I overheard these two dads today. At coffee. One dad wore black leather Gucci loafers. With jeans. And some kind of tan brushed corduroy sports coat with a t-shirt underneath. And a baseball cap with the name of some international real estate firm. Logo embroidered, not silk screened. I couldn’t see the other dad because his back was facing me.
Around forty minutes of listening to two adult men. Fathers. Raising our future generation of husbands and fathers and bosses. Each with middle school boys. I had no intention to eavesdrop. I had work to do. But they sat right next to me. And they spoke loudly. In that deep, certain, business-y voice that I find to have a distinctly Orange County intonation.
After about five minutes, I scribble notes. These are not direct quotes. But they capture, accurately, the conversation:
“Yeah, I’m thinking Mater Dei or Edison for football. I’m in conversations with both coaches.”
“I hear mixed things on the public/private school debate on getting them into good colleges. I hear some parents are putting their kids in low performing high schools so they graduate top of the class. Not sure I want Jimmy hanging out with the rifr raff but whatever it takes, right?”
“Speed and weight conditioning is a pain in the ass and expensive as hell but you’ve gotta do it if you want him in Division 1.”
“We visited Penn last week and I’m torn between getting him into an Ivy versus a big D-1 sports school but sports is where it’s at.”
“Yeah, you hear Jim’s son is going to Orange County High School of the Arts? Fucking crazy putting your kid into a school with a bunch of fags.” (Voice lowered for second part of statement.)
“My wife has tutors lined up over the summer, she’s fucking amazing how she is able to squeeze A’s out of him on top of everything else he has going on.”
“He’s kicking ass in baseball too but, shit, with the three kids we’re out all week long in either tournaments, training or practice.”
I sat and thought. I took deep breaths. I tried to pay attention to my own agitation. Mindfulness — stepping away from your emotion and paying attention to it. Watching the thinker. In my case, watching the over thinker.
Here are the thoughts and questions that I wrote down:
Paul, don’t judge.
Just observe your agitation. It’s okay. Don’t judge them. Just pay attention to your feeling.
These dads are well meaning. We do what we know. This is all they know.
What is the purpose of education?
What is the purpose of school?
What is the purpose of sports?
What is the purpose of raising children?
Is winning the most important thing to teach our children?
Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
What are these dads teaching their children about life?
What do our children truly NEED from us?
Am I the only dad that thinks high school and college are for expanding our minds, teaching us to love learning, teaching us to know?
Are these boys achieving so much because they, subconsciously, want their parents to love them?
Who is all this “winning” really for?
How could children not feel conditionally loved when their parents seem to only have external measurements as their goals?
How are they guys not reading child psychologist Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege about the damaging effects of objectifying our children?
How should parents help their teens find a life vocation?
I got in the car and drove. I thought of that piece by Natalia Ginzburg. I found myself lamenting that these guys hadn’t read Ginzburg. And I had that sinking feeling that they don’t read books — too busy making money. Or, too busy reading about ways to win. I drove and found myself, as I have for many years, realizing that every parent loves his or her child, but how he or she loves can be vastly different.
I arrived to the office. I found Dr. Levine:
“Well-meaning parents contribute to problems in self-development by pressuring their children, emphasizing external measures of success, being overly critical, and being alternately emotionally unavailable or intrusive. Becoming independent, and forging an identity becomes particularly difficult for children under these circumstances.”
Then I skimmed Ginzburg:
“What we must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken. This love can take different forms, and sometimes a listless, solitary, bashful child is not lacking in a love of life, he is not overwhelmed by a fear of life, he is simply in a state of expectancy, intent on preparing himself for his vocation. And what is a human being’s vocation but the highest expression of his love of life? And so we must wait, next to him, while his vocation awakens and takes shape… We should not demand anything; we should not ask or hope that he is a genius or an artist or a hero or a saint; and yet we must be ready for everything; our waiting and our patience must compass both the possibility of the highest and the most ordinary of fates.”
If we as parents understood the virtue of unconditional love, and the wisdom of Ginzburg’s pedagogy, Dr. Levine would be out of business — there’d be no more teenagers needing psychologists to convince them, even in spite of mom and dad, that they’re okay.
The Courage To Raise An Ordinary Child; There’s a book title.