A new version of this title is now part of my new book, 'The Secular Fundamentalist'.
|Recently, the eldest daughter of a younger cousin of mine had her thirteenth birthday. This was much cause for huge celebrations of her teenyboperization on younger cousin's Facebook page. Friends of the family came in with all the usual congratulations that one might expect on such an occasion. "So happy to...Congratulations on...Best of luck for"...etc, etc.
Not yours truly. My youngest daughter is 18 and my oldest one is 35, so in all conscience I could not possibly pretend to tell people what they want to hear on the extremely vexed subject of adolescence. I am a battle scarred parent with enough experience to know better!
So I sent them something of a fly in their swimmingly pleasantly birthday greetings ointment... I know: inappropriate.
"You could be under threat from SLAPS. SLAPS you ask? Spoilt Little Adolescent Princess Syndrome.
They think they own the joint you live in and you are the stupid garcon who has to supply whatever is wanted and chop chop. Massive sulks and cold shoulderings are part of their armamentarium, if they do not get what they want snappily enough, or you have the temerity to expect something of them.
The nice little girl you once thought you knew seems but a distant memory.
The main known antidote is an unflappable lack of co-operation by way of systematic and ruthlessly enforced counter-demands, and a reputation for being a totally relentless and heartless bitch.
Mark this. To compromise with SLAPS is to be compromised. 'Flexibility' is more than likely weakness.
Success in meeting and beating SLAPS produces one of the most rewarding and heartwarming outcomes. Respect. The love will come later. And it is a struggle you need to win, or you become that now well established and recognized phenomenon; the parental loser. And your darling one will never let you forget it.
Know what it is to be frankly regarded as a ridiculous pain. Check out the not terribly well concealed eye rolling every time you open your mouth and dare to venture an opinion that isn't exactly synchronous with the dominant current adolescent consciousness. And they will still roll anyway, even if you get the answer right, because adults have no business getting it right!
The only other known antidote is the prospect of highly unreasonable and possibly traumatically unpleasant behavior. Ordinary reasonableness is no defense, because fundamentally, what is being negotiated is not reason, but power.
I am sure this advice is of no conceivable use or relevance. This could never happen to you. And I am sure it won't because the love, good will and a willingness to meet your dearest one half way, will conquer all. Good luck."
Being Facebook, I had already trespassed on too much comment space and put too much weight upon it, so I left it at that. But there was more that needed to be said. The measure of any social authority is its capacity to enforce its edicts. Without clout, it is but an empty gesture that is only honored in the breach, if that. So when one is put in that position, one has to be creative, or one surrenders meekly to the currently prevailing social forces.
The capacity to turn on incandescent rage is an art form that every teenybopper parent needs to acquire. I did not exercise this in my own life until my oldest daughter was around thirty, but it is never too late. Her mother's accusations against me have been firmly implanted in her mind to the point that no rational discussion of the evidence for or the assumptions behind those accusations was possible. I have worn these second hand recriminations since the girl was old enough to speak and I finally completely and totally lost my temper. It was a very salutary and attitude changing moment and it has improved our relationship beyond my wildest expectations.
There is nothing like standing up for yourself, but this particular tactic can really only be used once and possibly twice in the lifetime of a relationship, so you have to really make each one count. The third time it starts to lose its impact and can indicate weakness rather than strength. She will start to suspect you are a blustering paper tiger, which is exactly what you are, because the bodies of SLAP syndromers are now sacrosanct, like the royal children of old. As a parent, you are reduced to bluff and ranges of sanctions that will cost you more heartache and stress than anyone else; which brings us back to bluff.
You cannot lay hands on a SLAP, but you can use the modern equivalent of the whipping boy, who would take the punishment for the wrongdoings of his royal companion.
You demolish, rip, tear and throw their possessions and everything else around them in a monumental raging adult tantrum, because everything they own and use is paid for by you, and belongs to them at your discretion. Damage to paintwork is good because it leaves a permanent reminder of what might happen if you are really provoked. The smashing of reading light bulbs is particularly dramatic. Scooping everything off a desk onto the floor looks spectacular. Pulling rubbish out of cupboards and spraying it round the room gives the scene a certain three dimensionality.
This massive piece of theatre can profit from some rehearsal because not only must the teenybopper get a quite convincing impression of their world disintegrating around them, but it must be accompanied by a few well chosen words that express just how pissed off you are, what you expect generally and right now in terms of cleaning up, a timeline to do it and a promise of nothing short of the Wrath of God if it isn't done on time to your satisfaction. And then, as you exit, you slam the door of her room so hard, the foundations shake.
After months of being needled by this once delightful kid (but now arrogant little fop) the cathartic release that rage facilitates is truly satisfying in the deepest sense known to man or woman. It also has the ineffably appropriate effect of creating an element of fear in your relationship; that you cannot be taken for granted; that while for most of the time you are an infinitely caring, loving and supportive parent, you can also get really nasty, if provoked far enough.
We temporarily live in era where parents and people entitled to some social authority don't get much regard. Yes, one can be an empathic counselor and gain the confidence of a child that way, but once there needs to be a confrontation of any sort, and you need some clout, it doesn't work for long and quickly unravels. And if you avoid confrontation at all costs, you end up becoming a servant surrounded by unresolved issues.
A bit of courage, firmness and a capacity to go out onto a dramatic limb, can mean the difference between being an object of contempt whose word carries no weight, and being a person of substance in the life of your child, who can actually help them when they really need it, because they will listen to you, even if they don't agree, or like what you are saying.
Social governance is under threat from consumerist ideology and human rights lobbies bent on making parental power and social authority obsolete and allowing the power vacuum to be filled by messages from the sponsors, the cults of media personality and the commercially controlled peer group. However, while getting parental order and discipline into a domestic household has been made unnecessarily difficult, it is not impossible, once you recognize why and how the game has been stacked against you.
You cease to be a mystified and floundering character who cannot see what is being done to you and your children, especially the older and more externally manipulable ones, who are the most vulnerable to a propaganda system more powerful and savvy than anything any of the dictatorships of the past ever imposed on their populations.
Today, were he alive, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's formidable propaganda Reichminister, would have to go back to propaganda school to even get a sniff at a job in the modern advertising and public relations industries.
Be warned, when ones children reach their adolescence, they are ready to be taken from one by the Pied Pipers of Cool, in collaboration with a small but influential group of libertarian and laissez-faire social de-regulators; who have been allowed to colonize our social welfare, legal and educational systems in return for delivering a radically stripped down all rights and no responsibilities version of the ideas that made the American revolution possible. The result is very high compliance to the Cult of Cool and a very nasty and dysfunctional social mess within our inherited system of reproductive governance.
As a parent, we are not helpless and can call their bluff, but one needs to be very clear how one will do that. Moral clarity is paramount, because that is the basis of ones territorial authority and ones ability to mark out its borders. They may not look much more than lines in the sand, but that is enough to let all comers know which side one is on. One of the great blights of our day is life without borders. But one has to understand that the new market driven totalitarianism we have created for ourselves thrives and preys on that. And it eats our children.
If one cannot tell the difference between humanistic compassion and an uncritical soft touch, freedom and license/disinhibition/life-without-boundaries, 'justice' and sectional interest, 'fairness' and special pleading, respect for rights and indulgence, critical discernment and 'discrimination', exercising ordinary judgment and 'judgmentality', reasonable belief and 'prejudice', reproductive gender consciousness and 'homophobia', equality and rewarding the incompetent or penalizing the industrious, or equivalence fudging, compromise and being compromised, flexibility and weakness, concern for the value of human life and cowardice, dissent and treason, reasonable justification and excuse making, discipline and repression, or toughness and abuse, then ones informant ideology is a corrupt sham.
We live in a society that has deliberately blurred those distinctions to the point they have all become one and the same in the same way as George Orwell's 'Doublethink', in his book '1984'. Humanistic compassion is a soft touch. Freedom is license. Justice is sectional interest.
This has strengthened the marketing controllers and ideological arbiters and weakened mass populations, so they can be effectively controlled while appearing to be free agents.
They are anything but, which brings me back to SLAPS. Spoilt Little Adolescent Princess Syndrome is not really just a product of poor parenting so much as a deliberate and protracted inter-generational policy thrust by markets to disable anything that can get in the way of unlimited consumption of goods and services. And adolescence is their most important, vulnerable and profitable training ground for that project. Parents get in the road of that, which is why they get to be systematically nobbled in their attempts to govern their children and why their children seem to somehow and quite undeservedly, have so much credibility and quasi-adult standing.
Once you understand the game, assemble your moral precepts and take the courage to confront it, one becomes a real free agent and then at least one has some chance of saving ones children from the totalitarian tyrants of our day.
Behind our system of formal democratic governance is an informal one that is practically invisible and much more powerful. You won't find it (except its discreet lobbyists) in the corridors of democratic power, because they affect an anonymous apolitical character in organizations that hardly anyone has ever heard of, or would take any notice of if they had; private institutes, think tanks, PR firms, advertising agencies and the clients that fund them. Trade and industry peak organizations are just the tip of the iceberg.
Then there are the plethora of relentless, noisy and and politically savvy pressure groups, who are very good at leveraging opinion media with the passionate sound bite, slogans and easily digestible opinion pieces. Drip, drip, drip...
It is only right now beginning to dawn on more than the usual suspects that most western media organizations are not just news disseminators, so much as propaganda instruments, in exactly the same way as would have been found in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Red China. Only the state intervention is missing. And that is because state intervention is no longer necessary.
Nor would it normally occur to anyone that the best way to disable individuals and destroy their viability as characters is to shower them with rights without first teaching them the underlying disciplines that give life to those rights and make sense of them as empowering agencies. In the world of Orwellian doublespeak, freedom becomes slavery through the agency of permissive license to indulge whims and desires that enthrall and disempower the victim, only this time not to a political Big Brother dictatorship, but one that never discloses itself as such; the market.
Human rights seem so right, legitimate, compassionate, humane, fair, 'progressive' and whathaveyou, that only those in league with dark forces could possibly oppose them. Calling the bluff of this propagandaspeak requires some courage and a deep conviction that these claims are morally paralyzing panther piss.
In the real world, no one gets anything for nothing. Freebies always cost, somewhere. And with human rights, particularly for children, the price is delivering them to the marketplace without internal controls that can filter and block the messages from the sponsors. The consumer economy no longer needs disciplined and responsible citizens. It wants unfettered consumers. That is the price, and it is a very, very high one.
But of course, it isn't really that simple or easy, because we no longer have ready made parental governance templates to guide us in our joint collaboration as parents. This means that even the most thorough and sincere preparation against the identified threat can come to nothing. I speak of my own experience as a father and husband.
My dear and beloved wife suffered an oppressive tyrant for a father. Her upbringing was extremely restrictive and she not only deeply resented it, it left scars. This has made her untrusting of not just individual men, but the male principle. This has also made not only male authority, but any authority, something of an anathema, as well as anything one needs to do to conserve and enhance it, whether that authority be wielded by male or female. So she has no concept of protecting it, or maintaining any sort of parental common front. If she were critical of me for some reason, she had no concept of editing this away from our daughter, who might interpret this criticism as a diminution of my standing as a parent in her eyes.
Children really do not understand the complex underlying dynamics of adult relationships and shouldn't be exposed to them until they are mature enough to appreciate all the variables and nuances from all sides in the equation. What they really need until then is predictable and secure stock characters who deliver loving nurturance and discipline within easily and well understood management parameters.
My beloved wife is very deft in deflecting conflict with anyone else except me, even if it means not confronting issues that really should be. She gets on with my dear daughter very well, because she assiduously avoided confrontation, ever. I on the other hand am not so adept, am less flexible and more demanding in what I expect. So I became unpopular and judged hard for being 'unreasonable'. If I tried to dig my heals in on some issue, I got no support, and was made to look...foolish. This has made me very diminished in the eyes of my daughter, which has caused me some pain and damaged our relationship.
Much of my potential value as a father was demolished. All that was left was a buffoon and a caricature that others had to put up with. And while that may in some ways have been an appropriate reflection on certain parts of my character, under any regime with even a shred of good governance to it, it would never have allowed that caricature to be so brutally and persistently drawn, because it would be clear to everyone how deleterious to the family governance system and the children this would be.
It is quite appropriate for an adult daughter to regard her father as a fool, if the evidence that would be persuasive to her and any other reasonable and disinterested adult, would suggest he is. But the child and adolescent hardly have even the beginnings of that kind of capacity for mature reflection and critical evaluation. To give them precocious knowledge almost invariably gives them a false view of the world and the problem of having to unlearn it later.
I do not blame my wife for that, but it has had consequences. Our daughter has taken a gap year to live away from home, work and explore her options. She wants to return home when she returns to her studies, but neither of her parents really wants her back. She hasn't learned to pull her weight in our household, which makes her something of a burden and she has not learned to be responsive to things we would like her to do. It is quite nice not having to put up with her. And the very sad thing is that that is not her fault. She wasn't taught, but it is a bit late to start now.
I am not suggesting that said daughter isn't a basically very decent individual, and certainly, she has learned many of her mother's fine attributes, that I am sure will stand her in good stead, but...as a father, I see absolutely nothing of myself in her, because there isn't anything.
I really am not into blaming because these things come out of the very deepest parts of our natures, and sometimes they cannot be helped. And it doesn't make me love them any less. But what it does draw attention to is this lack of an overarching parenting template that can provide a solid foundation to the almost always problematic relationships of men and women and their children. Had we had something like that to slot into, with some solid rules of engagement underpinning it, we could have had a much more effective, easier, more balanced and productive relationship, with better quality family outcomes.
And in particular and especially, I think my daughter lost a key element of regard for the integrity of the male persona; of what it means to be a man and a father; of what it means to have an embedded respect for and security in those archetypes, built in across an entire reproductive cycle, that then can be passed on as a protracted inter-generational legacy.
That wouldn't mean that exactly the same internal tensions in our relationships wouldn't have been there. But a good management system would have tended to optimize the productive and lessened the deleterious.
Over the last fifty to sixty years, we have gone through a systematic process of laissez faire deregulation of our social environment that has severely weakened it. And this was not some serendipitous co-incidence, but a deliberate process of stripping everything away from us except market forces and the raw desire to satisfy every whim through the production of goods and services. All other forms of productivity and regulation have been destroyed, which has meant replacement models for old cultural infrastructure, other than said market forces, just haven't been constructed.
The result is very unreliably produced, under-constructed and vulnerable social product that we wouldn't dream of tolerating in any other industry. When you think of it, our social reproduction industry produces the most important service infrastructure and product we make, by far. But right now, it is looking like a cultural rust belt, surrounded by shanty slums in which a lot of very bad shit is going down.
Half the battle in dealing with this, is recognizing that it has even happened. We know, with a divorce rate approaching 50% that things aren't good, but most people can't join the dots that make the picture. When we get the picture, we stop blaming ourselves and each other quite so much and start to address the structural and regulatory issues that rebuilding social institutions involves. And we also start to critically evaluate more broadly the sustainability and appropriateness of the wider economic order and its larger environmental impacts.
This is not going to be a very easy journey, but we may already have started it. And if we commit to at least beginning the securing of our own little piece of the action, by forgiving one another our trespasses, we have at least made a start. Helen, over twenty-eight years marriage, has forgiven the slightly autistic man who married her and loves him still. And I have forgiven the irritable, impatient and often clinically depressed woman who I love still. At least we can look ahead with some kind of vision and not be weighed down with the recriminations and bitterness of not only our failures, but the failure of our cultural infrastructure. And this will bear us through what I think are going to be the toughest times we have seen since the last world war.
Below are three scenes that might contribute to lighting the way towards the challenges now before us:
"So you expect fairness! When was the last time you were fair to anyone? For you fairness means getting more of what you want, or evading responsibility or the consequences of your behavior. You have absolutely no understanding of fairness, let alone how to exercise it!
When you have learnt to be honest; when you have started to be considerate and regarding of the rights of others; when you begin to balance the boundless demands of desire against a sufficiently strong bulwark of reasoning, then and only then shall I give you your first lesson in its meaning and calibration. Until that happy day, you are going to eat humble pie and think yourself lucky that anyone gives you the slightest consideration and regard at all!
Fair!! I'll give you fair!!!...*%#+@!."
Bless you always, dearest friend. You are ever in my thoughts, for you and I have done so much, worked so hard, forgiven so often and loved as much in anger and frustration as in tenderness. Yet we would have it no different, for even the vices of one are dear to the other. No one now could fill shoes in which so much had been invested, so much adjustment done and so many compromises made. How many years would it take to understand another as do you and I? We are home to one another, even if all else is lost. For all else is as nothing compared to the intimacy and honest goodwill that binds us. With you, regret or doubt is but a passing shadow. The love of you is the best part of me. I would rather die than betray or harm you. When I am away, my fondest hope is to return and when I am with you, it is the best place to be.
The greatest journeys must first be imagined and so trenchant in their intent as to grasp the imaginers by the throat and tell them bluntly: only through travail and trial, by fire and blows can their spirit be reforged. This ordeal can either temper or destroy according to its whim, or perhaps the pilgrim's strength within. Courage can surmount faint hearts, but how can faith presume that having gambled all, there is a way to save us in the end? There are no roads upon the other side, except the ones we make, every step perhaps at stake our lives, every view through soldiers' eyes. And so we wile away our days beside brooding familiarities that will not speak to us for fear that it is not the sun that brightens all that we hold dear, but the bonfire of our vanities; that the deepening darkening shade it castes is not shadow, but decaying sanity. We look for hopeful signs, but at midnight, the clock rings its hands and says in anguished tones, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time."