I'm sitting here looking at the February 11 issue of this journal and wondering what I should make of the fact of my work being honored with placement on the front page, above the fold, but with my byline misspelled (It's Washburne, not Washburn). It's like they're saying, okay, we like you some but don't get too comfortable wherever you are." Just like what my parents told me shortly after I attained the age of reason. "You're welcome to hang around for a while," they said, "but let's see how it goes before we commit to anything permanent."
Provisional parenting, it was called, and it basically gave parents the right to bestow or withhold food, shelter, love, etc. based on the child's usefulness or income generating ability. For instance, a particularly attractive kid might bring in money as a model or an actor and thus be entitled to all available familial benefits. If a child was very large and strong he might bring glory to the family as an athlete or at least be able to do manual labor around the house and earn his keep that way. Children showing aptitude in science and math were encouraged and rewarded for their efforts. As to the rest of us…
I recall being sat down on my eighth birthday for my annual review. My mother and father sat at one end of the dining room table, me at the other, swinging my legs and drumming on the tabletop.
"Stop that," my dad snapped, rummaging through a large pile of papers. I sat up and tried to look attentive.
"You know why you're here, right?" my dad said.
"Yeah," I answered. He furrowed his brow and looked at me appraisingly for a minute or so, then turned to my mother.
"He's pretty small," he said.
He turned back to me. "You're pretty small," he said.
"I'm eight," I said.
"I've got some standard growth expectation charts here and frankly you're not measuring up," he said. He pointed something out on the paper to my mother.
"Look, see?" he said. "Two inches on height, 11 pounds on weight. Plus, look at his ears."
I twiddled one of my ears experimentally. It felt okay.
My father addressed my mother again. "What can he do? Where is he showing aptitude?"
"He likes to name things," my mother said.
"Name things? Like what?"
"Well, he named all his fingers and toes and his toys and the furniture — he called me Mrs. Calabash."
"Christ, that's no help at all. He likes to read, doesn't he? You like to read, right?" I nodded emphatically. "There you go, that's something. Maybe he'll be a writer."
"Oh, no, no, no," my mother cried. "Not that. Never that. I couldn't bear the shame. He's small enough, let's just apprentice him to a chimney sweep right now."
Yes, times were tougher back then. You often hear people of my generation and even younger — say, 30s and up — pointing out the differences in child rearing methods between their own formative years and those of the "millenials." They deride and belittle the world of play dates, specialty camps, structured recreation, and helicopter parenting. They reminisce wistfully about sandlot ballgames and tree climbing. They enumerate their stitches and broken bones as physical evidence of their toughness and endurance. "Video games?" they sneer. "You know what we did when we were kids? Rock fights. That's right. We went out to the alley, picked up a garbage can lid, and pelted each other with rocks until somebody got killed or the streetlights came on."
"You guys get everything on a silver platter," they say. "If we wanted meat, we had to kill and dress it ourselves. We got four cents a year for an allowance and out of that we had to buy all our clothes and school supplies. And speaking of school, there was none of this nonsense about gangs or drugs or shootings. Daily beatings took most of the starch out of any potential troublemakers. You didn't even have to do anything wrong — beatings were a part of the daily curriculum. Your typical junior high class schedule went something like: homeroom, first beating (softening up), English, Science, Lunch, Midday Beating, Spanish, History, P.E., Closing Beating, dismissal. No time nor desire or foolishness."
I guess you'd have to give it to the previous generations on toughness, but I'm wondering: is the ability to take a rock to the head or fall out of a tree and live really the best preparation for success and happiness in life? It seems like every time I open a magazine these days I read about some kid exactly half the age of the underwear I'm currently wearing who's already made more money than I, at my average rate, could hope to amass in a lifetime. I can't help but feel that there may be a correlation between modern parenting styles and the proliferation of young — very young — people effecting meaningful change and innovation in all aspects of modern society. There appears to be a significant benefit in treating children as actual human beings with something to contribute, and not just as people in abeyance.
That said, I have to wonder how in the hell that children — male children anyhow — are getting anything done at all in the face of unrestricted access to porn. Free. 24 hours a day. Every type, every perverted subset, every kink imaginable is right there in high definition video in your pocket. The mind boggles, does it not?
Gentlemen of a certain age, I call on you to remember the turbulent hormonal storm that was adolescence. I do not think I am singular, nor am I at all exaggerating, when I say that I literally never thought about anything but sex from the age of 13 up until I started to participate in it on a regular basis. In fact, the entire thought process of your basic male pre-adult can be summed up thusly: 0-2 years, breasts; 2-12 years, sugar; 12-17, back to breasts. Now, for youngsters so inclined, graphical representations of the unclothed female form were a most desirable — and in my day rare — commodity. In the pre-Internet days we got our nudity in one of two ways, either a) Dad sock drawer, or b) the woods.
The stuff secreted in drawers or under mattresses or in the garage was generally Playboy magazine or possibly Penthouse. Good, wholesome American porn featuring coy, airbrushed beauties posing with big smiles in unlikely locales. Those ladies are burned permanently into my memory — name a month from 1970-1978 and I'll tell you the playmate's name, turn-ons, aspirations and astrological sign. The stuff we found out in the woods was different. The girls weren't as pretty, they had pimples and scars, and they showed things that frightened and confused us. We generally looked at it, disgusted, and left it there for the next kid to find.
In retrospect, one wonders why the woods were full of porn. We never saw any creeps skulking around in there but nevertheless there it was in every single place I lived.
I'm trying to imagine the 1976 me with a smartphone and the fact that all that explicit content might have on my already sex-addled brain. I'm picturing a malnourished, slavering, ratlike creature with balding, bloodshot eyes and grotesquely twisted hands. Not unlike, now I think about it, the current me after a couple of weeks enjoying the old ring-dang-doodle.
The natural assumption on observing these computer hacking, crowd sourcing, gender blurring, genre-blending wunderkinder is that their level of sophistication so far outstrips we innocencts of the 70s that our Holy Grail has become their discarded Dixie cup. Neither the sex act nor the naked human body hold any mystery for the youth of today — been there, they say. Done that. Ho, and furthermore, hum,.
Well, I for one am outraged. Nice job, parents of today. Through your program of strict nutritional guidelines, youth soccer, baby genius recordings, afterschool enrichment classes, parental encouragement, and no beatings, you've created a super race that is impervious to porn. You have fallen right into the eugenicists' hands. Hitler would be thrilled with today's young people except for all the interracial coupling and I daresay he would rethink the parameters of the Aryan ideal once he saw what focused and capable soldiers these tawny ubermenschen made.
If these kids aren't obsessing about porn, what else are they not doing? Not tormenting people different from them? Not leaving flaming bags of crap on porches? Not drinking themselves into a stupor every weekend? Not starting fires, breaking windows, spray painting underpasses, or any of the other good, wholesome American diversions that made me the man I am today?
I don't want to be an alarmist, but it appears to me that if these millennialists' positive, hopeful agenda is left unchecked, we are heading inexorably toward a world of acceptance and inclusion wherein equality is a given and racism and sexism cease to exist.
Is this really the direction we want to steer the country in? Won't it become more difficult for the superior races and classes to assert their rightful dominance? How will we know whom to exploit and imprison and who to reserve spots for at the money trough? What's next? No more rape and murder and domestic violence?
My advice to parents: get your kids on a program of daily beatings and shame-based moral instruction straightaway. Within a generation or two we should once again be able to feel superior to our youth.