The Struggle is Real, The Effort Worthwhile


It’s summertime up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite the countless joys that arrive with the season, for many of my female friends it is a mixed blessing. Their eagerness to bring out those light, cute, and comfortable outfits ready-made for the warm weather, or to sun bathe in a swimsuit at the beach is tempered by the frequency they are subjected to creepy, unwanted advances from sexually aroused males. The worst of these are the drive-by catcalls from men who can’t help but enthusiastically let a woman know she is the apple of their eye, telling her as much by imploring her to sit on their face or shake her tits.   

This sort of male misbehaviour is rooted in the belief that women are always signalling the degree of sexual attention they want from men. By outwardly, enthusiastically showing their arousal, so it goes, these men are fulfilling their role, which is to flatter the woman for a job well-done. In the not-too-distant past, this “taunt and react” dynamic was touted as a normal, functional way of mediating sexual relations. In reality, it led to legions of women being sexually assaulted and raped by men socialized to believe their entitlement to sex was affirmed by the clothes a woman wore. 

In the eighties, when I came of age, there were cultural memes predicated on packs of guys “cruising” in cars with the top down on a Saturday night howling and jeering as they drove past a throng of gals. For their part, the women would bat their lashes in response to the ape-like affections of the men, which were sought after and desired. Thanks to popular culture, which depicted every encounter between men and women as a spar with a sexual sub-text, there are generations of men conditioned to believe the only reason women wear clothes, or do anything for that matter, is to attract the sexual attentions of a man. At the heart of these outmoded ideas is an obsession with what women wear. The old assumption is that women who wear provocative clothing are revealing something meaningful about their sexual inclinations. It is a sad, lingering relic of a bygone era.

I won’t deny it. Because I am a flesh and blood heterosexual man with a functioning set of eyes, when an attractive woman wearing clothing that flatters her impressive features passes my gaze, there is an instant, biologically-predetermined reaction. It hails from a relatively primitive part of our evolutionary brain – the limbic system. There’s an instinctive part of me that instantly craves to ogle, to leer, or to fuck, urges which I am aware conflict with the ardent feminist I aspire to be. 

That insight arises in the blink of an eye, rousing my pre-frontal cortex, which kicks in and subsumes the urge to beat my chest – or beat something else – beneath the thought, “Ahem, your leering and your thoughts are verging on the ungentlemanly. Cut it out.” Most days this tack works. When it doesn’t instantly kick in, and I catch myself leering maybe a little longer than I consider to be civilized, I say a metaphysical “Sorry ladies,” and implore myself to keep my head in the game. 

Thankfully, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is synthesizing these ethical intentions into a set of guidelines to help me conduct myself in a civilized way. The PFC is the part of our brains that distinguishes humans as the most intelligent beings on the planet, despite certain striking instances to the contrary. In the throes of a carnal response to the physical presence of an attractive woman, the PFC stirs me to behave as if I really believed a woman ought to be treated like a human being, rather than as a living, breathing wank machine. When my limbic system protests against the PFC’s civilizing dictates, the PFC overrules it. 

The important thing to note is the emotional interplay between the two parts of the brain arising from the same sexual impulse. This reality refutes those who posit that men’s sexual behaviour is pre-determined as residing in one part of the brain versus the other. That is false. There is a dynamic between the parts of the brain which males must gain mastery of if they intend to behave in sexually appropriate ways. The lynchpin here is to have the intention to behave appropriately in the first place. 

Assuming the good intention exists, the key to the PFC gaining primacy in this inner conflict is to ensure a conscious effort to impart the lessons about appropriate standards of behaviour towards women routinely occurs. The curriculum to which males appeal to shape their values in these matters is significantly influenced by the culture. Unfortunately, if the culture harbours unhealthy sexual norms, then society teaches, reinforces, and perpetuates sexually unhealthy behaviours among its men. Depending on the culture, the curriculum by which boys are taught to become men may be dreadfully flawed. If a culture lacks the ethical intention to treat women as equals, the motivation to evolve commensurate behaviours is not instilled in individual males.  

We may say we live in an “individualistic” society, but in truth, how men behave towards women is greatly influenced by the culture in which they live. Through sexist media and social structures our culture is constantly modelling for boys and young men a particularly sexist way of relating to girls and women. On the other hand, there is an expectation that men become individuals who behave differently than the culture that reared them in their private sexual interactions with women. It’s a sociological fact that the transmission of feminist cultural ideals must actually be observed in the culture if the aim is to ensure they are adopted and exemplified by a society’s males. A sexist culture creates sexist individuals. It’s an axiom we cannot ignore if we want men to do the right thing in their private encounters with women.  

In some cultures, awareness of the intense inner struggle between primal urges and moral conduct acts as a cautionary tale. A society’s males, seeking to conduct themselves with moral rectitude, become wary of the mere existence of these internal battles, which they sense can go either way. That fear fuels notions about how the struggle itself is the fault of women; it feeds the idea women must take ownership of the sexual animus they trigger in men. These ideas sustain cultural practices – usually in the form of religious codes – that dictate women dress and behave modestly. It’s a cultural sleight-of-hand that shifts the burden away from a society’s men so that women ultimately become responsible for moderating the degree of male sexual arousal in a society. 

This is a puerile resolution to the inner struggle of a society’s males, because it discourages each individual man from learning at an early age how to process and regulate their sexually-charged emotions. Our culture’s mixed signals about what constitutes sexually appropriate behaviour is a serious psycho-social issue that needs to be acknowledged and properly addressed. This will ensure there are fewer victims of sexual crimes by inculcating a culture of men with emotional intelligence, who are capable of exerting a degree self-control that discourages their sexual misconduct. 

In this respect, what does it say to young men that, despite the fact Americans were well aware that candidate Trump grabbed women’s pussies, he was elected US President? For all the young men grappling to control their sexual urges, are they learning from this that it’s as important to behave in sexually appropriate ways as it is to be rich and ambitious? To what ends are young men motivated to channel their cognitive energies: to that of learning how to respect women, or to that of amassing the wealth and power required to treat women however their carnal urges desire?  If we want to see appropriate sexual behaviours in men, we have to exemplify, reward, and teach the lessons consistent with that aim. 

As a man desperately trying to get beneath years of cultural conditioning where women were touted as objects of male gratification, I am aware the struggle to overcome sexual urges is very, very real. I engage in a lot of self reflection about this, certainly not because the predominant norms in my culture have compelled me to do so, but because I am aware that my responsibility to foster healthy sexual behaviours comes in the face of intense, biologically-determined cravings. Men have to acknowledge the presence of these primitive cravings, which exist in the same measure as they would have among our evolutionary forebears, despite how intellectually advanced our societies have otherwise become. It’s a strange paradox, and it requires we expend greater conscious efforts to the task of moderating these impulses so our behaviour is consistent with evolving norms about what it means to be civilized sexual beings. 

As men, we must decide which part of our brain we want to heed: the advanced part that sets us apart as human beings, or the a-moral, pre-evolutionary part we share with reptiles and other less intelligent animals. I choose to be a civilized human being. I have to make a conscious effort to establish in my PFC a benchmark of what it means to be respectful to a woman and act accordingly, despite the primitive urges that arise in her presence; despite the culture which continues to normalize a decidedly misogynist benchmark. The responsibility for regulating these urges when it matters is mine alone, and I wouldn’t put that on a woman. 

It would help if our culture didn’t keep telling young boys and men that women are sex objects and reinforcing unhealthy ideas about women that impede their learning of functional sexual behaviours. We are subjected to an unceasing barrage of images and ideas from mainstream culture that piques and reinforces our consumerist desires by sexualizing and objectifying women. This conflicts with, and undermines, efforts to instil norms of self-control in men. Regulating sexually-charged emotions is a cognitive process that must be learned like any other higher-order human function, because the desired behaviours hail from the pre-frontal cortex. When we expect these behaviours to kick in they are fending off the strong, anti-social impulses of the limbic system. Unfortunately, this part of our brain is constantly being titillated by a sexualized, stimulus-addicted culture, which makes it a formidable force to reckon with. 

That isn’t to make excuses for men, it is to say that it takes effort on our part to do what is right in respect of women. It is also to say that culture has a role to play in normalizing healthy attitudes and behaviours about how men relate to women at the office, at home, and in our bedrooms. The biggest first step however, is for men to recognize the struggle to control impulses within ourselves is real, it is natural, and women are not to blame for its existence. The responsibility for doing what it takes to resolve conflicting feelings and emotions is on us as individuals. 

It means that we cannot sit and wait for the mainstream culture to reflect modern values about gender, because we are ourselves arbiters and transmitters of those values. Young men look to how I and my peers conduct ourselves for their signals about what is and isn’t acceptable. I take that role very seriously and I urge my mid-life male peers to do the same. Our role as cultural agents compels us to pro-actively stir a cognitive shift when we recognize some of our attitudes and behaviours are rooted in sexist dogmas of our upbringing. We are key influencers in the culture to which the next generations of men will appeal for norms about how to behave with respect to women. I will cringe if, in thirty years’ time, a figure like Donald Trump is emblematic of my generation of men and is still winning society’s greatest rewards despite his retrograde, morally decrepit views about women. 

A concerted effort to avoid the ill-effects of misogyny from poisoning the behaviour of men will always be necessary. Nature has seen to that. The reasons to expend those energies – to secure a future where women are treated as equals instead of as objects or as victims – have never been more compelling, and makes the effort absolutely worthwhile. 

So, ‘What do you do’, to Improve This Conversation?

Oh, Sweet Jesus don't let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus don’t let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

It’s the time of year where obligation drags us to parties we could easily have blown off in April. It’s not in my introverted nature to enjoy the Christmas party ritual, but I’m philosophical about the phenomenon. They indicate you or your loved one has a job worth cultivating by your presence, a relatively positive thing to force your hand.

So we go along like good eggs and hope for the best. If you’re a skilled introvert you can survive this extroverted predicament by planting yourself strategically in a dead-zone to make yourself inconspicuous. You tuck in behind a tall plant without appearing as though you’re hiding, situate yourself directly opposite the bar and food table, or stand on the peripheries of a group engaged in conversation, nodding your head pointlessly from time-to-time to sustain the ruse you’re an active participant. There, you’ll sip your wine hoping to avoid being enveloped by the dull, dreary blanket of small-talk and ponder the book you’re in the middle of. You’ll daydream about the passion you’re forgoing to be among a swath of virtual strangers who won’t be seen again until next year’s party.

Without warning Fred, whose wife works with your partner, recognizes you from last year’s Christmas party as he piles fruit cake, seven-layer dip, and chicken wings on his plate. He turns to head in your direction, his sweater blinking intermittently to light his path. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops to win the tacky sweater contest, and by golly he’s gonna break the ice with you.

“So tell me, Edmund, what do you do?”

Smited by God, yet again, for my failure to believe in her. A vengeful shrew she is, to say the least.

I Love My Job Oh Yes I do, Now Let me Tell You of My PooI’m not ashamed of my job, but it’s like any other white-collar gig. I’m paid for a cognitive skill I honed with higher education and spend most of my workday putting my shiny-trained mind to the tasks at hand. I’m pretty good at what I do, according to those who sign my paycheque. It’s all pretty un-spectacular and fraught with disillusionment for falling short of the ideal, like much else in adult life.

It’s slightly embarrassing that a place consuming so much of our time is so banal in the description, but that is usually the case. Among close friends, the mundane oppressiveness of working life is dignified with cynical, witty tirades about the pettiness of office politics; with creative embellishments of professional achievements to justify the continued effort. Friends will empathize with the seething emotion beneath the affectation; they’ll see through the bravado and cheek, and will be supportive and entertained without attaching judgment to betray confidences.

Among relative strangers, political imperatives dictate the safe path be maintained in discussing work, which sucks. If I can’t sarcastically mock the shortcomings of my workplace or vie for your sympathy in outlining the abjectness of my career plight I’d rather avoid the subject entirely. I’m not getting paid for this shit, after all, and I need to have some enjoyment in my personal time.

Since I’m fortunate to not be bogged down in an hourly-wage job, I have spare time to do things I like that are, dare I say, maybe a little sexy. I do yoga. I read books on all kinds of subjects and can sing arias in Italian, French, and German. I cry when I hear beautiful songs, like Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ or ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ in La Boheme. I am a Buddhist and nearly have a black belt in Kung Fu. I lament my kids will soon be teenagers; I despised teenagers when I was one and worry the days of loving my children unconditionally will face serious challenges. I jot down fleeting, quaint musings about life in a blog.

Tuna Sandwich Named KevinWe should be talking about these things, not work. In the aggregate they say something far more interesting about me than my work could ever do. My work indicates to the world I have a job and an income. Maybe it says I’m ambitious and hard-working; that I know how to do stuff. Yawn.

Chances are there are similarly more interesting, unusual, or telling things about you than your job. The difference is in the details. That’s what would make this conversation interesting. Odds are, if you stop dithering about work we can weather this party without needing to get wasted and twerk on the tables in our thong underwear to feel as though it was all worthwhile.

Actually, I should qualify. If you came back from helping African countries fight the spread of Ebola, or spent last week snapping photos of earth from the International Space Station, I’d like to hear about that. If you build schools in Bolivia for the poor, or are working on a cure for cancer, I’d probably be interested in that too.

Having said all that, I need to be brutally honest. As much as I don’t want to talk about my job I really, really don’t give a shit about your job. I beg you not to talk about it unless it’s objectively amazing, which you know it isn’t. It sucks just like mine. If you had an amazing job I’d probably know about it and you wouldn’t be so intent on winning the “Christmas Sweater for Morons” contest, or whatever it’s called in your zany workplace.

I also don’t care if you make oodles of money being good at your job, or are high up in the pecking order where you work. The hierarchies that poison white-collar corporate environments are contemptible, but I understand why anyone would be proud to be a big-shot. That said, it doesn’t interest me. In fact, because I have a rebellious anti-authority bias, if one of the first things you tell me about yourself is that you’re a big-shot, I will probably passive aggressively cut-down whatever smug, mean-spirited, or inane thing you might say thereafter. Remember, I am not your friend, and I am trying to have fun here. To avoid all that, it’s best to steer clear of boring work talk and discuss opera, birding, salsa dancing or anything that will not risk glorifying what either of us believes is an exalted life.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don't get a life outside work.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don’t get a life.

For most adults, working life is kind of sad, pointless, and dull. It’s in the realm of necessity, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. If you’re socially adept, you don’t talk about your bowel movements or what you had for dinner last night, so I don’t see why you’re talking about your work, even if you really enjoy it. I had an enjoyable bowel movement last night, but I doubt you’re interested. What’s interesting and telling about a person are the things they do when liberated from necessity and are free to choose how they spend their time.

Nobody’s really dying to hear about another person’s job. The topic is raised as a feeble attempt to break the ice, make idle conversation, or pass the time. The desire to forge a bond is honourable in intention, but in the realm of small talk, a desperate appeal to banality to quell anxieties about our alleged separateness. It’s as deceptive and false as shopping and watching television in instilling the notion we’re engaged in a fulfilling use of our precious little time on this earth.

It is also sometimes a lame attempt to add a dash of ego primping to garnish a boring conversation. If we are resigned to the dullness of this experience we may as well stoke feelings of superiority. The question is asked, ‘what do you do?’ and when it’s our turn, we can describe in boring detail the facets of our more important job to others. At least our ego gets off this evening.

When a highly accomplished person asks a stranger point-blank ‘what do you do?’ it betrays an obvious lack of modesty. It is an ego-trip that may ultimately prove insensitive. To witness an unemployed person cobble together a face-saving response in a group of strangers is almost as horrifying as witnessing a woman whose precipitous weight-gain has elicited well-wishes on being pregnant with a child she is not expecting.

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days?

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days? Okay … I … um … can’t actually see who’s raising their hands. But if you are, I KNOW, right?

A person’s work situation may be temporary. They lost a job and were forced to take something quickly to keep ahead of the mortgage. The stranger’s wife may be a Doctor and the choice of who would be the stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer, but it still rouses feelings of discomfort because our society devalues child-rearing as a noble pursuit.

Maybe the stranger is slowly pursuing their passion on evenings and weekends. They work merely to cultivate their dream. Or, maybe their ambitions and energies are placed elsewhere because they don’t care about career pursuits. When so many marriages are destroyed, children neglected, and stress-related illnesses are suffered because of our culture’s work-obsession a focus on other things is a sensible life-choice.

All this is to say there are pitfalls with the question that need to be considered before it is put out there. The risk is a person you don’t know may find a question you’ve put to them extremely alienating. Until there is a real relationship, one not brokered with small-talk, it’s none of your business and shouldn’t be broached so directly.

The question also furthers the belief that career pursuits are the most definitive aspect of a human being. That is some self-serving logic for those who’ve forgone their youth to earn professional credentials and expend their time reaping the economic rewards by working. It is presumptuous to carry on as if the amassing of career achievements was a universally-shared priority. Nearly all North Americans are guilty of this conceit, which merely validates their choice to focus all their energies to the singular pursuit of wealth and status-acquisition to the detriment of all other aims in life. It sets us apart in the world as profoundly one-dimensional, uninteresting, and collectively ignorant human beings.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is so boring and dull, like when too much of it is spent at the office that pissing around in others' lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is boring and dull; when so much of it is spent at the office that messing around in others’ lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Modernity was forged to spare humanity the perils of so much time spent in toil. Those lucky to have been born in wealthy societies but choose to devote the vast majority of their time engaged in work seem to me either foolish or pathological. Either way, the time consumed by work, beyond a certain level, may actively invalidate a life given the luxury of other choices. Life is more important than work; a truth those who have been too career-focused realize only when the end of the precious life they squandered is imminent.

A buddhadharma teacher once said ‘do not speak unless it improves the silence.’ This holiday season, do so with a funny anecdote, or the sharing of a genuine passion. Speak as if your humanity was more vast than the changes in the weather, the ups-and-downs of the local sports team, or the trivial things you do to pay the bills.

Tell me something to improve the silence between us; something real about yourself. If work is all you have to talk about, you’ve got other, more self-enriching work to do in the new year. Get on with it. Get a life before it’s too late. At next year’s Christmas party, I’d love to hear all about it.

Those Little Hands

Three angels, three red balloons In my twenties I was extremely disparaging of children. I viewed them as loud, selfish, obnoxious, energy-draining parasites. I’d cast aspersions at families for spoiling my meal by bringing their disruptive children to a restaurant clearly not meant for families. I’d secretly denounce parents who couldn’t stop their kids behaving like baboons in public.

The poorly-dressed, overweight, bleary-eyed dudes sauntering like emasculated eunuchs from their minivans, and frazzled mothers in sweatpants and stained shirts were horrific sights to my decidedly yuppie eyes. There was nothing to recommend having children of my own.

In my early thirties I jumped off a cliff to spite myself and had children. Twins, no less. Like most men, I repressed my ambivalence about the idea of kids and hoped for the best.

Sleepless nights, colic, croup, flu, fevers, diarrhea. Trips to the emergency room. Teething. Crying. Lots of crying, at the most inopportune time – at two, three, and four in the morning – then not at all while I was sleeping at my desk at work.

Everything about being a new parent was an affront, an insurmountable challenge. I was not one of those people seduced by the propaganda that fools would-be parents into believing in the unqualified bliss of children. I had low expectations going in. The reality at times felt worse, which I did not think possible. I chalked it up to the sheer physical exhaustion of caring for new-born twins.

When my children were three they were both diagnosed with autism.

Obviously, I was incredibly distraught. It forced so many changes in our family life, in our careers. Our aspirations for their future were hazy, but feeling grim. Children were beginning to feel like my life’s ruin. I became an impatient, self-absorbed, and sometimes caustic parent.

I was disgusted with myself, especially for how habitually I projected negativity in my mood into the manner I related to my children. I had been subjected to that myself as a child, and I vowed I would not repeat it. Then I found myself unconsciously repeating it.

I expended tons of energy to change, a process begun eight years ago, and continues today. My perspective has fundamentally altered, which in turn has transformed the way I parent my children. This doesn’t make me an amazing parent; I am just better than I was, and trying to get better.

I am more in tune with my own emotions, which makes me less rigid in outlook, more able to deal with adversity. Both are paramount for emotional stability when raising children, and for getting through the challenges in a typical adult existence. It seems flaky, but my consciousness was opened by my efforts.

Some of my old, hardened views about reality are either completely gone or really relaxed. As a result, a broader range of experience is allowed to enter my awareness than before, which is a welcome, if unexpected result. I imagine this to be similar to how a child experiences life as it comes.

Now, as I look into the adult world myself and others have created I can’t so easily ignore how tragic the view is. With my eyes a little more open I see adults who are too often indifferent, cruel, selfish, and greedy.

Joyous BubbleIt is the guile we each possess in our minds that has unleashed this state of affairs.

Guile is the capacity to act with self-serving, often malevolent duplicity. It shouts down the voice in our heart that wakes us to the suffering in our surroundings and compels us to reduce it or, at the very least, to not compound it.

Children lack guile. For a time, at least, they don’t have egos to necessitate its existence. Only when we parents begin to push our children to acquire certain specific identities, to adopt attitudes that are completely foreign to their hearts, do they begin to gain an understanding of its utility in their own lives.

Adults, on the other hand, possess guile in abundance. It is a central feature of the adult ego in an individualistic society; one that sends us all too close to the thin edge of sociopathy. It propels our wants to be craven, our motives self-aggrandizing, our actions toward the detriment of others.

Guile is the narrative the clever among us craft to make our transgressions appear principled and virtuous. We can explain, justify, or brush off ethical lapses, burying the malfeasance in our behaviour beneath layers of high-minded rationalizations. It is a by-product of a society obsessed with economic success to the detriment of our human spirit.

We adults lie, cheat, and steal, but in ways that make what we’re doing appear to be something other. We are “getting elected” or “increasing the bottom line” or “reducing our tax burden.” There is always the shibboleth of a greater good to lend an air of nobility to self-serving, specious motives.

On a day-to-day basis, most of us are not purposely engaged in misconduct. We’re just going about our day, the best we can. As we proceed, we step over the homeless, snicker at the poor, or blame the minorities for their role in being persecuted by those charged with protecting them.

All the denials and obfuscations we entertain allow us to believe the issues vexing our societies are beyond our capacity to influence. Somehow we cling to the delusion their prevalence does not say something contemptible about ourselves, who collectively have the means to address it, but do nothing instead. The lack of awareness ensures we will continue to hone our mastery of ways to exploit fellow human beings to fatten our wallets.

We are not all directly responsible for creating this reality. Yet we easily allow ourselves to be bribed, sweet-talked, or distracted away from applying our moral compass to determine our standing and change course if we don’t like where we’ve come. As we are lured further into the the gutter by the pursuit of greater wealth, each of us becomes less able to deny our agency in perpetuating the misery of so many others in our midst.

We are compelled by guile to defend the direction we are heading against appeals to change, perhaps spurred on by guilt for having ignored so much suffering to get where we are. It smothers our imagination with the notion that it is too late, or too naive to turn away from the only path we know.

Happy MeadowsThere is no greater exemplar for the place of guile in our collective hearts than the countless self-preserving reasons we postulate to justify the hoarding and concentration of our society’s wealth. Guile clings vigorously to ideas that legitimize the moral failings in organizing principles that countenance gross inequalities, and softens our judgement of the wanton acts that established this state of affairs.

We see those destroyed by addiction and mental illness left untreated and abandoned to wander the streets to fend for themselves. We possess enough to feed all the hungry mouths around the world, enough money to provide food and shelter for all the poor in our communities, and enough medicine to treat diseases we’ve licked for years. In spite of this, we choose not to share the fruits of our subsistence, allowing our wealth to be hoarded and withheld instead of used to alleviate the suffering of countless fellow human beings.

We act as though there’s nothing we can do to compel changes in corporate behaviours that too often undermine society’s non-economic imperatives: health-care, education, the environment, and human rights. By not including corporations in progressive tax systems, we effectively condone theft of society’s dividend for its investment in an educated, healthy, politically stable environment. Without any of these factors, which cost an extraordinary amount of money for society to secure, there would be no wealth to earn or to hoard.

Our withdrawal of compassion in helping the disadvantaged reflects a widespread belief their lot in life is entirely attributed to their own missteps and nothing else. This allows us to admonish the disenfranchised by touting punitive laws and policies directed at them. We criminalize, imprison, or withdraw economic supports for the underclass, addicted, marginalized, and downtrodden. The disenfranchised simply “slip through the cracks” of our collective consciousness, leaving us free to acquire more wealth and spend it feeding insatiable consumptive drives.

We focus on our careers to the neglect of our families and children; to the detriment of cultivating interesting, multi-faceted lives that include pursuits of passion as much as work. We do it because the personal wealth and status we enjoy with career achievements fulfils a deep-rooted, often emotionally pathological, ego-need. Guile makes it possible for those who put countless hours at work in demanding jobs to really believe it when they say “I am sorry I don’t spend any time with you, son, I am too busy working to support you” and not understand how readily a child sees through such duplicity.

We engage in small talk revealing nothing meaningful about ourselves or demonstrating that our range of concerns is very deep; that it genuinely encompasses the well-being of others. We embellish our successes, hide our failures, self-consciously conceal the breadth of our true humanity from others. We employ shrewdness, charm, and inauthenticity to gain the good graces of those instrumental to our aims and dismiss the rest.

Our apprehension to reveal more than the shallow surface of our lives collectively sustains the impression we are all happy and thriving, a facade that further alienates the legions who suffer; who feel ashamed, foolish, and flawed for their inability to create their own happiness. It compounds their desire to isolate and detach from others, and prevents them from reaching out for help. A society that disdains the unfortunate, singles them out for scorn as the authors of their misfortune, and ignores their concerns because they are powerless to compel our attention is an uninviting place to turn for those in the struggle.

These observations make me ashamed of the adult world many of us go about raising our children to become a part of. If this is adulthood, I say “No thanks.” I want out. This place is brimming over with guile. We grown-ups are way more rotten and misbehaved than children but worse: we have convinced ourselves we’re acting on principle.

I want a seat at the kids’ table, please. They know how to own-up when they’ve misbehaved, and say “I’m sorry.” They may be untamed, but they still lead with their hearts, which leaves them free to behave as genuine human beings.

Street SoccerChildren know the intrinsic value of fun and actively seek it out. The intention behind this motive is pure and honest. It adds something tangible to the human condition because it is energy expended in search of joy, a pursuit that does not purposely detract from anyone else’s experience of life and more often seeks to include others in the search.

A child’s emotions are raw, and they connect to them without the filtering we adults too often employ to temper the fear of confronting our feelings honestly. A child cries heartily when they feel pain, anger, frustration or indignity.

Children don’t desire objects or experiences to “get ahead.” They are moved to action by their intuition which quickly apprehends the genuine appeal of something they’ve come into contact with. A child knows when she is in the presence of beauty and truth, and does not consider reasons why she should not indulge the experience to the fullest. Their intentions arise as they apprehend reality through unadulterated eyes. Their actions to seize experiences that touch their heart is the most pure demonstration of love we witness in the world.

Because children do not repress their feelings, they are free from the cynicism we often employ to narrow the intensity of our experiences – good or bad. They don’t minimize or belittle their disappointments to guard their self-esteem, because they do not possess a concept of self. They immerse themselves in joy, and are not too embarrassed to express their delight in the moment.

When a child is angry at something you’ve done they let you know. They’ll repeat their displeasure again and again until they are certain you understand. You will know where you stand in their eyes at that moment and then, the issue will be done with. Your fundamental character will not be castigated, you will not be subjected to a passive aggressive campaign of sabotage fed by resentment over a grievance that was felt but not aired.

A child doesn’t turn sublimated feelings into rationalizations that harden their heart, foment ill-will in the mind, and steal away mental energy required to face certain hardships. They inherently know, as they endure something that brings immense pain, that it will end and be balanced by something equally joyous later on. They will not be deterred from bringing the shift about themselves, nor will they diminish their gratitude if serendipity delivers it to them. Their innate ability to be fully immersed in the intensity of feeling, without rationalizations to qualify their experience of it, is what makes them resilient.

A child doesn’t pretend to be something they aren’t and is not afraid of who they are. If a child wants to dance, they’ll dance without concern for how well or poorly they do it. If they want to be silly, they are silly without self-consciousness. When they’re excited, they fill the world with their enthusiasm and could care less if others share it.

When a child sees another cry, they can’t help from feeling disturbed, which doesn’t make them turn away. They naturally enquire to learn what has gone wrong. They try to console or comfort the aggrieved, without being limited in their compassion by the idea “there’s nothing I can do, I’m just a kid.” They know intuitively that doing nothing is to tolerate the suffering of another being, which is why they always intervene. The gesture itself goes a long way to minimize the insult because it alleviates the isolation we sometimes feel as we suffer.

Children are amazing human beings, raw and unvarnished as they may be. We adults should be so lucky to possess a shred of the innate wisdom of a child. If you filled up a theatre with five year-olds from around the world, there would be no better proof that we human beings are one and the same regardless of creed, race, or economic status. If we cared to look, we would be immediately disabused of the falsehoods we’ve relied upon to divide, rank, and organize our adult lives.

It is this insight, this perspective, that I am grateful for. I would never have learned to see the world with less atavistic eyes, had my love for my children not possessed me with the energy and will to find a way to change my view. For this reason, I am forever indebted to them; to all children. We should worship them for the infinite human potential they embody.

It occurs to me now I’m not just a parent to my children. I’m their biggest fan, and most eager student. I am here to guide them away from practical dangers and to sustain their lives until they can do so on their own. I am not here to shape them in my world view.

My children have taught me the shameful mess we have made from the gift of human life. The emotional damage we parents inflict on our children can reveal deep fissures in our own psyches. Their sensitivity to the ways we relate to them holds a mirror to the remnants of cruelty, anger, or fear in our hearts that escaped our notice. The reflection of our worst selves unwittingly trampling on their innocent spirits is nearly impossible to ignore. For me, the lesson was a watershed in my emotional development, and profoundly humbling.

If we still care about humanity, we would apologize to our children for all the indignities the guile we’ve allowed to grow in our minds has unleashed, and we would set about to make amends. Since we are unskilled in behaving with basic goodness, we must pay close attention to the standing of the world’s children. Their collective well-being is the most reliable measure of success we possess.

We adults had our moment as avatars for the human race, and we got it dreadfully wrong. It is time for our children to plot the course from here on out. Humanity’s tainted virtue on earth is redeemed when our hearts and minds are guided in their actions by the wisdom in those little hands.

I sometimes receive heart-felt apologies from beleaguered parents when their children are being difficult in a public place. I remember that feeling when my children were small – embarrassment and anxiety that my kids were ruining someone’s day. How things have changed since my days as an obnoxious upstart adult.

More than once I’ve replied to the parent “don’t be silly, and do not fret at your child on my account. They’re honest and real about how they feel, and I don’t mind.”

Playing in the rain in Bangladesh

Remember These Open Arms As You Grow Old, My Sons

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other morning when I was swept away by the blissful energy of a woman and her four-year old girl as they breezed past. The girl danced circles around her mother’s legs, clutching two teddy bears that outsized her tiny arms. The sweetness of her pink rubber boots and twee voice doused the shop of bleary-eyed, earnest suits with candy-coating.

I watched enviously as she lapped up her mother’s words “whaddya want kiddo?” I jumped earnestly along with her as she screamed ‘muffins, juice, cake pops, banana bread!’ My temporary refuge from e-mails and five-alarm fires at the office seemed a sad existence in relation to the unrestrained joy of mother and young child.

The thought was bittersweet. Momentarily I was transported in time when my boys had their first taste of apple pie and ice cream, making humming noises ‘mmm,mmm,mmm’ as they stuffed their faces. I remembered falling asleep with them on my chest; each of us drifting off to the sound of the other’s heart beating.

I sat in stillness with my coffee half-raised to my mouth as I tried to siphon whatever droplets of glee I could from the mother-daughter exchange. It occurred to me my eyes were welling up.

L-O-V-EMy kids were young like that once, they hung off me like a jungle gym. They danced around my legs, clamouring for nothing more than my undivided attention. For the most part they got it, but now I wish I’d been less annoyed by the constancy of it at times. Back then I couldn’t imagine how emotional I would feel as I do today, seeing this mother and her child.

I could never have known how insufficient memories are as a surrogate for the experience. I wish I’d made more efforts to soak it up, especially now that their mother and I are divorced; the time I have to amass more wonderful glimpses of their childhood before they grow old, halved.

My kids are twelve this year. In no time their mother and I will lose the honour of having exclusive reign over their heartstrings. What an honour it’s been. I know I shouldn’t cling to the idea of their childhood; they’re still my children, no matter how old they get.

But I can’t help it. They’re not little children anymore. They don’t dance around my feet. It’ll never be the same. A part of me wishes that phase could have lasted forever, but the deepening voices, soaring heights and hair in places only adults possess it mocks my selfish fantasies.

As teenagers they will look to the outside world in friends, achievements, and experiences for feelings of efficacy, security, and validation. It fills me with trepidation for them as I recall how often in my teenage years I wanted to curl up in a ball to avoid the tyranny of days overflowing with lessons in humility. I also remember feeling a strong urge to look away from the tether of parents and family to figure out on my own how to keep my chin up, even with egg all over my face and my fly undone.

The view of that arduous journey into their own lives is heart-wrenching from where I stand as a parent. I want to be their biggest booster as they run into the murky world to carve out their niche. It feels somewhat forced.

Yay. Yaaay! YAAAAAY!

They’ll be teenagers soon!

Meh.

I feel like the head cheerleader rooting on a band of thugs shaving off my arms with a pocket-knife to steal my watch. I don’t really want teenagers. No offense, but I am no fool. I know they’re just not going to be ‘into me’ – their parent.

Well, metal has nearly hit bone. The glistening, unconditional twinkle of my little boys is already sometimes tinged with traces of skepticism. They’ve found things to interest them that have nothing to do with me. On days I drop them at school my kids turn and run at the sight of my lower lip quivering. ‘Rotten, good-for-nothing zit-faced friends drawing them in,’ I think to myself. ‘Who needs friends? Friends are unreliable,’ I quip, half-heartedly under my breath.

When did my kids become such turncoats? What a couple of ungrateful jerks! Then I catch myself being a childish ass, punching air, kicking dirt in a futile bout of frustration. My twenty-three year-old self mocks me for having become a soccer mom, and a wallowing idiot.

I have my reasons for being disconsolate at times: when it’s not my weekend with them and I can’t tuck them into bed for another five days. I can’t laugh them to sleep with armpit farts or tummy zurrberts. They barely fit in my arms any more – and soon I will fit better in theirs. They don’t get jazzed about movie night like they used to.

Just today I said “HEY KIDS WANT ICE CREAM!” and they both said, ‘nah, it’s too early.’ Too early?! It was noon! Three years ago I’d have had to hire a cowboy to lasso my kids so they wouldn’t run in front of semi-trailers and city buses to get to the ice cream store.

Now, there’s things on YouTube they’d rather watch. Alone. In their room. Without dad around. I’ll bet they’ve already discovered porn, probably by accident. But still. Girls. A formidable foe who lurks, who will steal the affections of my homies away from the one who matters most. Me.

My babies' not-so-little feet.

My babies’ not-so-little feet.

The sparkle in their eyes as they looked up to me has, at times, turned to an exasperated roll of the eyes. They don’t have to look up, either. Part of me wonders if their respect for me wanes as they watch me struggle with their drift away from childhood. Then I realize, I don’t care, and continue crying because I know I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

I wish it wasn’t necessary to just let them frolic into the world of adolescent throngs who crudely mimic the craven, selfish, conformist habits of the adults around them. I worry about their emotional well-being among peers who lack ethical scruples; who can’t temper the cruel excesses of the individualists’ creed rammed down their throats by our culture. It’s in my bones as a parent to believe their emotions will be safeguarded only when shrouded in my arms.

And yet, I am also aware that, for all my good intentions, I may have already left deeper scars than a bully or an unrequited love could ever leave. I didn’t mean it, unlike those rotten kids out there. I was winging the parent thing, for the first while at least, until I realized I needed to educate myself.
I think I’ve come around now. I hope their memories betray them, because there are truckloads of mistakes to hold against me, to tar me as a hypocrite, should I forget myself and over-react to something they’ve done that’s out of line.

The little girl in the coffee shop makes me aware that my children are still on the fringes of a blissful world of childhood innocence, but on the cusp of stepping with both feet into the jungle that kicked the shit out of me. I want to spare them the perils in that journey. I want to keep my lovely limbs right where they are: safe and happy.

Yet I realize they can’t broaden their perspective of the world if their father is clutching them tightly to prevent them stepping in with both feet. They can’t fully savour the wealth of experiences the world has to offer if I’m still taunting them back toward their childhood with ice cream and Sponge Bob re-runs.

My mind is defiant as I am confronted with the reality I have no choice but to let them go a little. The age-old rift between parents and teenagers crystallizes as I consider this. I resent the fact they’ll seek influences elsewhere and won’t automatically see my opinions, tastes or ideas as necessarily authoritative.

They’ll have tastes and preferences that won’t mirror my own. Already my son loves Katy Perry. How did that happen? Doesn’t he know his father hates pop music because it sucks? Then I remember: he’s twelve. Katy Perry to a twelve year old boy is more than just about music, isn’t she?

My children are going to make mistakes and feel chastened by the consequences as they try on various identities to learn what works best for them. As I watch them struggle to succeed or blissfully jump into abject failure it will be hard to stop myself from stepping in and taking over. I’m like any parent, I’d rather avoid seeing them fail, but this sentiment too easily transforms into me trying too hard to manufacture their success. I’ve already had to stop myself doing tough homework assignments and science projects for them. Man, I hate seeing them struggle. 

It is hard to watch from the sidelines as my child slips on easily-spotted banana peels, but I know from my own upbringing in a family of nascent critics how profoundly the hand-wringing undermines a child’s feelings of autonomy. It doesn’t matter that the advice, constructive criticism, or other moral support is well-intended.

They begin to internalize too much interference as implied criticism. The risk is they’ll come to second-guess themselves. They will lay blame for planting the seeds of doubt about their own instincts squarely on the over-bearing parent. That could come back to haunt me, so I need to learn a little hands off.

A few years ago my son came home from school intimating he was having an issue with a bully at his school. In seconds my mind was filled with ideas of kicking the shit out of the kid, shoving my fist in his father’s face, and enrolling him the next day in the Kung Fu class I taught. The wisdom of non-violence from my Buddhist practice was easily brushed aside by the vision of my child suffering at the hands of another.

The one thing I didn’t do was simply ask him how he felt about the situation and what he wanted to do to resolve it. Thanks to my son, that would-be bully is, five years later, now in his circle of friends, while I still look at the kid with a hairy eyeball.

The experience was the first time I realized the volatility of my emotions where my children were concerned. It gave me extreme insight about how empty the parental invocation of “doing what is best” can be tainted by projections of my own childhood angst onto them.

It’s startling how old wounds you thought had healed burst open as you find yourself reliving some torrid chapter of your childhood through something happening in your child’s life. Next thing you know, you’re reacting as your thirteen year old self in the same situation, not as the parent of a child who may see things totally differently. 

I’ve got to keep my eye on that raging bull. I had a lot of emotional wounds that took a long time to heal. I had a lot of well-deserved “fuck you’s” left unsaid. I don’t want to be the roll of quarters in my child’s fist swinging at MY old ghosts. I don’t want to use my children to become masters of my own failed aspirations.

I also have to assume my children will experience hardships of the nature I faced differently than I did. They aren’t miniature versions of me, after all. I think I’ve done a bit better than was done to me in establishing the foundations for a more balanced emotional reaction to life’s undulations.

I’ve been a warm father. I tell my sons I love them every day. I think it’s etched in their mind. I think they’ll deal better than I did when shit hits fans along whatever path they’re on. It’s quite possible they won’t even see some of the things I perceived as horrible in quite the same terms. I was a bit of a brooding child. My kids aren’t. I hope I had something to do with cultivating that lightness. We will have to wait and see; and hope.

It’s disturbing to me to have to fathom these issues. The first time I can’t fix their mental anguish with a Slurpee or a night of popcorn and Kung Fu Panda my heart will die a little. There have already been some hurts for which there is nothing I can do but listen and lean in with a hug. Things like the divorce of their mother and father, the tearing to pieces of what they understood as a ‘family.’

This is when I am awash in the desire to stop time. To somehow keep them like that little girl in the coffee shop; to see to it they stay forever small enough to remain in my arms where I can protect them. I want to be the ultimate fixer for their problems, which is relatively easy when a child’s biggest problem is that they misplaced their teddy bear.

There are bigger problems ahead, and it scares the living shit out of me. I’ve got to be brave. I’ve caught myself already inadvertently seeding their relatively blue skies with storm clouds of negativity that stem from my childhood, not theirs. I’ve got to buck up.

But I never want them to go so far into the grown up abyss that they no longer feel the warmth of my unconditional love for who they are breathing them forward. I don’t want them to be seduced by ideas about the world being indifferent, harsh, and cruel.

I never want them to be far away from the promise of a parent’s non-judgmental presence when it is needed most. I want them to know there is no place better than my open arms to take refuge, should the need arise. Little children can’t even imagine another place aside from their parents for solace, but as they grow older, the urge to resist that impulse grows out of the need to cultivate independence.  

Shadow Monsters

This idea – independence. The lie our increasingly Social Darwinist culture breeds in young adults; especially young boys like my two sons. We are inter-dependent. Those who are ‘self-made’, who believe they are independent don’t realize how much their self-reliance came on the backs of others. I don’t want those others to be my innocent children.

The rest of us take the idea of independence too literally, trying to deal with life as if we really believed it necessary to do so alone. It’s bollocks.

Everybody needs someone else. That is the beauty and the bane of humanity.

I hope to instill in my sons the innate wisdom of the little child in this regard; to keep them habituated to looking in the right places for warmth and love to ward off life’s rougher edges. It doesn’t have to be me, although I hope it is. It just needs to be someone who genuinely has their best interests at heart.

Children have no qualms about seeking out mommy and daddy when they’re in despair. Adults need that kind of presence in their lives. I want to be that presence in my boys’ adult lives. 

Some parents joke about when their kids will leave the nest. It’s no laughing matter for me. I want my sons to always know there’s a place for them with me, no questions asked.

I don’t want them to forget the feel of my arms around them as they grow old and fly away. So I will go now, and hug them, hoping to make it impossible to forget.

174 and 1/2 Steps To Be Thin, Happy, and an All-Around Amazing Human Being in Under Two Minutes

Okay, the title is a little dishonest.

In reality, I’m not going to give you any finite number of simple steps toward anything. This is a cliche I don’t mind employing from time to time: nothing worth doing is easy.

The gist of my title piggybacks on the blogging trend in vogue these days. Every article is fashioned into a list, with the aim of grabbing the attention of a culture who seems collectively to have the attention-span of a six-year old. This is completely benign when it comes to the subject of the “10 Child Stars Who Still Look Like They Did When They Were Child Stars” or “15 Ways to Get Laid, Paid, and Never Be Afraid.”

But I have some serious reservations when this editing approach is employed to articles attempting to give serious advice to those who feel their well-being suffers. I understand perfectly why there are dozens of web sites catering to the legions out there who feel fat, lonely, miserable, or otherwise unfulfilled in their lives. I was, and to a degree still am, one of those people. I think the intentions behind all the advice columns out there are noble, and I still regularly consume many of these myself.

However, there’s a danger in framing the solution to overcoming some serious problems as if it was “Easy as 1-2-3.” The solutions aren’t that easy. I understand that, to reel people in who are feeling not great about themselves, you have to think of ways to get them in the door with offerings of hope.

I’m not sure false hope is much of a sinecure for any despair these people feel. And it seems to me these editors – because I bet the bloggers didn’t write their articles this way – are sacrificing the self-esteem of people who genuinely suffer. They dangle dubious promises of hope with blogs edited down to an unrecognizable husk of their original depth to increase readership which feeds advertising revenue and blah, blah, blah.

What happens? People who are suffering read the 10 steps to happiness, try them out for a week or two, inevitably fail, and then ask “what the fuck is wrong with me?” The simple solutions have added a section of naysayers to the stadium of negative self-critics already in their head. It’s another nail in the tattered self-esteem of anyone who has struggled with an issue that has dogged them for years.

The truth is, the things we need to do to get out of our ruts vary widely. But the ruts we are in are all rooted in the same issue: a distorted mental view. Because we are all human, and most of us have a mind, we tend to face certain shocks to our psyche in the same way.

That’s where things went south for most of us. We need to find that nugget of pathos, put it in our hands, smell it, and get to know it. Then, and only then, can we start to build a new road for all the spheres of our lives where we may, or may not, be succeeding. New eyes driving a new road can also lead to new perceptions of our “failure,” something few of these blogs ever touch upon.

So, here is my list. The list of things, the nugget, beneath every big issue written about in the self help industry: abuse, depression, anxiety, body image, relationships, career, and happiness. Wait for it …

1. Your Ego

Here is another list of what you can do to change this:

1. Tons of Fucking Work

Easy as pie right? And with fewer ingredients too.

I realize, these lists are a hell of a lot less appealing as blog titles go than “Eight Ways to Liberate Your Soul.” Let’s try it out, “You Have to do Tons of Fucking Work To Figure Out Why Your Ego Keeps You: Depressed, Eating When You’re Not Hungry, Sabotaging Your Chance of Having a Good Relationship Because It’s Choosing the Wrong People to be in Your Life, Choosing Goals That Are Vapid, Shallow, or in Disharmony With Who You Are, and Acting In Ways You Know for a Fact You’ll Regret Later On”

Wow. That is a long title. I bet folks will probably not be crashing the server of the blog-site where that article was posted.

Now, I’m not a PhD psychologist whose articles are edited down by some dude with an MFA from Fordham. I’m not a “Life Coach” or Yoga teacher. But I have been meditating for eight years and doing yoga slightly less. And I’m also not giving you any lists. I’m just sharing my realizations about this stuff because I did a lot of hard work to get them.

I don’t meditate sometimes. I meditate every day, except when I don’t want to. I do retreats where I don’t read, talk, telephone, or anything other than meditate, and they suck a lot. But they work, magically.

I do Mysore yoga, which doesn’t allow me to compare myself to the rest of the class as I pose. I basically force myself to be with myself. All the time. It sucks sometimes too, but ditto above about working, magically.

That stuff is way harder than reading a list, for sure.

But now I know my ego. All I have to say is “that little fucker.” He’s the one who purports to act on my behalf before I can intervene with wisdom to stop him. He’s the one telling me I am not good enough all the time. And now I also know where he placed all the shit he couldn’t, wouldn’t, or was too scared to deal with.

I understand the reasons why he did those things, but it’s kept me emotionally swinging in the dark, which screwed up many parts of my life. I know how he rationalizes his dysfunctional way of dealing with emotional turmoil in the same way: avoidance, denial, distraction, defensiveness, posturing. I know he sprung out to protect me at an early age against some pretty deep emotional traumas.

I’ve seen how the same single pile of emotional shit seems to stick to the bottom of my shoes, and is there no matter where my ego goes. But it was the SAME emotional pile stinking up every sphere of my life.

Dealing with that one pile would negate having to deal with what appeared to be separate piles in ostensibly separate parts of my life. That would obviate the need to remember the self-help blog list for my eating problem, another for my sad problem, and another for each of my partner, mother, brother, best friend, boss, and co-worker problems.

Added up those lists are about 174 things, plus a 1/2 because I don’t care so much about one of the things on one of the lists that could make my co-workers like me. That’s a lot of things to remember. It’s a lot of compartmentalizing of a human being. It re-inforces the lie that we are somehow capable of switching ourselves on and off so easily without any residual damage to our psyches.

The switch-off leaks out if we don’t address it. Ask any professional who regularly attends crash scenes, a soldier in a war-zone, a police officer, a social worker about swiching-off or compartmentalizing. It’s bullshit. To a very small degree, this amount of dissociating from ourselves to function in certain spheres is functional. Until it becomes pathological for the infinite ways we try to shield our emotions with our egos.

That’s a lot of big, fancy-pants talk. Ego? What’s that? I bet you’re wondering where the easy part comes, right?

There is no easy part. There never was, nor will there ever be, particularly if you are in your mid-life and have been dealing with your issues for a long while. There are some ingrained perceptions and distortions perpetuating your problems. Your ego – the persona most of us tend to identify with, that generally perceives the world and then behaves accordingly – has kept you where you are because he has been doing the mis-perceiving and distorting of your reality. He’s done the best he can, but it’s time to give him the shove-off if you’re stuck dealing with the same problems.

You cannot just take a list created by some random blogger’s “happy mind” and stuff it in your ear so your mind will adopt all the perceptions, and feelings, and outlook that combine to make the blogger’s happy view even possible. Your ego will easily reject all the foundations upon which that list is built. It will want to place you back in the zone it is most comfortable, which is outside the mental bounds the list springs from.

Something in your mind sees the attraction in the list. So, the work is, you need to get behind the ego and see your mind for who and what it is and what you really are. You are not the things your ego says you are.

Throw away the lists and find a way into your mind. For me, that was meditation and yoga, for you maybe it’s therapy or something else that removes you from the nutty world your ego put you in. If you don’t retreat from that place to a demilitarized zone, your ego will continue in the dysfunctional tactics it evolved to defend you.

In other words, there is hope for change. The change lies in coming into direct contact with who you are. Then you can start to walk the earth with a mind that is more objective in its view of things, including how it views yourself and your place in all of this.

But it takes work. It took years to get into the problem and it will take years to get out of it. This shouldn’t be a source of discouragement.

That’s the other thing I really, really hate about many of these easy-peasy self-help articles. They are just another insidious voice in the Western rhetoric that puts little gadflies in our heads about how easy conquering all the problems in our life should be. That idea is an accelerant for low self-esteem, because it is false and bound to fail. People offering self-help advice should not be putting a recipe for failure in the hands of people with poor, vulnerable self-perceptions.

After eight years, the massive shit-pile I discovered in my self-study isn’t gone but it is smaller, more manageable. I can step around it most days without having it stink up my behaviour in all the facets of life I have to juggle.

That’s progress, and that is reality. It is one hell of a lot better reality than the one my ego saw before I started doing the work. In order for it to stay that way I will have to keep at it; life and my ego created the pile before and they could do it again.

The work of overcoming my problems forced me to cultivate lasting habits, and disciplined practices that I don’t need to remember from a list. The functional habits I have are based in perceptions crafted by my mind, for my mind. I promise, you can go and get your own better mind too, with some considerable effort.

So I lied. I am going to proffer a list.

Three reasons your hard efforts to heal are worthwhile:

1. You

2. Your loved ones

3. Humanity

Screw the Rod, Spoil Your Child

I’ve seen a lot of parenting articles posted by ‘friends’ on my facebook newsfeed of this ilk that purport to offer advice on how to raise ‘respectful’ or ‘responsible’ kids by basically being a total jerk to them. With this British nanny’s five reasons as to why we modern parents are destroying our kids I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I feel a strong urge to change the dialogue about this subject because it involves the world’s most vulnerable people. There are so many children victimized by genuinely dire circumstances, and so we here in the fortunate parts of the world should use the luxury afforded by our relative security to raise well-balanced children who desire to change the lot of those who suffer.

It bothers me as a parent of two special needs kids to think they are growing up alongside children being raised by parents and nannies who treat them like they aren’t entitled to have feelings or desires of their own because they are too imposing on the parent. The risk is that children raised in such environments will become adults who lack compassion for the unique challenges my adult children will present. They will be too emotionally damaged themselves to understand or care about the needs of others.

This idea that ‘coddling’ a child will turn them into ‘spoiled brats’ necessitates a hard-ass parenting style to prevent that happening is one I find gravely disturbing. If you take this tack, what you’ve set out to do is wage a systematic campaign of insensitivity against an extremely vulnerable, powerless, and emotionally un-developed human being who depends on you, the parent, to be the one most sensitive to their every need.

You can call it whatever you want – toughening up for the real world, teaching life’s ‘realities’ – whatever. The reality is, to unleash this approach requires that you, the parent, be the blunt instrument your child most frequently encounters in life. And it will suck to be you, as much as it will suck for your child, when he has to face the real life challenges that arrive in adolescence after having been emotionally beaten down by parents intent on “teaching respect” in the years prior.

A child subjected to this parenting approach won’t be emotionally capable of facing the hard knocks of reality. They will most likely be thin skinned adults with a big chip on their shoulder who handle adversity poorly and lash out at others for their feelings of insufficiency. They will feel at a deep level that the world is unfair and cruel – which it can be, at times – because the lesson was given harshly at a tender age when they weren’t able to integrate their emotions into a more established, confident, self-concept. They learned it at an age when they were still really on the fence about whether Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were real.

A parent should not be the one to ‘toughen up’ their child who is possessed of these emotional sensibilities. The lesson in toughness should come later when there’s a more solid identity to ensure the child’s psyche isn’t de-stabilized by the infinite number of threats it faces in adolescence. The tough lesson should not be given at the home, at least to the young child, because there are so many of those lessons in the playground of life.

The home should be the place where the landing is soft at all times. If the home is also tough, the child learns there is no escape from things that cause emotional trauma. That lays the foundation for serious emotional insecurity. It is absolutely horrifying to think there are legions of parents out there who don’t see what is, to me, an obvious reality. We parents need to go back to our childhoods for insights on how to raise our own children to be certain we don’t sub-consciously repeat parenting tactics that were most damaging to our own emotional development.

Think about it, where did your philosophy of parenting come from? If you don’t believe you have a parenting philosophy, think again. You do. It is that of your parents because that is what you learned, even if, at a conscious level you disavowed it. When faced with the immense emotional burden of raising a child without a manual, your parent’s methods will be your default. That is, unless you’ve taken specific steps to educate yourself on the subject of parenting and child psychology; or have done a shitload of therapy or other self-exploration aimed at gaining insight – and control – over your own emotionally unintelligent behaviours.

My insights on this come from my own adulthood meditations on growing up as a child in a family of adults who took the approach hailed by nanny and applied it too often indelicately from the time my sentient memory began. It was an emotionally cold, distant family possessed of two deplorable British inventions: the stiff upper lip and a belief in the sacrosanct nature of ‘manners’ rooted in aristocratic, ethnocentric ideas of ‘propriety.’

I am here to tell you fans in the peanut gallery today that this approach can irreparably damage a parent-child relationship. At the very least it can keep it strained for a really long time. This, in addition to putting a stake in the heart of an adolescent’s budding, non-existent self-esteem and leaving it in tatters well into adulthood.

If the stern approach is not implemented with utmost caution and insight – and at the appropriate time in a child’s life, it will backfire and turn a child into a resentful, insecure adult teeming with ill-will. This accounts for the stunted, posturing, repressed emotionality of most men in male-dominated cultures; those who had the ‘toughen up’ lesson applied way earlier than it should have been in their lives.

Most parents, most adults, don’t seem to possess the degree of self-reflectiveness to get the ‘hard knocks’ approach to teaching the art of living right. That is the nuance which is missing in the nanny blog, and which I find most disturbing. The damning logic in all of these “spare the rod, spoil the child” approaches is the unqualified belief that any given parent – one assumes, because they are an adult – is emotionally equipped to raise a child. Most adults genuinely believe they have their bigger emotional problems licked, which is sad on a human level, but also a contemptible farce when such delusions are the springboard for parents who aim to whip their children into “respectful” adults.

It is my observation that many adults in our culture are profoundly emotionally stunted, psychologically unaware beings. This is through no fault of their own. They probably had shitty parents. And that is why, as a rule, I believe it’s better for today’s parents to err on the side of being more lenient when confronted with their child’s emotional excesses (ie misbehaviour) until they’ve got a good grip on their own emotional hot buttons. This reduces the chances, although only slightly for some of us, of being a total asshole to our children.

The process of becoming a better parent has to start with a little bit of honesty about where we’re stuck emotionally. It’s my observation that most adult egos have a difficult time doing this kind of soul-searching. It requires a loosening of the certainty our egos have fashioned to get our psychological selves through all the shitty things that belie the craven world of adulthood. It also gives the lie to the firmness in the ground from which the heavy handed parent imposes his worldview upon his children.

In my family, to the degree my ass was spared the rod, which I am grateful for, heaps of verbal lashes criticising my conduct, grammar, clothes, hairstyle or any choices that were actually mine were dished out in its place. And the problem with this approach, which I detect in the nanny’s article, is the absolute and total disregard for viewing any of the parent-child situations from the child’s perspective. Why might a child have a tantrum? According to the nanny and all the parents who solemnify the tactic of hectoring children, it’s because they are an insolent shit who needs to be put in their place.

This reinforces what I consider to be an illegitimate and profoundly disrespectful philosophy of parenting; one that totally dismisses the individuality of a child, the likely reality that the world they see is vastly different than the one their parent, or any adult for that matter, sees. No matter what we wish as parents, we cannot ever expect our children to be miniature versions of ourselves and then set about a parenting campaign to effect that outcome.

The ‘sippy cup test’ the nanny outlines is pretty pedestrian in illustrating the doomed parenting of the times but is symptomatic of a deeply disturbing logic. For example, what if my teenaged child is gay? What if his best friend commits suicide? What if he has mental illness? Has been experimenting with drugs? These real-life dilemmas in an adolescent’s life may in fact raise emotions that are equal in scale to the “sippy cup” or to any number of other “whimsical” emotions in the early years.

I wonder how the child whose parent has been telling them “no” to their every “whim” from a very early age is going to feel about approaching their parents in these situations later in life. The “whim” of a child is in the eye of the beholder. Constantly referring to a child’s expressions as a “whim” is problematic because the child doesn’t see it as whimsical, especially if they are three. To frame every “childish” complaint in this way says something daming about the parent making the inference. It says, ‘I AM A DICK.’

In my mind the nanny is just basically telling parents to take the stand “fuck you for wanting something different than what I decide you want, you little Queen of Sheba.” It’s extremely demeaning to a child’s self esteem to immediately dismiss their wants in this way. Every bloody adult in existence has similar preferences, which in many cases are equally whimsical. To immediately deny a child their wants in a punitive way all the time is to teach the adolescent and adult of tomorrow that they aren’t entitled to the things they want; things like success, happiness, or a good career. It is the basis for extremely low self-esteem.

The nanny, and all the “don’t coddle your child” fans are suggesting parents are being slaves when they accommodate what are, in the eyes of an adult, “whimsical” needs. But a child’s expression of a “need,” even if small, may be something to take seriously. It warrants investigation, negotiation and patience to discover, not immediate dismissal simply because of how the need was conveyed.

I want my child to know, without any doubt in their mind, that I, their parent, am one person in this entire world who respects them absolutely, will give them unconditional love, and be there to support their emotional needs. To a two year old, that sippy cup could be a real emotional need, not just some phlegmatic outburst for a capricious reason. Until I take the time to figure out exactly, it’s not right to assume it is what I think it is and shut it down.

Later on in their life, when they begin to see the world coming at them with knives from all angles, maybe it’s important for a child’s self esteem to know there’s one corner of the world where someone has their emotional back. They will be secure in this feeling because, as a child they were showed support consistently when it was called upon and not immediately dismissed as “whimsical.” If my kid wants an aubergine sippy cup with dancing bears on it because bears make him feel happy, fuck it, they’ll get it from me. And I’ll make sure over time they learn to ask nicely for things they want without believing it’s necessary to apply the lesson in a single stroke.

This is what we should tell our kids: they are awesome, even if they screw up or are screaming banshees from time to time.

This is what we should tell our kids: they are awesome, even if they screw up or are screaming banshees from time to time. As they grow to be adults, there will be fewer people in the world willing to do so. Be their best friend, but also be their kind, constructive, and generous teacher as you impart them as best you can with the skills needed to survive the many undulations in life, good and bad.

The nanny’s point about manners and respect raises my ire to an extreme degree. When I was a kid I’d say to myself “why does my grandmother think it’s okay to be an asshole just because she believes it’s important to hold my fork properly.” That’s the problem with manners or respect. The stuff of these principles, again, is in the eye of the beholder. Except the approach to teaching is determinately less flexible, and too often expects a child to immediatly apply the lesson, as if they were a mini-adult. This actually creates and reinforces feelings of disrespect and resentment, which undermines the project of creating respect and virtue.

The lesson may be learned, but it comes at a high emotional cost on many levels. Consistently kind, unceasing repetition of the basic message is my sense of what it takes to effectively teach a child something they’re having difficulty learning. To an adult ‘manners’ is fairly concrete. To a child it is extremely abstract. Punishment is not the way to imprint the desired behaviour in a lasting way, even if it works in the immediate sense. It breeds contempt for the way adults can be absolutist in their beliefs in what are, to a child, a bunch of very arbitrary ideas.

The flawed way nanny and her drill-sergeants address the issue of teaching manners will undermine efforts to have children internalize far more important lessons required of well-socialized adults. For example basic ethics of conduct and relating to other human beings. The message will lose its legitimacy not because of its content, but because of an emotional aversion to who delivers it.

Children have eyes, ears, and brains. Unless the kid is a vegetable, they will see a majority of the adults who harshly impart these lessons failing to conduct themselves above the same bar they’ve set for their children. Any parent who gets drunk in front of their child loses a serious credibility test in this area. Any parent who has said anything to their child of the variety “do as I say, not as I do” or whose actions contradict the messages of propriety that are brow beaten into their children will also lose their credibility.

When my grandmother slurred her words as she lambasted me for having my arms on the table like a barn animal the words “fucking hypocrite” were swishing in my mind. In addition, seeds of resentment were planted and would blossom an internal rebellion against all putative authority figures who appeared later in my life. In this one respect, I’ll agree with the nanny. Kids aren’t stupid, and they will instantly sniff out the hypocrisy in how their parents or any other adults approach the fine art of dealing with their “misbehaviour.” The harder the lesson is given, the harder the child will be in adjudging the parent who gives it.

I could write a book about how insidious this ‘teach manners and respect at all costs’ approach is. As a child I’d sidle up to fucking trees and random strangers just to fill the vast void of feeling and affection withheld from me because the adults treated giving a hug like it was giving away a kidney. At the same time they dished out criticism and hectoring like they had orchards of the shit growing in their back yard. A child learns some profoundly dysfunctional ways of coping when subjected to that kind of insensitivity from those who he looks to for feelings of emotional security.

This and the many similar articles of this variety that celebrate spanking and have stained my newsfeed tout a parenting style totally discredited by the massive scale of maladjusted adults today. These are the adults who are being prescribed anti-depressants in record numbers, who are drug/gambling/shopping addicted, craven, greedy, dog-eat-dog individualists that are very nearly bankrupting the world because of their pathological need for validation and self-worth in transient external achievements.

This is the generation raised by baby boomers who were busy climbing their ladder and immediately saw the extraordinary, time and energy-saving benefits in relinquishing the agony in assuming the role as patient, forebearing parents and assuming the role of benevolent dictator instead. For them the edict ‘I am the parent, you are the child, I am the boss’ was the rule of the day and that lack of patience made their mode of relating to their children often caustic, capricious, reactive and inconsistent.

The nanny’s point about the village raising my child is idiotic in today’s world. If a bus driver wants to kick my child off his bus for misbehaviour, fair enough. However, it’ll be a frosty day in Sudan before I give carte blanche to random strangers to impart “life lessons” to my kid.

You know why? Because some of them will be dipshits who apply the nanny logic in their dipshit way. Or, it will be some bitchy tiger mom treating everyone like they’re a piece of shit if they don’t do what it takes to get into Harvard. Or it will be some posturing, sabre-rattling drill-sergeant trying to create mindless drones who march in formation to any old wank who’s higher in the pecking order. I cherish my child’s well-being enough to assert that it is not okay to allow them to be subjected to the reams of adult neurosis posing as principled admonishments of their ‘misbehaviour.’

I do not trust the legions of emotionally imbalanced adults out there to make that call. I barely trust myself, but at least I am their parent. If my kids are out of line, which because they are human beings, they will be, I will punish them. But you, random-adult-in-the-village-purporting-to-raise-my-child will not. If you do, I will punish you.

I’d rather teach my child to know what it’s like to be given respect by an adult so they know it when they see it and know disrespect when they’ve been subjected to it. If they’ve been respected by their parents, they won’t over-react to being disrespected in the world. Teaching a child to be obedient to any schlub adult who enters their life is teaching them a lesson in the antithesis of self-respect. It teaches them that they don’t have a right to draw a line in the sand that represents their self-respect.

The point is to withhold the knee jerk tendency to allow yourself as a parent or a village of random strangers to punish whatever you believe is misbehaviour in a child. It’s important to take the time to uncover what is really beneath their conduct. Yes, this is true even when the outburst is in a public place, and yes, even when it’s probably embarassing to you.

Do not let your own adult fears about the judgements of random strangers sway you from principled parenting, so that you then unleash acts that demean your child. Acknowledge their feelings and teach them to express them in a way that others can understand and appreciate. Use these situations to teach a child that it’s okay to be angry, excited, or bored, but to be constructive in conveying those feelings more effectively to others. This can only be achieved with consistency and time, rather than with an emotional sledge hammer wielded to achieve the  learning objective in a single blow.

For most children, it sucks to be in any number of meaningless places of import in an adult’s life they get dragged to by their parents. As parents we have to take some responsibility for how our children respond to situations we ourselves created that are unpleasant for them. This is not putting my child’s needs before mine, as nanny laments in her blog. It is being a little more self-reflective about the consequences my actions have on my child. It is suggesting that my child gets a say in things too, because I respect his feelings about things, and acknowledge that it is okay if they differ from my own. It is not putting all the responsibility for perfect behaviour on my child, especially in situations that any insightful adult should know a child may not take kindly to.

We have to be respectful to our childrens’ needs by being honest with ourselves as parents about whether our expectations for how they handle things are reasonable. In many cases, our ‘high expectations’ for their behaviour are just high-minded veils for the hope that our kids don’t call us out for the crappy things we invited into their existence. Things that we did, for which they had no choice and pay an emotional price – like divorce, our emotional baggage from our childhoods, our work-a-holism, our bad day at the office, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s not fair to expect a child to approve of all our choices if we don’t let them have a single one of their own. That’s why, as nanny laments, fathers run across the zoo to get their kid the drink. It’s a small gesture to say ‘hey, I was out of town last week ‘providing’ for you, so here I will honour you for making you worry about my absence.’

This is more in tune with what concrete thinkers need for emotional balance. Children cannot relate to the abstract nature of a concept like “toughen up” or “be courteous.” To any adult these are easy to understand because we’ve been through life. But a child hasn’t. They only really can relate to the actual means by which the “lesson” is instilled by the parents in the situation at hand. It requires utmost delicacy and kindness, rather than sternness and shrillness in meting out the lesson, which young kids will often interpret as “why is mommy being unkind to me?”

If I were to punish my child’s reactions because I had unrealistic expectations in these situations I would be a total jerk. I know from my own experiences that a child raised by the jerk parenting style will harbour deep resentments about having been punished for expectations that were absolutely unfairly put upon a child. An emotionally vulnerable person subjected to that kind of treatment risks turning out to be a cynical adult because the most important people in their formative emotional years were the ones constantly treating them unfairly.

The child raised in this environment won’t become a respectful, well-socialized adult with an intrinsic understanding of what should and should not motivate, limit, or justify any extremes in his behaviour. That requires the ability to process strong emotions intelligently in situations where they run high. This isn’t achieved when, as a child, your parent punished or belittled your strongest emotions under the assumption you were being ‘misbehaved’.

It is incredible how so many adults, like this nanny, make the mistake of punishing emotions because they are instantly perceived as ‘misbehaviour.’ It has the result of re-inforcing a child’s belief that emotions are bad, which makes them repressed and stunted in their emotional development. Sadly, it is also a sign of very poor emotional acuity in the adult who repeatedly cannot understand there are raw emotions beneath all misbehaviour, particularly those of a child.

It is a tempting delusion for parents to believe this drill sergeant shit works on emotionally undeveloped, vulnerable human beings, as children are, but we all know deep down that it doesn’t and we should stop. Even though it can be taxing on our energy as parents to give space to our kids to be pissed off, confused, overwhelmed or otherwise out of line at times it’s important they be allowed to feel entitled to their emotions, but that they must learn to process them more constructively.

As parents we have to be honest about our own emotional radars to to this as well. I am sorry fathers, most of us really fall down in this area because we were all trained to repress our emotions. As men, we are not in tune with our own feelings. When I see a father being hard-ass to his kids, I see a projection of his own unresolved emotions about being treated in hard-ass fashion by his own parents. That isn’t a parenting philosophy. That is a rote perpetuation of extremely insensitive behaviour. It’s thoughtless and takes inner work on ourselves as adults – and not on the ‘behaviour’ of our children – to change. It requires a change in your perception of things as a parent.

As a parent I believe it is crucial to win the respect of my children by treating them with respect first, not by asserting my authority over them as I see fit. This starts by not automatically invalidating their emotions with expectations of ‘behaviour’ that are inappropriate for children. Children are never, ever going to rightly be viewed as mini-adults and should not be punished for failing to regulate their emotions effectively as if they were.

In my experience, very few adults are able to effectively regulate their emotions. Ironically, this is most evident in the things parents tend to discipline their children for and the methods they choose to do it. It takes an extreme level of honesty and self-reflection to come to terms with that reality as a parent; the degree our children really do act as a lightning rod for our own emotional blind-spots. I’d recommend parents heed their own dictates and be the tough grown ups they badger their kids to be when they are faced with that fact.

Instead of just letting the chips fall after subjecting your kids to the shitty side effects of your own emotional hang ups, apologize to your kids when you’re out of line. Acknowledge that you are learning how to relate to them as individuals who are evolving every day in their unique way.

But YOU, the parent, have ALL the responsibility for demonstrating exemplary behaviour to them and NOT the other way round. Remember that. If you mete out punishment for an infinite number of random principles your concrete-thinking child cannot fully comprehend, your child will see YOU as ‘misbehaved.’ He will punish you later. Or worse, he will punish the world by being a greedy, bombastic, tyrannical, un-self-reflective douchebag in adulthood.

The badgering approach to child-rearing is extremely irresponsible given the reams of literature for the lay parent on how detrimental it is to a child’s emotional well-being. And it is just plain stupid, mean, and cruel. So cut it out. Do it for the sake of your children and those who will be the leaders of the next generation.

The world demands a change in human conduct, so be a mindful parent who is an agent in promoting beings who are emotionally capable of harmoniously cultivating such change. Start now by abandoning the temptation to be an unkind tormentor to your child on the pretense you’re raising a ‘respectful’ adult. Do not make a principle out of insensitivity towards your child, because it will perpetuate the same brand of pathological, unenlightened, self-serving adults who have put humanity in the sorry state it is today.

Trust Me, You Do Not Want to Know What is Going on In Here

Those four words. Like dogs to a high-pitched whistle and flies to mortally electrifying light, they render the same degree of involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as those words make ruthless contact between our legs.

They come as we are spooning after making love to our partner. Or while we’re hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through botanical gardens; the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air. Or when we’re sipping lattes after a glutinous, ostentatious breakfast sharing the Sunday Times, periodically breaking the comfortable silence to offer musings on the week’s news.

Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss for what they are, for no good reason the four words are unleashed, grazing insensitively at the most tender side of unsuspecting, fully descended testicles.

“What are you thinking?”

Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*

Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?

Sometimes you wish you'd never asked the question.

Sometimes you wish you’d never asked the question.

We’ve just made love. To make sure my role in the affair extended longer than a commercial break, I may have had to deploy radical counter-measures to fend off premature detonation of missile warheads. This possibly involved tapping into childhood memories of larger mammals mating on Jacques Cousteau or  National Geographic. There could have been thoughts of grannies playing Twister in their over-sized underwear, or naked old men juggling puppies.

You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace. Next time, I’m letting my missile blow wherever and whenever the hell it feels like it.

As we have our breakfast, I am reminded of a YouTube video of a dog at the table wearing a hoodie stuffing his breakfast into his face with human hands. Oh god was that funny! He was eating scrambled eggs just like me – but way funnier! Because he was a dog and had hands! Get it! A DOG! HA HA HA!!

I see yellow daffodils and think of Sponge Bob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream and coke floats, then trashing his pineapple home; the fact that Squidward’s face looks a lot like a dude’s package.

That is basically what I am thinking. The thoughts don’t diminish my lapping up of the experience.

So, why you gotta ruin a good moment like that?

“Um, what?” is what I actually say instead.

Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.

But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes.  Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes. Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Do you not know how hard it is to come up with good pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? Or when I’ve just eaten enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to give an Olympian type-2 diabetes in a single meal?

As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem to love black guys more than the horses and cows in the nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught!

You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to paaaah-tay on some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping girly wine coolers from your pint-sized body!

On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or ‘I feel lucky,’ or ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’

Believe me, I think those things. All the time, in fact. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you ask, the thoughts can be a little, well, romantically underwhelming.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I'd known sooner.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I’d known sooner.

“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”

“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”

“No reason. Love you.”

And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. A masterful deflection. Right?

RIGHT !?!?

I bet every dude reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that graze to my nads. But it’s just so, I don’t know, begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.

Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really awesome and romantic-like?

One time after the question I said ‘oh nothing, really.’ Oops. Really? No. Not ‘really.’ Nothing. I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway. After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.

Okay, I had a bad week at the office, and yeah, sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other dudes. Damn! That wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how funny it would be if Sponge Bob and Kermit the Frog were getting fisted by Miss Piggy.

I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho facade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their repressed hiding places.

I will get revenge against the infidel, my brethren. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the romantic comedy for movie night. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I had four as I was lighting the candles.

I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.

I will never forget the jeers I received when I opined over beers and golf that The Notebook wasn’t bad, and another time when I described the colour of eggplant as aubergine. Come on guys, it ain’t purple. So, there will be no Barry White. Sorry, Barry White, it’s not you, it’s me.

So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past ones, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh, smaller. Down there, I mean? (pointing to my penis)”

On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I really can’t handle the truth.

The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have ADD. He’s always running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. But when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random?

Hell breaks loose. He tries to run away the little idiot. But he’s on a wheel, so instead the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. The fleeing hamster is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.

That’s what happens when you ask “so, what are you thinking?” You send hammy running for the hills.

That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent-like mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.

He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.

Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.

So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Sponge Bob, dogs eating breakfast, Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.

“This is phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”

And then I roll over, hoping the hamster will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs the rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.