Monday, November 30, 2009

Fear and Loathing

I exchanged emails with my son's teacher over the weekend. This is a very 21st century thing to be doing-I certainly would have freaked out if my parents had done something similar when I was my son's age. My son seems unimpressed-but, in a way, he is unimpressed about just about everything. I think he is getting used to the idea that I am one weird cat. It wasn't about his scholastic performance, it was actually about the Vonnegut excerpt I posted below, but it wound up being about that, at least in passing. That is an entirely logical thing to happen-after all, my son's status as his student is the reason why I know him at all. 

But I digress. 

The problem I am having, and have had, and continue to have, with my son is motivating him to apply himself in school. This is not an uncommon problem-and it was certainly one that my parents had with me. It may pass, with time. It may not. I don't know anything about a lot of things, and parenting is one of them. Parenting is without question the single hardest and most complicated thing I have ever done. I'm never done parenting, and I am constantly afraid I am doing it wrong, and I am given reminders, every once in a while, that I am. 

Now, part of this problem is the breed-preteens don't care about a lot of things that we'd rather they care about, and care a lot about things we'd rather they didn't. I get that. Part of the problem is that he's right-no matter how hard his teachers try to render it otherwise, school is boring. It is infinitely more interesting to be doing any one of a hundred other things, especially in 2009's multiverse of entertainment options, than being in school. 'Twas ever thus-even in my own childhood in the late Pleistocene, I would have much rather been at home than in school, ten times out of ten, and twice on Sunday. Except we didn't go to school on Sunday. Except for Sunday School.


The only way I can get my son to work at anything is through threats of dire consequences if he does not. This is a lousy motivator. (Mind you, I'm Scottish, so I'm stubborn enough to follow through on the threats, and, on a few occasions, I have.) "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully," wrote Samuel Johnson. 

Fear motivates, but it is not viable over the long term. I run much of my life based on it. I work because I fear starving, I parent out of fear of failing. It works for a while, but like being exposed to chronic stress, after a while the system breaks down, and the gears grind to a halt.  

I love reading, and I love being exposed to new ideas, and learning things I didn't know yesterday. I don't know how to get someone else to motivate themselves. I guess that means I'll never become President. 

These are the top ten suggestions Google has for phrases that begin with "Fear of"

1. Fear of long words
2. Fear of flying
3. Fear of clowns
4. Fear of heights
5. Fear of death
6. Fear of being alone
7. Fear of the dark
8. Fear of public speaking
9. Fear of commitment
10. Fear of flying lyrics

I think we can all agree that flying lyrics are something to be afraid of. 


  1. You definitely struck a chord, here. So much so that I referenced this post (with proper credit) in documenting my own struggles to inspire-tween-to-study.

    Thanks, as always, Michael.

  2. Well, I hope you don't mind if I say....I have no idea how to help you! I always had the same problem with my son and we tried different ways to motivate him and sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't. Most times they didn't. The kid should be a lawyer with how he can come back at us on why he doesn't do this or that. He exhausts me.

    Now that he's a senior, my fear has quadrupled times a million. He is on the cusp of the rest of his life. That most important time! But, I've got to accept that he is who he is (which is not a bad thing! At all) and he's going to do well at certain things and poorly at other things.

    We fear so much because we love so much. My heart just breaks. Breaks!

  3. Titanium-Thank YOU. It is an honor to be mentioned.

    BG-Gee, that's comforting. :-)

    Seriously, at some point you just have to depend on the Universe to show them the way, I suppose. Doesn't make it easy, though.

  4. I'm not sure what it says about us that "fear of long words" beat out everything else. People are more afraid of big words than they are of anything else?! Or, at least they search it most often. More than DEATH?! Or TAXES?! What's a "big" word exactly? More than two syllables? More than three? Frankly, I'm a little worried about this.


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