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the proper dad is a frightening creature...

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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 everywhere.

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!!!

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