All parents are destined to be ridiculous, embarrassing or annoying, warns Adam Gopnik. Nothing has been argued about more, or more vociferously, than child-rearing methods. As though such a thing existed. One might as well talk about wolf-watching methods.
They do it to you, you don't do it to them. You may have heard, for instance, of the self-proclaimed "Tiger Mom" - that Asian mother who boasted of pushing her kids brutally through school and towards success - though surely the memoir of the Tiger Cub will be the one to read. The real truth about teenage or adolescent kids is simple though, and I will announce it here.
The one thing that is written into the human genome is that exactly at the age of 13, your child - in a minute - and no matter how close or sympathetic the two of you have been before, will discover that you are now the most embarrassing, ridiculous and annoying person on the planet.
This is a universal truth.It will sometimes be expressed in a tone of pitying condescension, and sometimes in one of exasperated wrath; you can tell depending on whether the modifier or the noun is stressed: "Dad, you are so weird," is almost affectionate, while "Dad, you are so weird," is close to hostile. The 13th birthday arrives, and the genome lights up like a Christmas tree when the mayor throws the switch. The parent who only a few years - a few months before - was a fount of wisdom and expertise and even companionship, becomes those three things: ridiculous, embarrassing and annoying. The three fall in a neat exact order, and a highly specific sequence.
You are first of all ridiculous because of your pretensions to be cool. You persist in the belief that you know good pop music from bad, or something about the relations of teenage boys and girls. And this in spite of the obvious truth that you are barely sentient, with one foot rooted in the dim, ancient past while with the other your toes are already tickling eternity.
You are embarrassing because, in spite of being ridiculous, you are not content to keep your absurdity decently to yourself, but insist on parading it around in public, greeting the 13-year-old's friends and teachers as though you were a normal human being and not a kind of ward of the state, on the brink of being permanently committed.