January 26, 2008

Elisha Cooper On Delivering, Ass-Kickings

In the Q&A the other day about his book, Crawling: A Father's First Year, writer Elisha Cooper mentioned the benefits of taking out your parent stress on someone who really deserves it, like that delivery guy who almost mowed you and the girls down. He's going the wrong way on a one-way street!

Now in a little essay at The Morning News titled "The Bear," Cooper's protective streak shows through again. Seems some little boys at the zoo were using the phrase "like a little girl" as an insult--in front of a dad, his two little girls, and his temper.

I won't give away the ending of the story, but I can't help wondering what'd happen to our culture's persistent gender stereotypes if every little boy got his ass kicked by a little girl at a formative point in his development.

The Bear by Elisha Cooper
Previously: DTQ&A: Elisha Cooper, Author Of Crawling: A Father's First Year


Nothing bad, from where I'm sitting...

It's a tough call...I've done a couple of things like this and instantly realized that 1) I was acting like an ass and 2) they didn't accomplish the intended result. But they well up and suddenly you're all Hulked out...

In situations like these, I find you can only really have one of two outcomes: 1) Not do anything at all 2) Overreact and piss someone off. If you try and teach someone else kids that words hurt, you'll just end up looking creepy. Mister Rogers could have pulled it off, but we mortals can't.

Me, I would have handled it with dark humor. "Hold on there Junior. The last kid that punched the glass like got a nasty surprise. They're still waiting for the bear to poop out the rest of his fingers so a doctor can sew them back on. You don't want the nickname Stinky Fingers for the rest of your life, do you?"

I think his instincts that he needed to back out of the situation is right. The boys weren't learning that girls can take care of their own problems, they learned that a girl's dad might say something crazy to you at any moment. The boys in the story sound like brats but it would be more effective to have your young daughter say for herself, "You shouldn't talk about girls like that or treat animals that way." As a parent you can stand behind the child and shoot glances at the kid to let them know, "Don't mess with my little girl." But let your girls know they have the power to stand up for themselves and be effective on their own.

I'd look into anger management therapy. This is pretty scary. Neither of these situations should have triggered anything even remotely resembling a fight/flight response. People like this are the reason I never argue with people in public. Better to let them do what the want, rather than get assaulted for pointing out where the line ends.

Ironically, I just bought his book after reading about it here. I probably wouldn't have after reading today's link.

I'm all for communicating how difficult it can be dealing with parenting issues - the kind of stuff your parents would never admit, or wouldn't have even realized was wrong. But I'm not sure he even got the point of what was wrong about kicking the dog.

I'm not an extremist on these issues, and I would have no problem with someone kicking an aggressive dog, or worse, if it was threatening your children. But it sounded like the golden was just looking to play, and he wasn't looking where he was going. At all. So really, what happened was that he wasn't looking, was surprised by the dog, and overreacted, severely.

His daughter watched him kick a dog that was acting like it wanted to play, and wasn't threatening him, and rather than apologizing to the owner and taking the responsibility for his mistake, he ran away.

That's going to come back to haunt him. It would have been difficult, but if he had walked up to the owner and said, "Sorry. I overreacted when your dog took me by surprise, and my daughter was bitten by a dog as a baby, and I hope your dog is ok." He doesn't mention whether the dog should have been on a leash, or why he didn't hear the tags on the collar as the dog approached, but those are really side issues.

I believe that one of the examples we need to set is that when we, as parents, fuck something up, we need to do the right thing. We can't always achieve a good resolution - I can't imagine that the dog's owner would have been shaking hands with him even after an apology - but we can show that we still need to try.

Parents with anger issues can pass them on to their kids. The author needs to learn how to deal with them himself (and not just take it out on delivery boys) so that he can teach his children how to deal with them as well. It is always ok to defend your kids. It's not ok to beat up on those smaller, weaker or more helpless than yourself.

[good points, well said. The dog thing is a separate and troubling issue, even though I also imagine the way Elisha's telling it is incomplete, but still. The delivery guy thing, I at first took to be kind of a joke. I don't really picture him clotheslining delivery guys every time they drive by. But who knows? I still think that he deserves credit for being open and aware about how his temper interacts with his parenting. At least he's troubled by it, which is more than a lot of guys can say. -ed.]

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