The perils of parenthood

Dear Hannah,

Nothing can really prepare you for the feeling that you've ruined your child.  You simply have to feel it.  No amount of warning or observation will do.  You won't understand years of watching your parents apologize over the tiniest and most trivial most forgotten mistakes they made when you were four until you've made mistakes with your four-year-old that you just can't forget.  They'll just hit you one day like a bucket of bricks, and there will be nothing you can do to get over them.

The worst part is there's no escaping it.  The smarter you are and the better your memory the more you did wrong and the more you remember it.  Senility is the only way out.  If we go easy, everything bad that you do we blame on ourselves.  If we go harsh, we worry all day that we've broken your spirit.  If we keep you in line, we think it's our fault when you try to break out.  If we let you run loose, we wonder for nights whether we've lost you your soul.  Your every effect has a cause; and we believe with our hearts that the root cause is us.   Your nervousness we attribute to our anger.  Your weakness we ascribe to our fawning.

Simply put there is no way to win.  Every path in our lives has its upsides and downs; and every single one of us is complex beyond knowing.  Who knows which of our children responds better to what? We find out if we're lucky through blind experimentation*.  Who knows whether the things we say will stick or will not?  The child alone decides to remember.  We both have anger and frustration and disappointment and pain; you cause it for us, and we return it to you.  Only one of us, when the day is done, is really responsible for what we have done.  You treat us like shit and we have to fight back.  Words said in the heat of the moment sting long after the moment is gone.  We say things we don't mean and you think that they're true -- but you; you, my dear, say things that are true.   Everything you say is true to us, except when you're lying about something you did.

At the moment you're four and a man of my intelligence should know you're not finished.  None of us are finished products; not even the man going down to his grave.  Everyone is becoming; none of us have arrived; and a four year old doesn't even know where she's going or why.  She has no idea of destiny.  But I can't escape the feeling that I, despite the immense amount of affection I have for you, now and forever, and the unceasing tide of sweet moments between us, have ruined you already in ways I can't fix.  You aren't a menace.  You're largely an angel.  But everything you do is a reflection of me; and not everything you reflect is all light**.  Who can save me from wondering?  If my parents are proof in their constant apologies, not even you can.  You can say you forgot or forgive, but the effects are all mine to own -- and I own them on pain of my heart.

Your father,

*Another word for experimentation is failure.

**How can anyone raise another human being?  How can anyone take the invisible things of the mind and the will and transfer the good stuff and leave out the bad?  How can sinful parents raise saintly children?  We talk so much about education and the future of the country.  But who are we to talk about saving the children, when it's very obvious we can't even save the parents?

PS The strangest thing has happened while I was writing this letter.  As I was pounding on the keys and wondering exactly how to express this horrible inescapable unforgettable feeling that I've been parenting wrongly, one of my favorite hymns of all time began to play on the kindle I was using.  I tried every attempt to find out why, opening and closing browsers, shuffling through open apps and such, only to find that the music had no visible source, and that its playing had absolutely nothing to do with any of the programs I could see.

This is how the hymn goes (I advise you to play the tune while you read it):

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

It must be remembered that Christianity is the religion of getting rid of the old you and turning you into someone else; and in this moment of desperate guilt nothing could have been better timed than this freak accident of electronics.  Despite my open agnosticism I'm far from closed to the possibility of miracles.  As such, I will be heading to church after over a month of not going, and looking forward to seeing what happens when I get there.

I have had several things like this happen in my life, and one of the most profound landed me in a church I attended for four years.  The night before going I had seen something about scientific evidence for the existence of God; and was so profoundly affected that I felt I was lighter and had difficulty suppressing my energy.  I went to bed late and I woke up too early, and despite this found myself with the feeling that I had to do something.

At that moment on a gray and rainy Sunday morning I realized that I believed in God with all my heart, and I needed to go to a church to meet others who did too (at this point I had been faithlessly attending an institute of the Mormons).  I remembered a church that I had made fun of when younger, a people known in our area as The Bible Baptists whom the stoners and I would mock on the streets of Italy as they attempted to witness to us in their suits and their ties.  Why not them?  I thought.  They seemed well put-together and felt enough of a conviction to hit the streets to be insulted, so I looked up "Bible Baptist" and "Shoreline" and found a series of churches.  The first one on the list was Evergreen Baptist Church, and so I said a prayer and hit the road, asking that if this was where I was supposed to be, that God would give me a sign -- and that I would be unable to doubt it.

When I got to the church I was too early and there was no one outside; nobody except a large, balding bearded man named Carl and a tall skinny black man named Byron.  They unlocked the tall building, indecorous and bland as only the Protestants could build it, and escorted me inside the almost gate-like wooden doors where I discovered that Carl was a teacher and had to prepare for his lesson, and Byron was an ex-con who had just gotten out of prison.  I was left alone with Byron and he began to teach me the Bible.

Now, Byron was not an excellent teacher or particularly learned (as can be expected from a man recently converted in jail), but everything he was teaching me was what I had been thinking about -- particularly the subject of atonement; and as we began talking I felt he had been placed there specifically for me.  When the church service started and the sermon began, which was quirkier and more radically right-wing than anything I had ever heard in my life, I began to wonder whether I had come to the right place.  At this moment Byron turned over to me and asked me if I was coming again.  I said yes (what the hell, right?) and went back to listening to the sermon.

It soon became clear that this place was stranger than what I was expecting, and so I started wondering if maybe I shouldn't return.  This was when it happened.  Byron turned to me at that moment, telling me he had a message from God, and opened his Bible to Ecclesiastes chapter five, where Solomon said, in no uncertain terms, that it was better to not speak in the presence of God than to lie.  I began attending that church regularly over the course of four years and was steeped in the concept of Old Testament Law and the Christian foundation of our nation -- which led me to study the Founders and fall in love with the Enlightenment.

It's obvious at this point that my conversion wasn't permanent; or at least it has taken a break.  But my education began here, and I wonder whether it would have happened so soon anywhere else (I've since had major ideological differences with the pastor, which led me to leave years ago and never really return -- although I have many friends, including the pastor, who still attend there, and whom I consider to be wonderful people despite our differences).  I believe I'm marked out and promised to do something.  I believe with all my heart that I'm different from others; and that the difference between me and others is coming from beyond me.

How do I know this?  That was the first time Byron had come to Evergreen Baptist, and he didn't come the next week, and he never came again.  He was there on the day I showed up and gave me a message and then disappeared into wherever.


  1. Hi Jeremy,

    Great post. I've been following your entries for some time. You are one of the most original and cogent writers I've found in this sea of social media, porn, and useless information we call the Internet. I decided to comment because this post is obviously more personal than your other ones; it seems that you are on a very interesting journey. Whatever happens, I hope you find what you are looking for. Best wishes.


    1. You're absolutely right -- the journey has gotten interesting =) Very happy to know you've been following for a long time now. I hope to never bore you, and I hope this comment finds you well -- and much happier than I was when I wrote this!


Post a Comment