The fourth component
of evolutionary dadness is etching. This is the most complicated
function and the most far-reaching. More than likely, it will
have the most impact on your life in terms of day to day stuff.
It works like this.
Remember when we were talking about the teaching module and how evolution
gets all misty-eyed about experience and tries to ensure that dads will
pass it along in the form of teaching? Remember that?
Well the teaching
function is baby stuff – etching is where evolution gets serious
about this shit. The properly functioning evolutionary dad will
have a largely unconscious and frequently quite terrible compulsion
to draw a map of his horrible mistakes on his youngsters.
This is the vitally
impactful MY HORRIBLE LIFE MISTAKES function and dads can be incredibly
ruthless when it comes to fulfilling this function. This is
where your dad takes all his hard-won life experience and forces you
to live through it again, whether you like it or not, which usually
you don’t, because why would you? It’s his life,
not yours, what would make you want to live through it? Nothing probably.
an example to make it clearer. Let’s say your dad learned by trial
and error, hard experience and several disastrous and terrifying brushes
with abject poverty that it is vitally important to obtain and keep
gainful employment at all costs. Your dad learned this the hard way
and everything dads learn the hard way, they attempt to transmit
to their children, on purpose or not.
So what your evolutionarily
correct dad will do is try to force you not to make the same life-threatening
mistake he did. He will use every ingenious tactic he can come up with
in pursuit of this goal. Let’s say you don’t want to clean
your room at the age of three. Ah hah! This is exactly the sort of terrifying
development that causes your job-concerned dad to fill with ballooning
panic that you have the sort of character that is work-averse and will
undoubtedly BE COMPLETELY UNABLE TO GAIN AND MAINTAIN LUCRATIVE EMPLOYMENT.
This is a disaster of unparalleled proportions. So he whips into action,
endeavoring mightily to get you to clean your room at the age of three.
He yells, he employs time-outs, he reasons, he pitches a fit, he engages
in a battle of wills with you (if you happen to have a will at the age
of three to battle with), he gets mad, he acts like he doesn’t
love you, he makes dire threats, he tricks, bribes, cajoles, reasons
some more, gets drastic, scares your mom, sulks, whines, pouts and any
other damn thing he can think of to stave off the impending tragedy
of your complete unemployability. He acts like a jerk, he makes
no sense, he is irrational and he is, underneath it all, quite determined
and indeed seriously hurt about it.
It hurts him to
contemplate your eventual unemployed doom. It hurts him doubly when
he considers how he was once carefree and lazy and how his happy dreams
of a lazily satisfied life that required little effort were cruelly
dashed by the incomprehensible evility of the outside world. It was
a tragic loss from his perspective, and he wants to spare you anything
similar. So naturally he will snatch away your happy dreams
of leisure at the earliest possible opportunity. What could
possibly be more logical than that? Nothing. Of course every dad wants
to deprive his child of the things he think life won’t offer them
except at an unacceptable cost. Dads are master dream-killers and sometimes
they are so good at it you barely notice.
In fact, you, as
the offspring of a fully-functioning dad rarely know exactly what’s
going on. But by the time you are 17, the job-worried dad will have
done thousands of things to brainwash you into panickly securing employment
and holding on to it for as long as possible, no matter how much you
don’t like it.
The severity of
the measures your dad uses correlates with the severity of the threat
to you he feels is posed by your not working. If you have a
mildly worried dad, he will employ mildly worried measures.
take a different example with different results. Let’s say your
dad abandoned his dream of becoming an architect to work in a steel
mill because he didn’t think he could realistically go to college
and get into that whole professional world thing. Maybe his dad didn’t
think it was realistic and employed strong etching measures to communicate
and ingrain his own fear and discouragement onto your dad. Your dad,
however, now sincerely regrets his decision and has come to the conclusion
that not only is it possible to go to college but he himself
would have been a hell of a lot better off if he had. So he
tries to prevent you from making the same mistake. He wants you to go
to college so bad that you know, you just know, it would kill him if
you didn’t. The fact that you are stupid and couldn’t possibly
graduate as far as you know seemingly doesn’t deter him at all.
He doesn’t believe it. People told him he was stupid and he now
feels a deep shame that he believed them. He’s not going to believe
you when you tell him you can’t do better in school. And so there
you are, stuck, having to go to college no matter how much you are dreading
Sometimes dads are
right in the conclusions they have drawn about life and sometimes they
are wrong. Sometimes they are right in so far as the conclusions apply
to themselves but they are wrong insofar as the conclusions don’t
apply equally well to you. It is a major major blessing to have
a dad who is right. A dad who has learned wisely from experience.
This isn’t always possible. Dads are by nature a map of
what has gone wrong in the world. Every scar they’ve
got affects you in one way or another.
The ironic thing
is that the way dads struggle valiantly to prevent bad history from
repeating itself in your life is to do their best to make you live through
it. A dad who has a fear of your future poverty may, for example,
penny-pinch to an exaggerated degree so that in essence you grow up
poor, even if you don’t have to. In the backwards way
that the human mind inevitably works, he was trying to inoculate you
against the pain of poverty by putting you through it in what was presumably
a safe environment, courtesy of him. He doesn’t want your life
run by fear of lack of money so he tries to force enough experience
with lack of money on you so that it ceases to hurt. That is
the idea behind many an odd dad maneuver, to put you through enough
pain that it ceases to hurt.
always work of course but that is the idea. Sometimes these things never
cease to hurt.
look at it from an old-fashioned evolutionary hunting perspective for
a minute. If the evolutionary proto-dad had to hunt dangerous animals
for a living, the one thing he wants, the primary value of his experience,
is to teach you how to keep from getting killed by them. If he is to
raise you to hunt, how can he accomplish this goal?
The sensible way
is to gradually introduce you to the dangers of hunting under his watchful
eye. Let’s say he knows that one of the things that can kill you
during a stressful hunting expedition is getting scared and panicking.
Getting lost and panicking. Running out of water or food and panicking.
So what does the conscientious hunter dad do? Put his kid in situations
where he will be frightened by the animals. Where he will get lost.
Where he will run out of food and water. Where he will be tempted to
panic. And then severely instruct the youngster not to panic. Be tough,
get tough, don’t panic. See you got through it all, didn’t
you? he will say to lost, frightened, hungry, thirsty young hunter in
training, who may at this point be in a seriously bad mood.
That bad mood was
the whole point of what he was doing. He wants the kid to have the actual
experience of the emotions, the pitfalls, so he will be better able
to react when something dangerous comes up and his dad is not around.
You gotta know what it actually feels like, his evolutionary experience
brain believes, hearing about it second-hand won’t do. You gotta
know what it feels like and not give in to your first instincts and
make the kind of stupid mistakes I did. And so a conscientious
dad will conscientiously try to revisit all his worst moments on the
kids he loves the most. And not only revisit them on his kids,
but try to force them to react unnaturally. That’s the whole point.
The natural reaction was what screwed him up when he went through it.
dads, ironically and unpleasantly enough, are often the ones most strongly
motivated by love. It is a fierce, driving, motherfucker of
a love that forces your insanely harsh dad to his insane heights of
harshness, but it is a form of love. I don’t think anybody really
likes this system to be honest, I can’t say I am crazy about it
myself, but there you have it. Neither love nor survival are guaranteed
fun-fests in this world and sometimes it works that an overly scarred
dad will wreak all kinds of havoc on succeeding generations, dunking
them in the cold water of his own hard reality until near-drowning occurs,
or at the very least lingering hypothermia.
The dads who have
the hardest time with this are the ones who never quite got the hang
of the emotional component of life. There is nothing scarier
in the whole wide world to an evolutionary dad than his kids’
emotions. Dads are designated by evolution to bring forth in
their children the most volcanic emotions human beings ever have to
contend with and there is nothing more frightening to them than these
very emotions. Dads are the primal teachers of how emotions are to be
Some of you might
think that moms would be the primal teachers of this, being all mom-like
and everything. But they’re not actually. Mom’s
jobs are different and more basic. Mom’s most basic job is to
carry the ultimate responsibility for your physical survival and to
inoculate you with enough love to carry you through a lifetime of encounters
with the world.
is to force his young offspring to confront terribly serious issues
of safety, fear, failure, insecurity, competence, need and similar things
that go embarrassingly straight to the emotional core of your basic
human being. Having a dad is embarrassing in fact, just as embarrassing
as not having one. If you’ve never been embarrassed by
your dad, by your lack of dad, by your feelings for dad, by your dad’s
feelings for you – then you’ve wussed out on one of the
major tasks of life.
Dads are supposed
to be embarrassing. Dads are supposed to make you confront issues that
are so overwhelming that you feel inadequate just trying to deal with
them. Inadequacy is embarrassing. Dads are embarrassing. Not 24/7 hopefully,
but whenever those root issues get touched, at least of smidgeon of
embarrassment should be stirred up.
So dads are supposed
to bring forth in you emotions that are too big to handle and then force
you to handle them somehow. Emotion, strangely, is the key to dadness
– and to etching.
most dangerous thing you will ever encounter, from your dad’s
point of view, are your strong emotions. Anger, fear, discouragement,
panic, hatred, love, agony, disappointment, joy, exultation, bliss,
sadness, arrogance, pride, hope, revenge, you name it, from dad’s
point of view it’s dangerous. Any one of these emotions and god
knows how many more are exactly the things that could easily lead you
to make the kinds of mistakes that will kill you. Get all sad and depressed
and find yourself unable to handle it and you could commit suicide.
Get all scared and cowardly in a war-time situation and your number
could be up. Panic in a tight spot and disaster could ensue. Love the
wrong person and you could throw your life away. Pride and arrogance
could lead to such a disastrous fall from grace that you will never
get up. Revenge could lead you into a feud that will ruin you. Jealousy
could incite you to murder someone. Hope can lead you astray. You name
an emotion and your dad’s evolutionary brain can think of a way
it can fuck up your life big time.
So part of dad’s
job is to get you to somehow come up with a system for dealing with
dangerous emotions that could lead you astray, fuck up your judgment,
ruin your life, break your heart, cripple your spirit, lead you into
humiliation or god knows what else. Dads who are not excessively alarmed
by their own emotions usually display a greater tolerance and allow
more latitude in their kids. So the kid gets a little over-excited,
it’s not going to kill him, Mr. Easygoing Dad thinks to himself.
A little spike of feeling never hurt anyone.
Dads who are still
thoroughly thrown off-kilter and somewhat uncertain about what to do
with their own damn emotions have a tendency to get a little more freaked
by their kids. Anger! such a dad will think to himself, my son can’t
experience that! That’s such a damn painful emotion it
could easily kill him. I must teach him to turn it into something
emotions are dangerous, so your evolutionary dad is not a fool. They
can indeed kill you, ruin your life, toss you off-track, fuck with your
judgment and screw up your day. The trick to life is figuring out how,
when, and where exactly they are dangerous, and what you propose to
do about it. Dad is your first practice board in this endeavor.
If you liked the
practice you got with your dad, you’re in luck. Maybe you got
to practice warm, loving, cozy feelings. Maybe you learned to look on
the bright side when faced with discouragement, to have faith in yourself.
Maybe you learned to face fear with determination and courage. Maybe
you learned that a little treat can take the sting off a disappointment
and allow you to tackle a daunting task anew. Maybe you learned all
kinds of wonderful things. Dads are certainly capable of teaching these
kinds of things and oftentimes they do. The stuff they know how to do
well is often a lifelong blessing. There’s a real value
in getting to witness and be around someone who does something well.
If you didn’t
like the practice you got with your dad then you’re not in luck.
Maybe he had a stupid way of handling irritation, for example, by throwing
office chairs out the window. Maybe he was garishly sentimental, incapable
of affection, lousy at persistence, or incompetent at handling success.
Maybe he made strenuous efforts to force you into a mode of
handling an emotion or a big glumping set of them that in no way whatsoever
fits your style, your mood, your temperament, or your circumstances.
In this case, you
will have to learn another way of dealing with whatever it is, without
the benefit of his awesome, oppressive presence. For example, let’s
say your dad was a champion settler. The food isn’t cooked right
–well he doesn’t want to say anything to the waitress or
anyone else. He has a lousy job but he figures well, you know, it’d
probably be hard to get a better one. Lousy house in a lousy neighborhood
but he figures hey you know be grateful for what you got and don’t
think about what you want. Be realistic, he coaches. And so on. Always
trying to force you to put up with stuff that you don’t particularly
care for because he doesn’t think you’ll be able to stand
the disappointment of not getting something better if you try –
any more than he can stand it.
It may happen that
this particular approach to life drives you up a goddamn wall. You can’t
stand it. Your preferences are strong, your tolerance for disappointment
high, your dedication to obliterating obstacles ferocious and you don’t
fucking want to go to Joliet community college when you could fucking
go to Yale. If you are forced to go to Joliet, this severe
disruption in your own patterns will mark you. Perhaps it will mark
you in exactly the direction your dad always wanted – towards
just settling. If it does, and just settling goes seriously against
your grain, at some point you are going to have to examine the risks
entailed in not settling, devise a plan for meeting them, and figure
out how one conducts one’s life if one doesn’t settle. How
does one handle the inevitable disappointment, the uncertainty, the
sting of ambition and so on. What does one do with the emotions? I don’t
know, but my guess is you can figure it out if you decide you need to.
If your dad’s style was a mismatch to your own, sometimes
you just gotta start from scratch and figure out all over again, exactly
how to live life. This can be enlightening and fun. It can
also be daunting. At least with the patterns your dad taught you, you
know what they are. You already went through the pain of learning them.
With the new patterns there are new mistakes to be made and sensations
to encounter. You may like many of the new sensations but some of them
will probably throw you for a loop. Expect this and plan accordingly.
If you are a dad,
the key to handling this etching business is to be right. Impressive
as your own experiences may very well have been, they are not going
to do you or anyone else the good they are intended to, if the conclusions
you draw from them are seriously off the mark. In other words,
strive to develop a realistic assessment of danger. As a dad, your unspoken
motto is ‘Danger is my business.’ So it behooves you to
get good at it.
Although it may
be entirely natural to draw the conclusion that your three year old
is destined to be a whiny, lazy, thumb-sucking bum for the rest of his
life, it is worth your while to consider how realistic this danger is.
To give some thought to how people develop from three year olds into
adults and how they might develop motivation to be something other than
bums. For that matter, give some thought to how much of a danger being
a bum actually poses. Could you live with a bum for a child? Perhaps
you couldn’t. Perhaps you couldn’t because it would
seriously grind on your nerves. Perhaps it would expose to
you to excessive amounts of worry about their welfare. Deal with the
Figure out exactly
what the hell you are worried about and deal with that. This will make
the whole etching business easier to handle from your perspective. Etching
is seriously hard work, it takes time and effort, and frequently pulls
you away from more enjoyable activities such as staring into space.
It’s worth your while to pare things down to the etching you actually
care to do, instead of racing around in a panic etching every damn bad
thing that ever happened to you on to your poor hapless offspring. This
is known as transmitting your values and frequently it doesn’t
work out the way you intended because your actual values are completely
different from anything you’d ever expect. Life goes this way
sometimes. It’s not the end of the world. If you truly
value having a good time, whereas you think you ought to value pulling
your own weight, this discrepancy will leak out into your kids. You
might as well relax and deal with your own damn values as they are,
since they are going to run your life and your kids’ lives anyway.
This business of
etching is also one of the major contributors to that oft-seen, little-appreciated
phenomenon of the where the fuck were you dad. Strangely, many
dads who routinely miss their kids’ birthday parties and school
functions for late nights at the office are accidentally doing it on
purpose. Unbeknownst to themselves, they are under the impression
that one of the most dangerous things they ever had to encounter was
the loneliness of not having anyone there for them. Dealing with not
having anyone there for you is, in their unconscious opinion, one of
the prime tasks any young person must face it. So generously,
and considerately, they allow their youngsters ample opportunity to
deal with it by not being there.
They are trying,
successfully, to impart the knowledge to their kids that dad will not
be there for them and they’d better learn how to be there for
themselves. Dads will often do this even where they seriously disagree
with their own message. They may not be particularly enamored
of living a life where no one is there for them, but they have come
around to the view that there is nothing to be done about it.
And since there is nothing to be done about it, the sensible thing is
to make sure the child is adequately prepared for one of the apparent
inevitabilities of life – being let down by someone you had every
right to expect wouldn’t do that. This is a rather distressing
form of etching on both sides, but it happens, and it happens rather
high-tail it completely out of the vicinity of their children at some
point after they are born and strangely they are often impelled toward
abandonment not by sheer selfishness, but an inner sense that abandonment
is the best way to give their kids a survival edge. Sometimes
they do this because they are under the impression that they themselves
are a detriment to the survival of anything, particularly anything young,
and that everyone would be better off if someone more competent took
over the job.
dads who abandon their kids in this fashion are not particularly far
off the mark. Lots of your classic abandoning dads are no great
shakes in many departments of living life competently and their instincts
may have been fairly good. This is often not particularly convincing
to the abandoned child, due to the overwhelming influence of the Template
Necessity, but a certain percentage of the time the kid was indeed far
better off with the dad they hate for ditching them. While everyone
needs or wants a dad, there is often no particular advantage in having
a lousy one.
are not in any shape to be parents often have a surging instinct to
ditch their kids, a practice that while sensible in a number of regards,
often doesn’t sit well with society. Society is not always
thrilled by the corollary to this phenomenon, which is that someone
else will have to pick up the slack. So any number of people who are
perfectly capable of producing healthy children but in no way capable
of sustaining them are pushed willy-nilly into not just having kids
but raising them as well. This is not always pretty. Sometimes it is
so ugly it defies description. Sometimes it is ugly enough to
qualify as a tragedy.
Of course, seemingly
some people who embrace the task of child-rearing with apparent enthusiasm
are not aware that they’re no damn good at it. I can’t explain
this in evolutionary terms and am forced to resort to the truism that
a fair number of people on the planet at any given time are just plain
on to the ever-popular 'where the fuck were you?!' Dads....