sacrificing for our kids

Every morning, on my way to work, I flip between a few radio stations. I generally listen to Drew and Mike on WRIF, unless they’re either talking about sports or in a commercial, in which case I flip over to WKRK and listen to the most recent jackasses they’ve brought in to fill the slot vacated by Howard Stern. Drew and Mike aren’t that bad in the whole scheme of things. Sometimes they’re juvenile, and occasionally they piss me off with their politics, but, for the most part, being a listener of theirs isn’t something that embarrasses me. It does, however, cause me some shame when Clementine is in the car with me.

On the days that Clementine goes to school, I’m usually the one to drop her off. I generally don’t change my listening habits when she’s in the car. I just turn the volume down a bit and kind of lean forward in my seat, ready to smack the volume down at the first mention of the word “bitch,” or allusion to a sex act. I talk with her the whole way, but I do so in a kind of distracted way, always keeping part of my brain focused on the radio, worrying that I might miss out on a particularly clever dick joke or the like.

I know a guy from Brazil. Growing up, his parents made it a point only to speak English in their house. They did so because they felt that their sons would have better opportunities if they knew our language and could speak it naturally. I’m sure they would have preferred to have spoken Portuguese, but it was something that they felt strongly about, and they wanted their sons to have every advantage.

Every time I think of them, I feel like throwing myself headfirst into an industrial meat grinder.

I don’t even come close as a parent. Sure, I’m good about doing what needs to be done, and I do a fair job when it comes to challenging, teaching and encouraging my daughter, but I don’t really sacrifice for her, at least not in any kind of substantive, prolonged way. For instance, while I think it might be a really great idea, I haven’t so much as looked into taking a local Mandarin course. Hell, I can’t even bring myself to sing the ABCs some nights – in English.

And these Brazilian parents aren’t even the worst (and by “worst,” I mean “best”). Linette and I know of people who had very prominent careers abroad who gave them up to come here to the United States and work menial jobs because they were convinced that being here was in the best long-term interests of their children… And, here I am, physically unable to tune out the dick jokes for the five minutes it takes me to deliver my daughter to her school.

Anyway, this is one of the things I’ve been thinking about this holiday season…. I’ve been wondering what I’d be doing right now, if I really wanted my daughter to succeed in life. Would I be getting my MBA (so that I could, if necessary, emigrate to Canada)? Would I be working a second job instead of blogging, so that I could afford to send her to space camp? Would I be working on a novel or running for political office, with the thought that doing so might somehow increase her chances of getting into a good college? I don’t know.

I doubt I’ll be perfect about it, but, there has been some progress. As of a week or so ago, I’ve been trying to play classical music and jazz when she’s in the car with me. It’s a small sacrifice. I hope, however, that larger ones will follow.

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  1. paanta
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Of course, the flip side of this is that people who make insane sacrifices for their children are also people who throw conniption fits when Bobby decides to become an actor instead of a doctor.

    The happiest people I know are the ones with the happiest parents. The happiest parents I know are the ones who figure out how to continue doing the things they love while also having enough time for their kids.

  2. trusty getto
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. Opportunities are overrated. I had gazillions of them, and look how I squandered them — I ran for the school board. Sheesh!

    What kids need most are parents to be there for them, to love them, to spend time with them, and to show some interest in what they are up to. When Clementine is old enough, getting her a second-hand fiddle or a guitar or taking a trip to New York or the Rocky Mountains is going to more than make up for the dick jokes, believe me.

  3. Dirtgrain
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    “Anyway, this is one of the things I

  4. mitten
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Hey Mark – you’re not alone in this struggle. We were raised by the Me Generation – our parents didn’t make huge sacrifices for us. We never saw that behavior modeled for us, so it’s kind of hard to pick up on the fly. I’m not sure it’s necessary, either.

    If I may make a suggestion, from one slacker parent to another: you don’t need to make such dramatic shifts, like from dick jokes to classical music. So – you like a little radio humor in the morning. See if you can find some humorous cds to play, ones that are ok for a youngster’s ears. My kids love Who’s on First, for example. Or think of all the best playground jokes and gross knock-knocks you can and teach them to her in the car. Kids love to tell jokes to each other, and if she’s got good material, everyone will think well of her.

    Share your favorite stuff with your kids. You’ll both have a lot of fun.

  5. Stacey
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Awhile ago, I regularly listened to Howard Stern during my morning commute, but I knew it was going to have to end when my kids were old enough to know what was going on. I toned it down when Howard Stern radio show towers went up with building blocks, but I still tried to sneak in a few minutes here and there and, like you Mark, just grab the dial really quick if it got raunchy. I was never fast enough and I begrudgingly ended my listenership when I had toddler voices behind me asking from their booster seats if I was wearing panties.

    I also have my panicky moments where I feel like I’ve not done enough to ensure a glorious future for my kids, but then I remind myself that there are no guarantees. And what does it mean to succeed in life? I agree with the writers above, the best thing you can do is to give Clementine your time. Don’t try to contort yourself into something you’re not for her benefit.

    Trusty, don’t be dissing yourself. We need you on the school board!

  6. sfifeadams
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I 100% second the sentiments of paanta, trusty ghetto and mitten. Relax and enjoy yourself, and find things you and Clementine both like doing together. Classical and jazz? How about a happy medium like The Beatles? When we’re in the car, my older daughter (age 4) and I listen to people we both like, bands such as Arcade Fire, U2, Aimee Mann and M.I.A. There’s sometimes some language, but my daughter doesn’t seem to have caught on to it yet, and if she did, I’m confident I could explain to her about “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language (we’ve already had this conversation about using “shut up”).

    Dirtgrain, most of the websites I know of are either, as you say, septic, or are geared towards the moms. Of the latter, I know my wife loves Ask Moxie at and I know she’s recommended a lot of cool-looking books like Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting and Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child.

    Our experience is that the first six weeks are some of the most hellish you’ll ever experience in your life (that’s been confirmed by the recent arrival of our second daughter), but assuming you haven’t left your child out on a rock somewhere, things will get a lot better after that. That’s when they usually show the first glimmerings of recognizing you, smiling, etc., and it makes all the difference in the world.

    The best advice I can give you is: don’t read too many books, and don’t listen to other people. Listen to your kid. He or she will let you know if what you’re doing is OK.

  7. sandy
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The only parenting site I can tolerate are the forums at (definitely not septic – or antiseptic?)- but I do read a variety of useful parent-oriented blogs (see the sidebar in my blog). There are quite a few that combine the personal and political without getting too saccharine-sweet.

  8. egpenet
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Best advice above is sfifeadams’ … “listen to your kids.” They WILL tell you what’s good with you and with them. The second thing is to watch who they hang with … THAT you can control, but it’s a good indication which fork in the road they have chosen. If they’re happy, you’ll rest.

    I’m a grandparent with two children and five grandchildren.

    I look back and wonder why things don’t happen faster in life, more significant improvements in culture, people. Technologies have changed quite tremendously, but family life has not. Certainly, these are turbulent times nationally and internationally.

    I think REAL progress happens culturally and socially when there are at least two complete generations in the home … mom, dad, kids … and even better with grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles … etc.

    The replenishment of the family every twenty years or so, while thee two elder generations are still alive provides a great deal of continuity … and the cushion it gives the youngest to experiment and really stretch out is even greater. When the older genrations or even a mom and a dad are not present … there’s only survival, albeit on a creative basis, but survival nonetheless (usually less.)

    I wish you and Linette and all new parents and parents to be a happy new year for 2007. And good health to your children.

  9. Kate
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    First, don’t beat yourself up. Every parent makes mistakes and every child is different, so there is no learning curve. Listening TO your kids is vital. A lot of us think we listen, but we’re not really hearing them. It takes time and patience and asking questions to really understand what they’re saying.

    Another thing I recommend, from 36 years as a parent: start the communication NOW. I can’t tell you how many parents think they will talk with their kids when they are teenagers and “interesting.” But, by the time they’re teenagers they don’t want to talk with us — unless they’re so used to it that it’s just second nature. Start talking to your kid the minute he or she comes out of the womb and the second s/he becomes verbal get that back-and-forth communication going. The more you communicate, the more you find that little person has a lot going on in her head.

    Good luck, Mark. Because, as a parent, we all need luck.

  10. Dr Cherry
    Posted December 29, 2006 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    Maybe you can drop her off in Hamtramck sometime and we can teach her how to play cutthroat pinochle.

  11. Lisele
    Posted December 30, 2006 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    [Parenting for 25 years] So what’s wrong with sexual humor? Aren’t we far too repressed in our culture? I think you’ll be doing your child a favor by embracing all of yourself–the light and the dark side–because she certainly will someday have to do the same. One of the greatest challenges for me in parenting was learning to accept and love myself and getting my own shit together, because it doesn’t matter what you SAY, it’s who you are and how you act that children absorb. So don’t bother sacrificing resentfully. For the good and the ill, it’s who you are that will inform and shape her life.

  12. mark
    Posted December 30, 2006 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    “As a rule, I am against sacrificing children.”

    – an email comment that I just had to share

  13. mark
    Posted December 30, 2006 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    And thanks for all the comments. It’s good to know that other people think about this stuff too.

    And, Dirtgrain, just be patient. My book on fatherhood has already been written. I’m just waiting for Cosby to die before approaching publishers. (As I’m pretty confident that I could never qualify as “the hardest working man in show business,” I’ve got my sights set on being the next Cosby.)

  14. Anonymous
    Posted December 30, 2006 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I just finised the book “Freakinomics” which contains a chapter on parenting choices. Lisele has it about right. It’s who you are that makes the biggest difference in who your kids turn out to be. Amount of TV allowed, video games, reading books… don’t mean squat. By the time you have kids, their fate is pretty much set.

    So think of classical vs jazz vs Howard Stern as just a shade or tint. It’s not the main picture. Your current socioeconomic status is.

    Now turn up the dick jokes.

    Incidentally, the same book predicts that “Clementine” will be one of the 10 most popular names in 2015. Names apparently work their way down the class ladder and right now the upper crust are naming their daughters Clementine. (FWIW, Oliver is also top ten for boys in 2015.)

  15. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 11:52 pm | Permalink


    I am today, by most accounts, a good father. Very good. A friend who preceded me in fatherhood counseled me to just make it through the first three months. God bless wise friends. You may be better than both of us, but those were the hardest. Sleepless, freedomless, insanity. Primal love for a little creature that was eating you inside out. I had these random uncontrolable sobbing episodes at TV flip-thrus of:
    1) King of the Hill
    2) Ghost
    3) Shallow Hal

    All I’m saying is, if the first few months makes you feel weak and unstable, you’re no less capable/normal than myself. And, I am a fucking good dad. For the last couple years, I’ve smoked in the garage, even in the dead of winter, and if that don’t say sacrifice…


    I really am a good daddy. And, the beginning really was the hardest. But, if you’re still having trouble after month six, talk to Mark.

  16. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Sorry. I’m feeling chatty.

    A couple years ago, after another beneficially religious experience that my folks are prone to, my dad had a hard (I imagine, for him) heart-to-heart with me about all the ways he’d been absent. They rang true and allowed me to (a little) forgive my overbearing momma who was forced to gather slack.

    We’re rather candid with our dear friends. I walked one of them down the aisle to her wedding as a replacement for her polygamist dad who came home on weekends from his secret second family and let the Amish care for her with stick and string toys and government cheese. Other than the novelty of Amish intervention, it’s become a recurrent theme.

    Anyway, thru friends and spouse and self I’ve come to define good daddy sacrifice as being present and involved at a level to accompany mommy.

    Whether thru social, biological or created stuff, little kids seem to crave approval from both role models, however gendered. If my illiterate, unemployable daughter makes it thru life without an obsession to compensate her psyche for something I, or my strong wife, neglected to give her emotionally, I’ll rest in peace.

    I’m chatty and a little drunk, because the late hours where I’m unneeded are were I find my courage to be needed during all the waking rest.

  17. It's Skinner Again
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m still puzzling over the idea that listening to classical or jazz music is a sacrifice. Do you people here really think that all classical and jazz is worthless and should never be listened to? A lot of it sounds pretty good to me.

    I don’t have kids, so I can’t weigh in on fathering. As a former kid, though, I can offer some heartfelt advice for parents: DO NOT BECOME AN ALCOHOLIC. Having a dad who constantly obsesses over his next drink is not as much fun as it sounds.

  18. Teddy Glass
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    If I mighty add a thought to what Mr. Skinner has said – I would also suggest that you DO NOT KILL, OR EVEN ATTEMPT TO KILL, YOUR CHILDREN.

  19. It's Skinner Again
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Killing is usually bad parenting. It can be traumatic for the kids to see their parents kill themselves, or each other, or even people outside the family.

  20. mark
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Classical generally bores me, Doug, at least when held up alongside a good dick joke. Jazz, however, well that’s a different story. I love very early recorded jazz. Unfortunately you don’t get a lot of it on the radio. Clementine and I do have a standing date on Sunday afternoons, however, to listen to a local show on 89.1 FM hosted by a fellow named Arwulf that plays just that. It’s the high point of my week.

  21. Dick Cheney's Extending Taint
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Some kids kill their parents.

  22. It's Skinner Again
    Posted January 4, 2007 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    “Classical” is a pretty broad category. However, there’s plenty of smut even in the mainstream European tradition. There are Mozart’s filthy canons (like “Bona Nox”); Purcell’s graphic orgasm in “Sir Walter Enjoying His Lady”; Satie’s Dada ballet “Relache,” based on obscene student songs, which the original audience sang along with; etc.

    Jazz, of course, was pure filth from the beginning.

  23. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 4, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    In an honest attempt not to become an alcoholic dad, I took the Alcohol Dependence Data Questionaire (

    The good news is, I scored a 9. Thankfully,
    because I’ve never tried to give up drinking “for days or weeks at a time” (question 9), I find myself comfortably perched at the very top of the “low dependence” category.

    So, I’ve learned that as long as I don’t try to quit drinking for a day or two, I’ll be okay.

  24. mark
    Posted January 4, 2007 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that’s what I always say. It’s not a problem until you try to quit. Brilliant!

    As for “classical,” I do like some of it. Jazz just strikes me as being more relevant, immediate and tangible. Does that make sense? It resonates with me… I think that perhaps my soul once inhabited the body of a person coming of age between the world wars.

  25. Stella Magdalen
    Posted January 5, 2007 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Try the Chopin Nocturnes it may help. Many Jazz people were clearly influenced by them.

  26. It's Skinner Again
    Posted January 5, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Yes, alcoholism is about the obsession, not the alcohol. “Drink, don’t think”!

    As for the music, “classical” is a broad term. I’m surprised that so many talented and skilled composers, working over all those centuries, fail to come up with anything that interests you. Does that include medieval and Renaissance music, too? All the crazy and soulful experimental music of the 20th century? Classical music of China, Japan, India, Java, Bali? What about other tradional forms: gypsy, tango, fado, American shape-note singing, Balkan, Tibetan, African, Hawaiian? Do you think American commercial pop/rock music is really better than all that? Please explain!

    As for jazz, my fave these days is Ellington. The way he juggled the complicated roles of composer, arranger, collaborator, bandleader, pianist, and businessman through all the changing musical fashions is amazing. The more I hear of him, the more I’m in awe. I like his early stuff best, but he continued to come up with surprises throughout his career.

  27. Anonymous
    Posted October 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    This may turn you onto classical music.

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