Saturday, August 22, 2009

But What Do I Know

“Nobody remembers Shakespeare’s children.”
--William Faulkner*

As I’m not a parent, I like to wax eloquent on the subject of raising successful children. I don’t know many nuclear families, or many dues paying mothers and fathers, or many children between the ages 4-12, so I think my qualifications speak for themselves.

Here’s my main theory: The road to a child’s success is paved in parental mediocrity. You, the parent, not only set the bar, you are the bar. Make it a friendly bar; a bar that is a little overweight or works in lower management or drives a Toyota. You can sketch, sculpt, sing, and screw around, just don’t do it often or too well. Moderate your alcohol intake, feign delight in straight A’s, and stay out of the running for a Nobel Prize.

Not what you hoped for for yourself, I know, but your kids will be plotting their vaults at a very young age.

Set your bar too high, and they’ll just walk under it, all the way to 10 years of junior college. Set it too low, and you can forget about ever laying claim to his or her bedroom as a home gym.

I knew the son of the man who invented, well, let’s say, a very, very important pill. And though the son of this man inherited great wealth and smarts, he had an air of quiet desparation. Kids are born with a drive to best their parents, but how can you trump a father who has played a world-winning hand.

So the son moved to the arts, not because (and I’m guessing here) the arts were in his mind and soul, but because it seemed a territory to which his father did not lay claim.

Funny how we may choose a path by virtue of its opposing direction.

Anyway, back to my advice. Lead by good example, such as eating your fruits and vegetables. Just don’t lay all the food on the table. Let the kids stay a little hungry.

*Another take entirely on Faulkner quote by fellow blogger here .


  1. A friend told me recently, "Being the oldest son of an ambitious and successful father is a curse." It's true.

    My favorite Faulkner quote, from Sartoris, is, "The end of wisdom is to dream high enough not to lose the dream in the seeking of it."

  2. The fact that I know more about your photo of the Upper Class Twit of the Year Competition than I do about Faulkner should tell you how high I set the bar.

    wv engrapi

  3. And make sure they have a place at the table.


  4. I never did get Faulkner...but I like Mr. Earl's quote!!!

  5. You're not a parent, KB. Just their trusted adviser.

    "Just don’t lay all the food on the table. Let the kids stay a little hungry."
    --KB de Hiker

    You kinda whetted my appetite for more of your theories, or just food. But, what do I know.

  6. Good advice from a fellow non-parent. Personally, I'm still trying to locate the bar...

  7. Finally! Recognition of my greatness! Mediocre parenting is not easy. It requires professional stagnation and lots of naps. But, if I can do it, anyone can.

  8. John Pollard, guess you could write the book. Inbetween naps.

    C, when you find yours, see if mine is around there somewhere.

    PJ, Monty Python is really far more quotable.

    Except for Earl's choice.

    CO, I want yr macaroon source.

  9. My parents practiced this theory to a tee! It worked out okay for me. :D

  10. I came from a really messed up family. After doing all the things you do to deal with the mess after you leave the nest, I married my pregnant girl friend who is still my wife, had three kids who now have kids. I vowed my children would not suffer the family life I did. Even though I wasn't always there emotionally for them because of all the background noise in my head, somehow, some way they are all successful, love each other, thier spouses, kids and even want their parents in their lives. They set the bar higher for me. I don't know how it all happened. It had to be providence.

  11. Great Faulkner! One of my favourite writers.
    About children and parents: my mother is an example for me for leading life with her culture and sweet behaviour. My father learned me a lot with his mistakes. I love both. My father died ten years ago. Thank you, because each time i think about him my heart is bigger and my eyes ful of joy and with some tears, why not :D ciao.

  12. I enjoy the disclaimer--
    does this mean I should have returned my Nobel after I had kids?

  13. Good one . . . I think part of the secret in life in general is to expect a little less so you're often pleasantly surprised.

  14. This has been haunting me all day. Why kind of parents did I have?
    Mediocracy has its merits?

  15. Oh, THAT bar........ Damn, I set mine with bourbon and soda.

  16. Hey what bar? I was busy trying to grow up myself, I think they raised me, the poor dears...

    (Another entertaining and thought provoking piece)!

  17. Well, your parents did something right -- you all charm the socks off of me. Who needs the damn bar?

  18. I'm cracking up over Virginia's comment. Now THAT'S good parenting!!!

    I've found that after you have a kid, you just don't sleep enough to be brilliant or innovative anymore.

  19. Watch out for parents who want you be just like them - but successful.

  20. Well, here is one parenting trick I got right! And, wouldn't you know, I didn't even how brilliant I was being. Now I can have a great day!

  21. Did some toggeling but got a little confused about "New Literary Criticism" which I'm guessing has some connection to modernism but I'm lazy, over the hill and no longer taking in "incoming theories".

    Mr V read Absalom Absalom aloud to me. Sealed the deal.

    One of Frank Loyde Wright's children invented "Lincoln Logs". I don't know his name


  22. The bar must drive a Honda (oh, WTF Honda-Toyota no diff). Have you been spying on me??
    I like your advice very much. But I did not see anything about spoiling them...I must reread...there must be something...
    I read 'A Light in August', can't remember a thing & am appalled by what I read about from the Wiki synopsis. I'm impressed by Mr. Earl's quote though.
    & speaking of FLW - Don't go reading 'Loving Frank' without knowing the story of what happened to Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Sort of the "Das Boot" of bios. Sorry about going off on a way-off-topic tangent.

  23. I know Tash, that FLW story is horrific.

  24. Damn, I skip a day and you're doing one of my pet topics.

    Earl, too bad Gatsby didn't read Sartoris. Great line.

    I've taught a number of very well-off kids and have wondered how many of them would CHOOSE to struggle to make their own way toward something that matters (to them and others) vs. how many take over the family biz (which of course is probably fine if they LIKE the family biz).

    Similarly, I've also wondered how many have had the stuff to tell parents to take their safety net and stuff it. Of those who did (or didn't), who was most glad later on?

    Obviously this stuff can't be generalized, but still I've wondered.

    Deep, deep, deep, deep, deep.

  25. I read this post and I guess you must be talking exactly about me. I have three girls ages 2-18. I've been there and I'm going there again!
    So far so good, I have successful children, but I do not think of myself as a success at all. I mean, I dropped out of college, I drank, I partied...but now I'm a 40 year old mother of three. Maybe that is my success.
    So glad to have found your blog, we will be moving out of the Pasadena area in a few months to the midwest. I am born and raised Pasadena. It will be great to see pics etc. of everything.