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Monday
Apr232012

Not My Kids

I’m a son, but far from only a son. In fact—sorry mom—I rarely exist, openly conscious of my sonhood. I’m a lot of things, a lot of roles, a lot of people, but I’m not sure I’d commit to locating myself in any static figure(s). Rather, I seem to exist more in the immediate project of my desires and, quite frankly, those desires usually constellate around things like chocolate cake and pussy. I’d love to tell you that I seek wholeness or enlightenment or upstanding citizenship. But chocolate cake is really good.

I can’t speak to my parents’ (I’ve had 5) impact on me. It’s entirely too simplistic, silly actually, to believe I can understand myself, derive myself, articulate my character via one to one correlations between then and now. Dad did that. So I am this. Ideas that claim to have that much explanatory power are clean and tidy and even make sense – sense of a certain kind that excludes a million other ways to make sense in addition to concealing the ultimate nonsense that informs everything we “know”. When we know we don’t know, we’re free to think, believe, and change our minds without the threat of fundamentalism and terrorism.

I am a mess of destiny. My parents played a role, of course. But a little girl in Houston, Texas grabbed my crotch in a pool when I was 6 and she played a role too. I have a memory of being 2 at my Aunt Sue’s and sitting by a little stream. Perhaps that stream is why I run. Perhaps that stream is why I babble. I could go on and on (like a stream). Do you see? To dwell overmuch on parental roles and parental guidance puts the burden of my entire destiny completely on their shoulders. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t really listen to them all that much. They sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

I’m complicating myself in order to extend the same complication to my children and I need to interrupt this sentence in order to announce the supreme arrogance that inheres in calling them “MY” children. We need to relate to these crazy little people more like Indians relating to the land. When all the greedy white men started stealing and/or “buying” land, the Indians scrunched up their faces and said “We don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” (translated from the original Cherokee). My kids aren’t MY kids. They’re weird little bundles of fate that belong only to themselves, subjects to worlds and worlds of influence, of which I am but a factor.

Do you walk around feeling like you belong to your mom? Like, you’re your mom’s thing? Well then your kids aren’t yours. Soon, they won’t even like you.

These thoughts, this unhinging of the child from the parent, is not an attempt to let myself off the hook. Rather, they’re the only way I, in my greedy white mind, can clear a space for Neil to co-father our children. My evasion is a hospitable invitation, a welcoming gesture into the fabric of our family. The fact that I didn’t invite him is an illustration of the size of my significance and proof of his belonging. The children are enormous piles of messy destiny and they will become who they are above and beyond my ideas about them. My only job is to love them to death while making room for others to love them too.

Reader Comments (13)

Asha from Parenthacks just wrote the most astute comment on my blog: "Meet kids where they re, enjoy their worlds with them, then expand them where you can."

We can influence them. We do influence them. Sometimes that influence is in the form of rejecting our influence. But I hope when my kids think back on me, they will think that I loved them, not that I "molded" them.

April 23, 2012 at 8:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterMom101

i didn't know where you were going with this, and then it was perfectly clear. just perfect. the weird little bundles of fate in your life are lucky to have you.

April 23, 2012 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterangela king

Neil Young? or Neilochka? or does it matter? both could bring poetry to the young, i suppose. ;)

i think a lot about identity. and you're right, our parents don't determine us, and i subscribe to the Kahlil Gibran Hallmark card of "your children are not your children" to the point of hanging a poster proclaiming it on the wall outside my kids' room.

but that poster belonged to my parents, back in the brief hippie days before my father split the program.

i think parents end up being lines of flight from which children draw a lot of their sense of possibility in the world. not the only lines of flight, by any means. and almost always in some ways inadequate to the job. but primary nonetheless, shaping the terms by which we understand our own lives and directions. i think our shaping hides itself, shows up in the base ways we consider certain things inevitable or natural or simply part of the background noise, like Charlie Brown's teacher.

there will always be a whole world full of factors and lines of flight out there, and we don't control them nor will we - as parents - ever be aware of half the ones that affect the people we bring into the world. we don't even control a lot of our influence on them: like teaching, parenting is a job where half of what you think you're doing isn't actually what's getting taken up. but don't discount your own influence, either. it's almost always enormous.

April 23, 2012 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterBon

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

April 23, 2012 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterquix

Interesting. But my kids are definitely MY kids. I am willing to share. Because it's good to get love from many sources. And while I know they don't think of themselves belonging to me, I belong to them in their minds too. We possess each other while never being possessed. And I don't think my kids ever hated me. My daughter once complained that I gave her nothing to rebel against.

April 23, 2012 at 8:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

I didn't know I copped Gibran. Props to Kahlil.

April 23, 2012 at 8:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterBHJ

I believe they come out as fully formed personalities and then we wipe our crap on them. Hence why my son sounds just like me.

I try to deny ownership all the time except when I want them to do things and then I use the 'you came from my vagina, I own your ass till majority' line. It seldom works though.

April 23, 2012 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterkerry

Wow. Oof.
Props to you Dad.

April 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterMisty

"My only job is to love them to death while making room for others to love them too."

The most perfect description of a parent's role as I've ever read. Thank you!

April 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSarah B.

I hope the above conclusions diminish what I can only imagine is also a pretty painful realization. It would be for me. But you're the original dad and always will be. Plus, running fast and writing well are cool.

April 23, 2012 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

LOVE this. Once again.
And, I get it. Again.
My comments sound like a broken record, I think.
You rock, BHJ!

April 27, 2012 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteph.

I imagine it is a pain in the ass to see someone slip into what is 'your role' ... good on you to open up to it ... even if you have to come up with a convoluted little trick to get yourself there. It's right; it works; you seem a good dad.

April 30, 2012 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterellie

Great poem up there in the comments.
I...don't know how you have accepted this Neil person. I push out of my head the thought of this Andrea person kissing my daughter's forehead, brushing her hair, getting a hug from her....she is MINE, damn it. Yes, in reality, I get what you are saying...they aren't OURS, but g-damn it, she is MINE. He took it all away, so he cannot take HER away and share her with this Andrea person.

Wait.

This isn't about me.

You are a much bigger person than I.

May 1, 2012 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDanielle[Left of Lost]

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