The Mortification of The Knucklehead

“Stand up. I think I can get us on the Jumbotron.”

These words, uttered by me, never used to strike fear (or at least disgust) into the heart of The Knucklehead. If you’ve been to a major league ballpark in the past 20 years, you know that during the game, between innings or during a pitching change, disco, techno, or hip-hop will cacaphonate the ballpark, and mobile camera operators will sweep the crowd searching for the most earnest… terpsichoreans. Those displaying their artistry with the highest degree of exuberance are rewarded with exposure on the big screen in the ballpark, to the adulation of thousands.

Hell, if you’re really good, you might even make the highlight reel on SportsCenter.

“Stand up. I think I can get us on the Jumbotron.”

When we first started going to ballparks at The Knucklehead’s tender age of seven, these words were enthusiastically accepted as a challenge, an invitation. Later, somewhere in the teen years, not so much.

And I’m OK with that. I’m more than OK with that.

* * *

The ethical subject we’ll be addressing in today’s essay is the intentional embarrassing of one’s offspring. This is an activity engaged in for generations. It’s easy to picture post-fall Adam saying to Eve, “Remember when we used to run around naked? That was awesome,” and being immediately chastised by Cain and/or Abel, “Oh my GOD! Shut UP! You people are so GROSS!”

Is it ethically permissible to deliberately bring embarrassment to one’s children? No. No, it isn’t. But it is fun. And parenting, though rewarding, is filled with periods of tedium, frustration, challenge, exasperation, worry, and doubt. Sometimes we need to cut a little loose. Stop and smell the roses, as it were.

Oh, sure, you could argue that it builds character. Maybe. I don’t know. The point is, it’s fun. And what’s so bad about teaching our children that parenting can be fun?

* * *

Before we continue, I’d like to make a necessary distinction between embarrassing your knucklehead and shaming her. Embarrassing is done for its own sake. It’s sport. Cruel sport, to be sure, but sport nonetheless. It’s doing something that’s also embarrassing to you, but since it’ll bother your knucklehead exponentially more, that’s what makes it fun. Wrong, yes. But fun.

Shaming is embarrassing with an agenda. You see it on the internet all the time. Parents want to punish a kid for doing something wrong, so they post a humiliating picture of a punishment they’ve doled out. These posts tend to get a lot of attention, which seems to be the point. And I don’t like that.

I don’t like it because I believe that punishment is a private matter that should stay in the family. A family, in some ways, is like a team. Disputes should stay in the locker room. In the manager’s office. There, the arguments can be as loud and messy as they need to be. Anything is fair game to be brought up, and everything should. The locker room is where players can call each other out, where the manager can chew out a player who needs it, or where a player can tell a manager he needs to back off. Not on the field. Not in the press conference.

Because it’s easier to make amends for a mistake when you have a smaller group of people to fix it with. People who are on the same side as you. The more people you bring into your mistake, the more complicated the road to recovery becomes. Especially if those people aren’t necessarily on your side.

When I see parents shaming their kids on Facebook, I don’t think about the kid. I immediately think about the parent’s need to show off their parenting in public. Those posts seem more to me a cry of “Look what a great parent I am!” It’s a fishing for “likes” and comments of support by outsiders. And it’s done at the child’s expense.

Here’s a hint. Before you post something about how you handled your child’s misbehavior, ask yourself: How will I feel if no one supports this? If this post gets no “likes” or positive comments? Will I feel the need to defend myself if criticized?

If you truly are posting to help your kid, none of that should matter.

* * *

Now that I think about it, there is a benefit to embarrassing your knucklehead. You teach your child to laugh at himself. If I, a white guy in his 50s, dance like an idiot in public, people are going to laugh at me. And that’s OK. That’s not the end of the world. In fact, a lot of people will actually be laughing with me. “There’s a guy who likes to have fun, no matter what people think. I love that guy!”* You teach your kid you can survive looking foolish. Your knucklehead will have plenty of moments when she unintentionally does something silly, and people will laugh at her. If you can teach her to get past her embarrassment and see the honest humor in the situation, you’re helping her to recover from one of life’s many, many, MANY humiliating moments.

And since that lesson isn’t learned overnight, but over the course of a lifetime, it helps to embarrass your child often.

You’re welcome.

* * *

One additional advantage to embarrassing your kid: embarrassment always involves humor, and humor is a great way to broach difficult subjects. Approaching a difficult topic first with humor is a great way to demonstrate to your knucklehead that no topic is off limits in the family. It’s an ice-breaker for subjects that may or may not come up later.

Consider this example from when my Knucklehead was in his teenage years. He and I were watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies, and My Bride wandered in and began the following exchange:

MY BRIDE: “Seriously? Orlando Bloom is too pretty to be a boy.”

ME: “Oh, absolutely. If I had to, it’d be Orlando Bloom.”

KNUCKS: “It would be good if you stopped talking right now.”

ME: “What? You don’t want to know which dude your dad would bang if he had to?”

KNUCKS: “Not so much!”

My only regret with that exchange was that The Knucklehead’s soccer team wasn’t watching the film with us. That would have been awesome.

As it is, the aftermath of that conversation came the next day. Chatting on the way home from a soccer game, Knucks tossed out his choice of male celebrity. You know, if he had to. I just laughed.

“Yeah, like you could even get him!”

“Like you have any chance at all with Orlando Bloom!”

“Oh, I could totally get Orlando Bloom.”

See? A touchy subject for a father and son – homosexuality – was broached. It wasn’t the first time I’d talked about the subject with my boy, but it was the closest we’d let it come to us personally. So what if we were joking? The next time, if needed, we might not be joking. The ice was broken. Because I had “risked” making myself look effeminate to my teenage son without backing down, I gave him permission to do the same thing. In jest, or for real if the need arose.

* * *

“Stand up. I think I can get us on the Jumbotron.”

At age seven, he popped up and joined me. At age twelve, it was “Sit DOWN! I don’t know you!. I’m going to the bathroom. SIT DOWN!”

These days, he just smiles. “Please. Be my guest. Enjoy yourself.”

Damn kid took all the fun out of it.


*Disclaimer: On my own, I have no such confidence. Whatsoever. I’m as self-conscious as they come. It’s my Knucklehead that gives me the courage to do this, and I’m grateful to him for that.

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2 Responses to The Mortification of The Knucklehead

  1. neighsayer says:

    brilliant! I love it, and I agree with all of it – except Orlando Bloom, of course. I’d be a Johnny Depp man. I mean if I HAD to. But the rest? Absolutely. The greatest sound to my ears for the last 20 years has been that mortified “Da-ad!” I love that.

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