I can still hear my mother’s curse echoing in my adolescent ears: “After all I did for you, this is the way you treat me!”
Even though I can’t remember what I did wrong, I must have done it a lot because I heard those words often — along with every mother’s favorite prophecy: “Someday you’ll have kids, and they’ll be just like you!!! I pity you!!!”
She obviously knew what she was talking about. I had four kids, and during my career as a father, I’ve uttered those same curses once or twice or a thousand times.
I was recently reminded that parenting is a thankless job after I read about a homeless man in Brooklyn who is suing his parents for $200,000 because he blames them for the way he turned out. When all else fails, blame Mom and Dad.
Bernard Anderson Bey, 32, claims that when he was young, his parents didn’t support him enough with cash or affection, and that scarred him so much, his life went downhill. Now, he wants them to mortgage their home and buy two Domino’s Pizza franchises to get the family on the road to recovery.
At first I thought this guy was an entrepreneurial genius, but his mother saw things differently. “I say go get a job,” she told the Daily News. “He’s never had a job a day in his life.” Now, that’s tough love.
Parenting is full of challenges, and it’s probably the hardest job known to man … and woman — worse than being president, where you can at least blame everybody else for your failures. As a parent, your failures are usually staring you right in the eye.
Does anyone have the formula for good parenting? Over the years, in my struggle to become the best and the brightest dad in my neighborhood, I amassed a large collection of parenting books, manuals and videos, which I zealously studied.
When I mastered all the necessary skills, I boxed up my library and took it to the used book store to sell so I could get some money to pay for my daughters’ college educations, not to mention their J. Crew bills.
No such luck. The guy didn’t want to buy any of my books, not Dr. Spock or Dr. Seuss. I couldn’t even give them away because, he said, parenting theories change overnight, so how-to books are about as timely as auto-repair manuals, which makes me think that for all those years I was probably following outdated parenting advice.
For example, in the olden days when it came to discipline, we were told, “Give Little Frankie a whack across the bottom.” A few years later, we were told, “Send Little Frankie to his room for some time-out.” Now, the appropriate punishment is “Get Little Frankie out of his room and away from the video games and send him outside into the sunshine.” That’s real torture for 21st century kids.
Behaviorists, geneticists, therapists and all those “ist” people don’t really know what makes a model parent. Some days I think I did a great job, other days I want to crawl in a hole and hide because regardless of how old your kids are, parenthood never really ends.
I’m inclined to believe the true formula for good parenting is very simple: “Try hard, love hard, keep your head down, always be ready to take it on the chin, and always be willing to let a lot of water go under the bridge.”
Oh, and don’t expect to be appreciated. So it’s wise to savor those rare occasions when your kids throw a little appreciation your way. Look up to Heaven and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving because you have been truly blessed.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.