So first of all,
evolution was right. Dads, in general, do confer a survival advantage
on their offspring. Even your crackpot liberals and social welfare do-gooders
acknowledge this. They may not like men, whom they associate with aggression,
which frightens them, but they continue to hold a smarmy soft spot
for dads. This will become harder and harder to understand as we
delve into our discussion of what dads are really supposed to be like,
but there you have it. Go figure.
So here's how it's
works from the child's point of view: "Look there's my dad, he
exists to watch my back and protect me from things I am not capable
of protecting myself from. What a good deal!" Because dads aren't
the only ones in a family who know that dad's job is to beat up threatening
interlopers. The little offspring know it too. Automatically. From a
child's point of view, this is one of the primary reasons why it's
barely tolerable that dads exist at all. Otherwise, a dad is potentially
just a big hairy competitor for resources. But the little human has
a bonding impulse that cries 'protect me' when it sees its dad.
If things go well
from the child's point of view, dad does just that. He reliably watches
your back and you snuggle cozily into your two-year-old bed reassured
that when monsters pop out of the closet with the intent to abduct
and eat you, your dad will kill them before they succeed. It's a
heart-warming scenario and we all respond to it.
If things go well
from the dad's point of view, he will take a certain amount of pleasure,
and experience a certain amount of exasperation, in reassuring the little
rug rat that things will be okay and he will take care of them. The
pleasure derives from the fact that this is what he is supposed to do
and evolution has seen to it that it is inherently reinforcing to be
looked up to and relied upon for protection. Particularly when you can
offer it. The exasperation derives from the fact that dads exist
to confer a survival advantage, not to play monster-killer until they
have lapsed into senility. There is a little evolutionary pusher,
a little nodule that reminds the adequately functioning dad brain that
he is there to make sure the kid survives and that is going to entail
the kid learning how to kill his own monsters at some point. That is
part of the deal and the exasperation is there to remind you that you
want to teach the kid how to slay his own dragons so he'll stop fucking
bugging you and getting up eighty times a night to claim there's a noise
in his bedroom.
So far so good.
Because now we are segueing smoothly into the flip side of the vitally
important protection dad brain module. The flip side is a voracious
drive to scare the hell out of the damn kid. Fear, the evolutionary
dad brain reasons, and facing same, will allow the little critter to
grow into the eventually self-sufficient and surviving adult who will
carry the precious dad genes into the next generation.
Dads have a very
strong drive to force their children to live through fear whether they
like it or not, which usually they don't. Fear, evolution reasons,
is part of the deal with human life, and the young human simply must
learn how to live through it or they will panic and die every damn time
something threatening happens - and if you've got that kind of action
going on then there goes your whole damn species. A person who can't
deal with fear won't be able to do anything, evolution whines
to itself, and it whispers this message in the ears of susceptible dads
What this means
in real life, is that his children's fears engender a complex set of
reactions in the functional dad. On the one hand, they desire to soothe
it by being Mr. Protective Dad and on the other hand, if things are
going well, they feel tremendously impatient with it and want the damn
kid to grow out of it. The truth is, a child's fears frighten the
hell out of an evolutionarily correct dad. A little panic alarm
button goes off in his chest that says 'If this keeps up, he won't be
able to do anything. And then there goes your whole damn propagating
my genes thing. This is a disaster. Child must not be a cry-baby
scaredy-cat. Must stop cry-baby scaredy-catness now.
Dads know this
instinctively, which is why they make their sissy sons thoroughly fucking
miserable by repeatedly trying the scare the sissiness out of them.
It may seem illogical that a maniacal and perhaps evil-looking dad would
ruthlessly threaten and try to frighten some poor sissy kid who is already
miserably frightened. It is not illogical, however. It is simply unpleasant.
If your personal
dad never displayed the slightest hint of panic and impatience at your
perfectly natural cry-baby scaredy-catness, he wasn't doing things right.
It's your job as a kid to test out the limits of the protection other
people will provide, and it's your dad's job to endure a minor freak-out
and entertain horrifying visions of eternal cry-baby scaredy-catness
while you test them.
The key here, of
course, is minor freak-out. If your personal dad went, or if you as
a currently personal dad are going over the top in the freak-out department
over this issue then some supposedly grown-up person hasn't quite
overcome his own cry-baby scaredy-cat problems yet, now has he?
Because the whole point of learning to live through fear is to learn
how not to panic. Dads who panic at their children's fears basically
flunk Fear-Handling 101.
This whole business
of dads and fear is, in fact, an uneasy conspiracy between the evolutionary
needs of the child and the parent. Because the business of dealing with
fear is physiological, not conceptual, and it has to do with training
the central nervous system to process spikes and dips in adrenaline
and cortisol and all the rest of those damn chemicals. Kids know this
instinctively. They demand that dads display their scary skills.
Chase me, play monsters,
scare me. Throw me up in the air. Whirl me around. If you are a dad
and you haven't devoted some serious play time to scaring your kids
by throwing their central nervous systems into a nauseated frenzy, you
aren't doing things right. One of the sheer joys of having a dad
is that they can get you so excited you almost puke. Kids are primed
to respond to dads this way, to seek out over-excitement, terror, and
pure screaming fun from them.
All this terrified
central nervous system activity also efficiently, and elegantly, reassures
the child that yes, his dad is indeed a scary motherfucker, and therefore
all potential adversaries from whom he might need protection are sure
to fall apart like soggy pancakes when faced with the mighty majesty
of this truly frightening, and impressively large, human being. It's
a beautiful system.
When it works right.
If it works right from the child's point of view, his back is watched,
his dad rules, his central nervous system is toned and stretched to
graceful flexibility, and he grows progressively more confident in his
own fear-vanquishing, ass-kicking skills as his central nervous system
swaggers around boasting, 'hah - I'm not afraid of that. That's nothing
compared to my scary-ass dad.' Good clean fun all around.
If it works right
from the dad's point of view, he gets to play mighty hero, be the vanquishing
conqueror of night-time dangers, indulge in some seriously fun wrestling
time with the little ones, run around pretending he's a monster, give
his own CNS some thoroughly enjoyable exercise, and watch with satisfaction
and a certain bemused delight as the improbable tot displays his own
increasing feats of courage and daring. If it works right.
But this fear business
is not all rambunctious frivolity. Your evolutionarily correct dad was
supposed to instill real fear in you, just like real enemies do, by
opposing, contesting, confronting, yelling, demanding, threatening,
getting real pissed, looking real mean, or just generally giving you
the impression that he will visit his bad-ass qualities on your tiny
little butt. He is supposed to teach you to have a healthy respect for
the qualities your later enemies will display and this may involve the
revelation of a certain amount of startling danger in his personality.
Let's put it another
way. Dads are toxic substances. Dads are poison. Dads are the small-pox
vaccinations of human relationships. It's a well-known principle
in nature that non-lethal doses of a toxic substance, such as the small-pox
virus, stimulate an organism to build its defenses and leave it better
prepared should it encounter more noxious quantities of that same toxic
substance later. Dads are low-grade life infections, intended
to expose their kids everything about life that could make them sick
and die, while theoretically not actually killing them in the process.
But what about your
dad? Was he evolutionarily correct? Or did he fall down on the job?
Soon you'll have the definitive answer - simply by taking the handy
Rate Your Dad quiz.
Rate your dad!!!