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live(sorta)blogging Manhood For Amatuers

OK, it's not liveblogging. Obviously I took a break from Manhood From Amatuers to finish the Pendarvis book. But there were a couple of essays I'd left undiscussed last time that deserve some attention. Especially since I left on a rather negative note. As I read on, some of the other essays took the bad taste out of my mouth.

"Hypocritical Theory" is a gem. I love the pun in the title, and I really love this quote: "I'm a father. Being a hypocrite is my job". Not only there is a lot of truth in that statement, but it shows that Chabon has more of a sense of humor about himself than the earlier essays indicated.

He touches on a subject I've given a lot of thought to...the growing acceptability of bathroom humor in children's books and entertainment. He disapproves, and for the same reason I do. The starting point of his essay (and the reason for the hypocrisy theme) is his disdain for the Captain Underpants books, even though he enjoyed such products as Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids stickers when he was a kid.

So far, it sounds like the standard "I'm not going to let my kids pull the crap I pulled" theme that's familiar to all parents. But it's not. He sees the easy acceptance, and even endorsement, by adults of products like the Captain Underpants books as an encroachment of adults into the world of childhood. By  disapproving of Captain Underpants, Chabon creates " a small enchanted precinct of parental disapproval within which he can...thrill to the deep, furtive pleasure of annoying one's father".

Exactly. I have believed for a long time that the easy allowance of vulgarity in children's books, movies and TV shows takes all the fun out of bathroom humor for children. And that this is tantamount to child abuse. Chabon makes the same point, but with more depth and eloquence than I just did.

Another essay that deals with the perils of modern childhood is "The WIlderness Of Childhood". Again, this deals with a seemingly common theme of the dangers facing children today, and how their freedom must be curtailed in a way it wasn't when Chabon  was a child. But he points out what is seldom mentioned in articles on the dangers children face. That they are no more at risk than they ever were. Statistically, there are no more crimes against children than there were when Chabon was a child.

I don't completely agree with his analysis of the current situation. He blames it on guilt over the world the previous generation has left their children. "As the national feeling of guilt...led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked".

I think it's a lot simpler than that. With the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, parents hear more stories about horrible things happening to children than they used to. They are more aware of what can happen to their child, and don't want to risk anything. And they especially don't want to deal with the possible guilt they'll endure if something does.

I have never had kids, but I understand a little of this fear. When my father was alive, I had to drive him places because he was legally blind.
He liked to walk to as many places as he could, but if it was along a road where there was lots of traffic I would tell him "don't do that. I will drive  you." One of these places was the Winn Dixie that used to be near our house. It was a relatively long walk with lots of traffic and no sidewalks. I always insisted on driving him there.

Once, when I was out of town, I found out that he did walk there. I thought it was funny, especially since he kept it secret from me. He was like a child doing something forbidden when the parents weren't looking. And I'm glad he did that. I'm glad he took a risk to exercise his freedom and do something he enjoyed. But only because nothing happened to him on his way there, and I didn't have to deal with the guilt of that.

Thinking back on that, I can only imagine what it's like for parents today.

Both of the essays I've discussed here were quite a pleasure to read. And unlike the two I discussed last time, they didn't make me want to strangle Michael Chabon. I think the difference is that these essays concentrated on his children. When he looks at his children and writes about what he sees, he is a joy to read. When he looks at himself and analyzes his own parenting, he's a pain in the ass.