I have to say, this essay went through me like an arrow made of ice and tipped with curare. It might’ve been called “When Bad Children Happen to Good People,” and addresses that thing we all have in the backs of our minds: What if I do everything right and still raise a horrible person?
We are besotted, culturally, with silver-bullet bad-childhood explanations for everything. (“Someone took his teddy bear away from him, and he’s been trying to get it back ever since.”) I think it comes from too much TV, frankly, because this is a pretty standard third-act-of-a-one-hour-crime-drama revelation. Plus we are all, as discussed here recently, rather taken with pop-Freudian explanations of behavior. But child development is inexact. Some incredibly sensitive and brilliant souls come from ordinary and stable upbringings, and some come from flawed ones, and some come from horrible ones. Some perfectly wonderful parents raise monsters; some awful parents end up with great kids. And some people who are awful in one aspect of their lives are splendid at other ones, sometimes in spite of their upbringing. Consider Bill Clinton: lousy upbringing with alcoholic dad, brilliant guy, epically awful husband, and, by many accounts, a pretty great dad. Or just think of this dad.
The prospect of doing everything right and still having the dice come up badly was, in fact, my only real hesitation about becoming a dad. The image of a nasty little brat being attached to me forever kept me up nights, and still would, if our little guy weren’t so clearly a sunny and sweet person. Yes, something could turn in his little brain someday–but at least, I’m no longer holding my breath. We’re safe till the next developmental stage kicks in… in about six months or so.