Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Shut Up and Sit Down"

I've mentioned the new Hank Azaria's Fatherhood web series on my weekly newsletter before, but the first few words from this trailer above deserve another post.

First of all, everything Neil deGrasse Tyson says is brilliant and deserves its own post/page/blog. Hell, the guy deserves his own Internet. Here Tyson brings this truth:
We spend the first year of a kid's life, teaching them to walk and talk, and the rest of their life, telling them to shut up and sit down
Which also reminds me of my favorite line from Cat Stevens' "Father and Son":
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
And it's funny and it's sad, and it's almost universally true, whether we're strict children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard parents or progressive parents who believe in the importance of letting our kids express themselves.

I tend to see myself as a progressive dad. I like to see myself as encouraging my 6-year-old kid to have opportunities and support to truly become whatever he wants to be: a soccer player, a dancer, a construction worker, a stay-at-home dad, an astronaut, a ninja, gay, straight, or all of the above, but in reality, this kid, who hasn't stopped talking since he was born, and only stops talking when he sleeps, whether he's talking to himself, asking endless questions, or making weird noises, ends up hearing things like--

Please, not now.
Take a break! I can't hear myself think!
If you want to make these weird noises, go to your room, make these noises, and come back down when you've got them out of your system.

Or in other words: "Shut up and sit down."

In a way, I may be too hard on myself: it's true that when I'm with my boy, I can't hear myself think, and being a stay-at-home dad for 6 years, hearing myself think is not something I get to do very often. On the other hand, maybe now that he's in school and I get less and less opportunities to be with him, I should spend less time thinking and more time listening. This kid... this amazing kid who's been reading since he was 3, who sits in class during a rainy recess and solves math problems, who loves astronomy, dinosaurs, and Star Wars, and can talk about everything to anyone who's smart enough to listen--I should consider it a privilege to be in his presence when he's on a roll, whether he's decided to count to 1000 by 5s, or act up all the voices for the story he's just made up in his head.

Soon enough, my kid will stop trying. He'll have enough friends in school, who'll be more than happy to listen, to count with him, and to play along with his imaginary voices, and he'll end up seeing me just like any other kid sees his dad: as just another obstacle to overcome on his way to self-expression and self-fulfillment.

So here I am, making an effort, stating publicly that as much as these voices and the numbers may take years of my life, this life is not worth the time if I spend it dismissing my boy. For the first year of my kid's life, we taught him to walk and talk, and the rest of his life, I'm going to push him to walk further and talk as much as he wants to talk. And if my brain explodes in the process, then so be it.


  1. This reminds me of a famous bit on "The Howard Stern Show." Howard played audio of his father from decades ago, bringing lil' Howie into the radio station where he worked. You can hear Howard trying to crack wise, and then Ben Stern bellows, "Shut up, sit down!"

    It's notable, in part, because during a recent chat with Jerry Seinfeld Howard talked about how he wished his father was more nurturing and communicative.

  2. Ha, I didn't hear that. I know he makes fun of his dad a lot, and I always feel that there's a lot going on behind his funny imitations of his dad.

  3. I can so relate to this, and I don't ever hear my kids.

  4. I love my three-year-old. But I also totally get where you're coming from. Some kids go off every two seconds like a fire alarm, and there's no easy way to just tune it out, on one hand, or engage productively with it, on the other.

    My solution is usually to get outside with her. When we're inside, it's like all her shrieks and questions just kinda bounce off the walls and reverberate, multiplying insanely. Good luck to her teachers. I'm sure they'll love her too, but probably also face-desk several times per day.

  5. Yep... The worst is when I give his sister a shower, and he just hangs out in the bathroom, doing his voices. It's nothing a few drops of holy water and a couple of "The power of Christ compels you!" can't cure, but still...

  6. Ha, just imagine someone pushing a dental floss in your ear, pulling it out of the other side, and moving it around. That, only cuter.



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