Following from Chris’s post this morning, in which he revealed that researchers have Solved Fatherhood!, I did some Googling around to see what others have made of the argument that good fathering depends on Accessibility, Engagement, and Responsibility.
And what I found, in a nearly year-old post on the blog of Philadelphia Stories, a Pennsylvania-based literary magazine, is that this new science goes both ways—it shows you not just how to be a good parent but how to produce specific psychological aberrations in your children:
Engagement: How “hands-on” was your MC’s father when she was small? Was he a good guy but had a job that took him away often? Did he just seem like he was yelling everytime he spoke to his kids, but he was just trying to encourage them?
Accessibility: Could your MC bring any question under the sun to her dad or was she relegated to communicating with him through his secretary? Did he send the MC off to boarding school and say “See ya at Christmas?” Was there always a DO NOT DISTURB sign on his door, but he was very attentive at dinner time?
Responsibility: Did your MC’s father support his family well? Was he a good earner but a fierce disciplinarian? Was he a drinker but loved his family with all his heart? Was he a drifter that constantly told his kids to reach for the stars?
Now, if you’re wondering, “MC” stands for “main character.” Yes, this is advice on how to write fiction, but it’s just as useful for understanding how your actions may affect your real, actual children. How will your being a loving alcoholic rub off on your daughter? What sort of good-bye should you give your son before dumping him at boarding school?
The challenge here is that there’s not just a one-to-one correspondence between what a father does and how a child reacts and develops. “In flat characterizations,” the post continues, “fathers are either no-good bums or unsung heroes, drinking louses or quiet loyalists. Usually a main character (MC) comes to acknowledge the father’s cheating ways or learns to appreciate the constant wisdom that they couldn’t recognize before. It’s all so cheesy and cheap.”
Cheesy and cheap, indeed! You don’t want your kid living that kind of life, do you? So you have to be on the lookout that the lessons you teach them are, well, so complicated that it takes a 500-page modern novel to unravel them. Shun epiphanies like “Oh, Dad was a reticent drinker because he had another family he never told us about!” Instead, drink, be reticent, but make sure the kids know everything about the other family. Your openness about one embarrassing facet of your life will conflict with your reluctance to open up about anything else, and you’ll be guaranteed a main character child with a uniquely warped personality.
And hey, at worst you’ll have produced a poet.