly just the rantings of similarly frustrated people enjoying the most wonderful, treacherous days of their lives, looking to act out.

As one ages and creeps toward ultimate decrepitude, one becomes wistful for times past. Times that our psyches have ably transformed from the real life reality they were into a magical utopia of proper thinking and moral rightness. I find myself judging things that are new (in this case, meaning things my parents didn’t do or have, be they normative parenting expectations or technological doodads) as lacking in a certain moral fiber that allows me to judge them righteously rather than responsibly. This is the “young whippersnapper” maneuver, and I’m growing quite enamored of it.

We have lost something valuable by not ever losing touch with our peer groups. There used to be a natural incubation period after having kids that we’ve lost due to constant interconnectedness. Someday we’ll evolve to intuitively know how to handle being in front of everyone we know and having a front row seat while they stand before us. We’ll know how to consume the media in an intelligent way that allows us to know the tricks that both our friends and our minds are playing on us. But that won’t be me. For now, for me, there’s something lost by not becoming a hermit for a decade or so after you have kids. It’s the way nature and my environment trained me to navigate such a traumatic and magical transformation.

The Good Old Days of Parenting, Bubbles and all

In the past, people had kids young. Over time, the acceptable age for entering into this attention-seeking behavior has crept ever upward. Until now, when I’m engaged in the absurd task of caring for toddlers in my 40’s. Seriously. This is where I have failed nature. This isn’t the way this is supposed to be done.

One by one, or occasionally two by two, we all split from our various friend/social groups. Facebook is a help this way as I can remain a voyeur on my former mates, but the truth is I don’t stay in touch. It’s an aspect of my character. I used to think it a flaw, but it’s not. Just who I am.

Having this window into my former life is hugely valuable. It’s also somewhat detrimental.

You see, I was meant to go into a bubble, hermetically sealed from the eyes of others, for years. I was meant to do so in order to fully allow me the time to transform into a standard issue dad, delighting in the originality of my bad puns and relishing the comfort of my ever diminishing fashionability—a sense that, in my case, was formed in the era of skater/grunge/B-Boy styles that has thankfully left my formerly clownishly oversized clothing nearly perfectly fitted now that I’ve ‘grown’ into manhood.

Furthermore, the bubble was a place populated by your parents and siblings and neighbors with similarly aged kids, and it was here where you learned what you were supposed to be like. But not anymore. Now we hide from our neighbors, hang on desperately to our classmates and original peer groups, and never allow ourselves the period where we are supposed to fully forget how we are viewed by anyone other than our kids and our spouses and our larger family.

That blessed bubble has been burst.

In the bubble, your non-parent friends took on the same feeling of irrelevance to you as you did to them. You knew something they didn’t, and you knew you couldn’t “tell” them anything you’d learned. They had to find it for themselves. And you went about grocery shopping and eating dinners at home and raising kids and building a foundation and ensuring healthcare and playing chauffeur and doing laundry, good God the laundry, and midnight feedings and 4 AM cuddles and reading books a thousand times and living like children yourselves, eating recooled leftover chicken nuggets and half apple sauces 4 nights a week and turning every available floor into a play area and generally living in a home too messy, though thoroughly sterilized, to ever host friends and barely passable to host family. You know, doing the day to day stuff that would allow your kids to go out and one day have the same disregard for their friends once they had kids because it’s the circle of life.

In the process, you grew to care less and less about what others thought and started to anchor your life around your couch, kitchen, and place of employment. You lost touch with culture and one day realized you hadn’t seen any of the movies nominated in five years, but you knew every word to every Pixar or even Pixar-ish film that’s ever been made and you liked it that way. Whole presidential campaigns and fashion trends would pass without your notice, and you’d find yourself thinking of a night out to The Macaroni Grille as a treat.

It would go like this. For years. Decades even.

You’d also get to navigate boyhood again, making many of the same mistakes but fixing some and taking pride in the fact that those things you avoided the second time around were out of the lineage and wouldn’t even be issues for your grandkids. And in the process, the person you were helming this seemingly out of control ship with was that beautiful girl you couldn’t believe liked you all those years ago, and you were now family with her, the only immediate family you’d ever have who was totally chosen, picked out special, and you were in more than love with her. You were in LIFE with her. With her alone. She’s the only one that got it. Got it the exact same way as you did. And you were in love again, but a better kind. A more complete kind. You’d done all the work together and you’d beaten out any of the doubt or concern and were fully yourself and made to feel great about yourself—your fatter, less relevant, but fully-realized self.

There was something nice about a world where we simply retreated to build a safe bubble for our kids to grow up in and ourselves to grow unselfconscious in—where the world was not dominated by competitive parenting; where we befriended other families at the park and on the street and they became our family friends; where our only advice came from our own parents and siblings and not the “new parent industrial complex” out to capitalize on our natural feelings of inadequacy, out to exacerbate and exploit them so we’d buy and buy again their book, their foods, their methods and anything else they can charge us for—a place you could emerge from culturally irrelevant and personally powerful, clad in polyester pants with a too-high waist, looking the embarrassment you were to your now prepubescent kids, proudly out of fashion and unfit, providing them a model of the “truly cool” person who cares not what the world wants them to be but rather places value on that which is truly important in seeking and finding lasting happiness.

Forget having good self-esteem. You were past that. You knew who you were and what that meant. You were a parent.

But you whippersnappers with your fancy “thinking machines” and the Facebook have gone and ruined it.

Bah…

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These-Are-The-Stories-that-Change-Everything

Photo:simpleinsomnia/Flickr

 

This essay originally appeared on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

 

Read Sammiches and Psych Meds every week here on The Good Men Project!

 

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