My Parenting Motto: "Son, Don't Be a Douchebag"

As a parent, I try to equip my kid with nutrients and basic human decency. I want him to have the educational opportunities he desires and comfortable but durable shoes. And I have to teach him not to be a douchebag.

Sep 30, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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I've mentioned before how I'm raising a boy child during the 21st Century Backlash, which is totally a thing, and we should call it that, in caps.

As a citizen, I do what I can to help the cause. Austin Stands with Planned Parenthood, represent! Here, imagine a jaunty retrocameraphone candid of me in my kitchen gesticulating toward a bumper sticker which I possess but cannot find. It is emblematic of my disgust that our Downtown Health Center has been defunded by my state legislature with the help of a certain presidential candidate.

As a parent, I try to equip my kid with nutrients and basic human decency. I want him to have the educational opportunities he desires and comfortable but durable shoes. I want him to be physically and emotionally safe, and I want him to have dental sealants. I want green vegetables daily. All that Mom sort of stuff.

As importantly, I have to teach him not to be a douchebag. 

One time, some of the younger-than-I people at my office inquired about my parenting philosophy. Here’s what I told them: Son, don't be a douchebag, and your life will probably be all right besides the general ups and downs of the human experience. Weather these storms, and don't be a douchebag. Do not irritate people needlessly, particularly people with less social and economic power than you have. You will solve a lot of problems for yourself this way, and you will create happiness for yourself and others.

It's simple, but it's not always easy. I've heard all my life that boys are “easier” to raise. Ostensibly this is because girls have The Hormones (and are therefore crazy and hard to manage) and because they are vulnerable to sexual predation, yes? 

Yet are these statements not true of boys? I know about fluctuating hormones. My kid is on the start line of puberty just at the precise moment my body has started thinking about menopause. The collective mood swings in our house probably register on Kate Hutton's seismograph.

Apparently testosterone can make people want to go to war. I had no brothers, but I grew up in the era of Peter Brady's voice cracking, and of course I remember the wonderful musical episode of “It's Garry Shandling's Show” in which Grant (Scott Nemes) crackedly warbles, “What's Happening to Me?” Of course boys have the same teenage hormonal (and lifelong) assault of hormones everybody else does. Where did we get the idea that men are somehow biologically inert and women alone are slaves to our chemicals? We're the same species of animal. C'mon, people.

As for the sexual predation part, let us all parents (of sons and of daughters) join virtual hands and agree to raise these damn kids in a culture of respect for other people's well-being and limits. Let's teach everyone enthusiastic, mutual, and ongoing consent. Let’s teach all our children about bodily integrity and self-protection. I don't see daughters bearing this burden unequally. 

Let's be sensible. We have to teach our sons every rule we teach our daughters. HPV vaccine? Bring it on. (Preferably not in combination with other vaccines is my only thing; my particular kid has a history of wack eczema and bad reactions.) And while it's really great to engage our daughters in discussion about sexism, we should engage our sons, too. Let's teach them not to be douchebags.

Here's an example. I have very little patience for a certain word that sounds like “bitch.”

My kid likes video games, so I am already on alert for misapplications of words like “gay” and “rape.” 

I'd forgotten the B-word. Then we got Rickrolled while foraging for Epic Rap Battles of History, which is one of our favorite things ever, with a special addendum to the screen: PWNED BITCH. 

I did this:

No comma, even!

And then when you find Epic Rap Battles of History, which is still one of our favorite things ever, it’s full of the B-word. 

“You need to know that word is a slur against my people,” I said. Straight up, no etymology lesson besides: It means we are like dogs; it means women and men who resemble them are less than people.

My household has two guiding principles: (1) We respect one another and others and (2) We got shit to do, so let’s start by brushing our teeth. I have one of those kids who likes to find the little tiny space just this side of being in trouble, so I keep it simple. I don’t like hearing that word because it is disrespectful, so please don’t use it when we communicate. 

It’s not that it’s a “bad” word or that it “offends” people and is “forbidden.” It’s a word that is mean to a class of people and thereto in violation of household guiding principle #1.

Also I’d like to formalize a third rule verbally agreed upon prior: No Stone Temple Pilots, especially in the car. 

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Okay, I'm not badass like Sy Richardson. I'm a closer fit to Humorless Scold. Whatever. I’m no longer in consideration for Manic Pixie Dream Roommate or Sassy Waitress. Lucky for me Humorless Scold is evergreen. I’m rarely short on work. 

But yeah, don't talk sexist shit to me. If you do, it's on. I do not entertain meandering discussion of or devil’s advocacy for words like “bitch.” I’m not interested in irony or reclamation. I was into that in the 90s, now I’m too tired to reclaim things. Other people are doing that. 

The first thing anybody needs to know about that word growing up is that it is used to degrade women, and that’s not okay. And no, it's not different if you're a dude and you're putting down another dude, using a word that is used to degrade women and casting his lot in with ours. The shit rolls downhill to women anyhow. You don't get irony points for hitting a guy on the way.

In my household, I don’t have to give equal time to a free-speech controversy, either. Just as a family of religious conservatives can homeschool their kids according to Biblical precepts, never bespeaking evolution or pre-Columbian literature of the Americas, I can raise my child according to the secular, egalitarian principles I learned from “Free to Be You and Me.” Apples and cheese are a good snack if you're not vegan (substitute nut butter if no one's allergic to nuts), ask nicely and say thanks, and if we get all this laundry folded and put away, we can build a fort or have a dance party. 

On a similar anti-bullshit tip, I take points off every time Einstein cracks a joke about Hawking’s voice or his chair. Each cheap move is an automatic 20 points to Hawking because scientists should know better than to perpetuate bunk. See, making sport of someone’s black-hole theory or aesthetic decision-making is qualitatively different than making fun of someone’s amyotropic lateral sclerosis. The wisdom to tell the difference is parenting gold, I tell you.