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How We Became the Worst Parents Ever

Sometimes when my kids are playing out in my yard, I stand there and stare at them laughing and giggling, running around, all hopped up on Popsicle sugar rushing through their veins, and I just smile to myself.

That only lasts a moment or two though. I count my lucky stars for a sec, watching my own spawn having a blast out in the sunshine of the day, and then, more often than not, the creepy shit comes crawling out of the mid-'70s wood paneling that surrounds my feeble mind.

That's when I stand there in the shadows of my own home and imagine some sick child molester come rolling slow down the alley behind my yard. He pulls up in his beat-up old van (it's always an old van on TV and in the movies) and gets out, a grizzled pot-bellied freak of nature with the scent of a prison steaming off his snakeskin arms, his warm and easy smile the surest sign that you're dealing with an absolute devil.

I always skip the part where he slips one of my own kids into the van. It's just too much. Instead, I simply fast-forward a moment or two to when the dude pulls away without any racket, without any bank robbery tire screeches or anything like that. The van turns the back corner by the church, rolls up the side alley, and disappears forever into the ether of an overly concerned daddy's eternal suicide. Because, let's face it: If that happened to one of my kids, I'd kill myself over and over again, every damn day, until there was nothing left to kill anymore. Until even the possibility of a memory of me or my name or the fact that I once existed was erased from all time and space. Then I snap out of it and watch my kids flinging dirt around with the plastic shovels I gave them last spring.

What a drag it is, this parenting thing.

We're doing it wrong. I'm doing it wrong. Living in fear, waiting around for the worst to come slipping down the alleys of our world, even when there's a better chance of fucking Bigfoot doing a running jump out of a standing cornfield and crashing down through your windshield at 75 mph.

I don't want to be that dad anymore.

We're going to raise a neurotic generation. And with that, our own kids will probably end up being the ones who finally bring the whole world crashing down once and for all.

What a shitshow.

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Jennifer Senior's recent Science of Us article, "We Live in an Age of Irrational Parenting," was a brilliant little piece of work. If you haven't seen it by now, well, that's just evidence that we are mostly being exposed to a heap of terror and warnings on the Internet and in the media anymore, and that the more rational/thoughtful stuff just isn't trickling down like it ought to.

Senior shines a concise beam on the fact that parenting in the 21st century—and quite frankly BECAUSE of the 21st century—has gotten downright ridiculous. Inspired by the story of a couple in Maryland who were recently turned in by other parents and cited by police for letting their 10- and 6-year-old kids walk alone to a park, the article moves us through a seriously alarming trend—oh hell, "trend" isn't even the right word. "Lifestyle phenomenon" is more apt. A phenomenon in which modern first-world parents are overextending the traditional roles of parenting to include treating our own kids like rare and priceless jewels that need to be kept under strict and unflappable watch.

In other words, even as parents with good intentions, we're actually turning into overbearing freaks. The radical protection of our children from the ghouls and goblins of a world brainwashed and mortified by the easy-flowing, never-ending stream of cyber reports about kidnapping and child abuse and breastfeeding mistakes and bullying and allergies and organic baby food has kind of turned this parenting generation of ours into a martial land of moms and dads whose idea of preserving their children's purity, health, intellect and even their life has come to define the parent's actual identity, their reason for existing.

A lot of this modern parenting has a lot less to do with children than it does with the people in charge of raising them. That's where the trouble starts. That's where the shit hits the proverbial fan.

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I'm guilty and I don't really even know how it happened. I'm not what you would call a helicopter parent, I don't think, although my ex-wife, the mother of my three kids and current girlfriend (all the same person!) sometimes says I am. But I will admit that I'm a guy who felt moved to spiritual heights by the births of my kids and took it very very seriously. Looking back now, I had just left 15 years of touring in a rock band and transitioned directly into being a dad. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think most parents these days tend to view becoming a mom or dad as something that also demands of them that they give up or sacrifice a huge part of their younger selves in order to live their lives in the name of love. And that's cool. That's noble and sounds good on paper.

But as I take a look back over my shoulder at these past six years, I can honestly say that it was also one of the worst goddamn things I ever promised myself—this idea that I was going to live my life for parenting and never ever fail my precious babies in any way, shape or form.

What a bunch of bull. That's inhuman and unnatural. We take ourselves so seriously, thinking for whatever reasons that we simply MUST do better than our parents did for us. We can't possibly feed our kids the tumor-causing TV dinners they fed us or let our precious angels ride a bike with training wheels without being decked out in a helmet and pad set—a set that used to be reserved for one man and one man alone, and that man's name was Evel Knievel.

What an insult to our parents, though. Most of us were raised without the cloud of over-parenting hanging over our heads and most of us turned out fine. Hey, I know I did. I'm wildly handsome; I make enough money to survive; I enjoy a variety of activities including fishing and reading; I am a loyal if somewhat cantankerous lover; I have a liberal heart and medieval peasant's work ethic; and I can cook/clean/fix things without complaint. I can also drive a motor vehicle and have no police record at 43 years of age.

And guess what, y'all? I came from a kingdom of divorce and spanking and roast beef fat-eating and a dad who was MIA for 25 years and teenage weed experimentation and rock 'n' roll songs about sex and Satan and I started drinking soda when I was like 3 and I drank it hardcore for a long time after that and I was around a lot of older smokers and they died and so did most of the older people who didn't smoke, too, and so what does all of that say about me and my single mom?

That we sucked at life? That we weren't good enough for this world? I don't know about that.

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I had such a wonderful youth. I was out of the house on summer mornings and my days were filled with penny candy and sugary drinks and hoagies with 790,000 grams of fat and crayfish hunting and baseball games and bike riding and cursing and hanging with my friends and our lives were insanely good even though we'd end up miles away from our homes and our yards every single day.

My mom still loved me as much as you love your kid, as much as I love mine. She just wasn't brainwashed by a world that had come to define itself by selling itself the fear of failure as a very real possibility when it comes to parenting. She wasn't a parent who defined herself by showing off or constantly trying to outdo the next mom down the block.

My mom raised two boys on her own by just being there for them, without pretension and without even thinking about if she was doing the right thing for us. She just did what she felt in her heart and her gut. She just acted like a parent, pure and simple.

That's something we are losing now. When it comes to parenthood today, way too many adults are making it all about themselves. And there is something seriously whack about that, don't you think?

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