E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
August 07, 2003
Hypocrisy is better than abandoning your children

Lileks is back, and I think the pause may have caused him to contrive a bleat in his head over a period of days which has a more than usually penetrating sound to it.

I don't get all the American local stuff. I don't know who Adriana Lima is, what is so special about a '57 BelAir Convertible, the exact point of driving to Rio, or where Rio is. But I agree with the following. He's talking about the Gay Bishop they've just chosen over there, amidst great fanfare. Apparently before moving in with Another Man, the Bishop had already got himself a wife and kids.

This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinsonís sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: thatís what itís all about, at least for me. Marriages founder for a variety of reasons, and ofttimes theyíre valid reasons, sad and inescapable. But ďI want to have sex with other peopleĒ is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish. I'm not a praying man, but I cannot possibly imagine asking God if that would be okay. Send them another Dad, okay? Until you do I'll keep my cellphone on 24/7, I promise.

Who are you to judge? is the standard response, and I quote Captain James T. Kirk when asked the same question by Kodos the Executioner: who do I have to be? Iíll tell you this: my nightmare is losing my daughter. The idea of leaving her on purpose is inconceivable, and I donít care if Adriana Lima drove up the driveway in a '57 BelAir convertible, tossed me the keys and asked me to drive her to Rio, it ainít gonna happen. I made a promise when I married my wife, and I made another when we had our daughter. It's made me rather cranky on the subject of men who don't stick around. They're letting down the side. They're reverting to type. They're talking from their trousers.

I know, I know, his daughters love him & support him now. So what. Hitlerís dog went to his funeral. (No, that doesnít make sense, but itís my favorite wrench to throw in conversations this week.) If heíd cast off his family to cavort with a woman from the choir, Iím not sure heíd be elevated to the level of moral avatar Ė but by some peculiar twist the fact that he left mom for a man insulates him from criticism. Itís as if he had to do it. To stay in the marriage would have been (crack of thunder, horses neighing) living a lie, and nowadays weíre told thatís the worst thing anyone can do. Better to bedevil other lives with the truth than inconvenience your own with a lie. Right? If others are harmed in the short run, eventually they will be happy because youíre happier. Right?

I donít think it works that way with little children. I donít think they understand why Dads leave Ė and so they make up their own reasons and spend years looking for evidence in other people.

As I'm fond of saying in all kinds of contexts, hypocrisy is an under-rated vice. (See my comment, which says that a sportsman who used to be naughty but is now saying: be nice!, is better than a sportsman who was naughty and still says: be naughty!)

It is commonly said that children are impossible to deceive, and that therefore if you are unhappy they will realise it and want you to rearrange things and be happy. They will want you to abandon them. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Children are extremely easy to deceive, and the deception typically lasts, as Lileks explains, even if the attempt to sustain it is abandoned (along with the children), and long after it has been abandoned. Children absolutely do not want to be abandoned.

Maybe the fact that I agree so strongly that one should not abandon children for man/trouser reasons is why I don't yet have any children and I suppose may never. What if your child isn't a Gnat child, but instead some terrible sticky, whiny, unlovable, unloving, resentful, IQ damaged, medically mucked-up and hence financially ruinous, un-Gnatal mess? I'm too frightened of the permanence of the change, of the limitlessness of the responsibility, the way I suppose some men who do get children only realise when it actually happens. Or don't even then.

A friend of mine recently told me that he was coming out (again) as straight, as both, that is to say. Fair enough, in fact fine. He's young, with no children. He's getting all that stuff sorted first. Quite right.

Make bed. Maybe the bed is right immediately. If not, remake bed until it is right. Then have children. If that means three gay guys adopting or contracting out the pregnancy, fine, whatever. But then: lie in bed. Do not have children and then remake bed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:06 AM
Category: Parents and children


Have children then be a Dad. You already know it is the biggest thing in life. Don't deny yourself that.

As regards the new demands on your life, no problem. You are biologically programmed to expand to meet them. You'll see all sorts of things even clearer than you already do, too.

Comment by: Guessedworker on August 7, 2003 04:58 PM

There is no reason on earth why a parent should have to choose between living in a nuclear family forever and "leaving" their child. This is an insidious myth, part of the nuclear family fantasy that, frankly, ruins people's lives, when they display awkward characteristics such as having married someone who turns out to be unpleasant and abusive, or growing apart from their partner amicably and moving towards a different kind of relationship with someone else.

There is no natural law that says once you have kids, you must be permanently devoted to a monogamous relationship forever with your co-parent, with the payment for making mistakes/ growing apart from each other being a compromised, unhappy, sacrificed personal life for the rest of your days.

There are a million good ways to help kids. Everyone living in the same house 365 days a year is one of them. Who parents sleep with is irrelevant. But the point is that parents should be committed to bringing up their kids, not that there is only one (the conventional and fast dying-out) way of achieving this.

Yes, leaving behind your kids for the sake of a sexual relationship is pathetic. It's perfectly possible for people to further their personal lives in ways that don't lead to abandomment. How sad that adults consider it necessary to spend every waking minute of the day living in the pockets of their partners to this extent.

But a return to Victorian marriage values won't help anyone, least of all the kids.

Comment by: Alice Bachini on August 7, 2003 05:51 PM

Alice: I was just going to say all of that, so thanks for saving me the trouble. :-D

Comment by: Joe Schmoe on August 7, 2003 06:12 PM


it's official.

you are a genius.

I couldn't have said it nearly that well myself


Comment by: emma on August 7, 2003 06:58 PM

I don't care if the Bishop is gay (I think it is obvious that gay marriage ought to be legal) and I'm not concerned that he is divorced (I used to attend a church with a pastor who was divorced and remarried -- and so was I). I do not know why the Bishop's marriage failed. However, after reading Lileks my opinion of the Bishop dropped a few notches.

Bill Clinton's fondness for young women who were adept at kneeling did not have anything to do with the validity (or lack thereof) of his performance as president, but it certainly had a negative effect on my opinion of him as a human being.

Comment by: Jim on August 7, 2003 07:02 PM

Alice and others:

I don't disagree with you (and others) as much as readers might be assuming. Which was why I put in that bit about three gay guys.

But I do think that children like whatever arrangements they live in to stay in the same rough place from year to year.

You're quite right that this doesn't have to mean the old-fashioned Victorian nuclear family, but it does surely mean some kind of fixed arrangement, set of rules, even place (if that's what's been promised).

In my experience keeping promises can sometimes be difficult, and yes, a sacrifice. I quite agree that one should avoid self-sacrificial promises, but promises which seemed impeccably non-self-sacrificial can sometimes turn sacrificial, that is, become much harder to keep than they seemed when first given. And that can be a real problem, especially if the promises have been made to children.

When this kind of talk (i.e. my kind of talk) gets dangerous is when my pessimism about being able to avoid all sacrifice in raising children is turned into glorifying sacrifice for its own sake. See also Alice's own posting today about Albert Speer.

I tried to do a link to the piece (Aug 7 - "Albert Speer"), but it didn't work.

It's a bit like the "no pain no gain" theory of teaching. As an expression of pessimism, to the effect that getting to grips with a hard subject can sometimes be hard, it's fine. But then it degenerates into a justification for pain infliction for its own sake. "Life is painful, you've got to learn this" - thwack. That kind of thing.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on August 7, 2003 07:26 PM


You write "there is no natural law that says once you have kids, you must be permanently devoted to a monogamous relationship forever with your co-parent."

Sorry, kid, but there is. At least, there is a powerful psychological "directive" within us known as the K scale. My experience of pointing this out to people is that those who claim to hail from a happy, two-parent family recognise it with striking readiness, while those who experienced greater difficulty in childhood often refuse to take it on board.

These days I tend to listen to the emotional subtext and not expect too much understanding from some.

Comment by: Guessedworker on August 7, 2003 08:23 PM

Guessed Worker:

I hail from a happy two-parent family.

I have no idea what your K scale is.

Comment by: emma on August 7, 2003 11:34 PM
Comment by: Ian on August 8, 2003 12:27 AM


The psychology term K has been around since the early 1970's, I think. Perhaps you will have heard of it in the greater context of r-K, which describes the perceived conflict between reproduction and investment in individual childcare.

Have a look at http://bellarmine.Imu.edu/faculty/mmills_fp/Sexdiffs/spr03/campbell-summary-040303.doc.htm

This is a woman's perspective, mind, and sets out to ground sex differences in evolutionary psychology. I'm not so well informed about evopsyche but to my mind this particular account does not satisfactorily answer for male investment or, at all, for racial differences in investment (ie the heavy "r" end of the scale).

Comment by: Guessedworker on August 8, 2003 09:41 AM

"The psychology term K has been around since the early 1970's, I think."

Ohhhh, academic *psychology*! Well, it *must* be true then... (*chuckle*)

Comment by: Alice Bachini on August 8, 2003 12:12 PM

Alice, it isn't an issue or true or false. K signifies a high investment in child care. The debatable aspect is how you allot males and females or, indeed, racial group practises along the r-K axis.

Comment by: Guessedworker on August 8, 2003 12:50 PM

K: stolen from biology. Lots of stuff about balance neccesary for survival. Animals can't be 'perfect' at anything -- if they, say, reproduced too well, and survived too well, they would run out of resources and die. So K is basically about the sacrifices and balances species have to be 'optimal'. Kind of like find min/max values in Calculus (as if anyone cares).

Relavance to human reproduction vs. investment: There is an optimal level of reproduction -- if one reproduces too much, will not be able to care for all the children. One needs to find balance of having enough children to pass on genes, but not so much as to be unable to care for them all, and have them die (or be unsuccessful at reaching adulthood and reproducing). For women's ooptimal reproduction it is pretty straight forward: they can only have so many babies. It is not a good idea to have a new baby every nine months. Men are a bit harder. Men could reproduce very frequently, with no consequence to themselves. There are people who say that this is the optimal level for mens reproduction, and that is why they want to have sex more often than women.

So, the r-K thing is the balance between having lots of children and abandoning them, and having one child and putting all of your resources into them.

Note, this does not neccesarily apply to situation being discussed. This is a biological/evolutionary model which does not take the real aspects of human relationships into account. And, it doesn't even say that it is bad for children to not have fathers. A lot of psychology actually says that all children need is one constant person in their life. More may be better, but not neccesary. And 'more' still doesn't have to mean biological fathers. As well, not living with your children full time is not the same as abandonment. It is completely, and easily, possible to be very involved in your children lives without actually living with them full time.

Please note: Most of what I was talking about here were just theories I have read. My stating them should not be taken as an endorsment of them.

Comment by: Erin Riopel on August 8, 2003 05:55 PM

Brian: "You're quite right that this doesn't have to mean the old-fashioned Victorian nuclear family, but it does surely mean some kind of fixed arrangement, set of rules, even place (if that's what's been promised)."


Things do not need to stay stuck/the same just for the sake of promises. Life evolves, as do relationships with partners/co-parents/ and even children.

And I highly doubt that children would want their parents to be miserable just for the sake of themselves. Kids want the people in their lives to be happy too.

Comment by: Camille on August 8, 2003 07:47 PM

who the hell is emily????

Comment by: emma on August 8, 2003 11:37 PM

Here's a 57 Bel Air Convertible: http://www.geocities.com/heylookmycar/page0101.htm

You've seen Adriana Lima, you've seen the car, Rio is Carnival--behold what Lileks foregoes!

Comment by: Richard on August 10, 2003 02:26 AM

Re r-K: it refers to adaptive reproductive strategies varying by environmental condition. It doesn't make sense to talk about r/K strategies differing between sexes (unless maybe each sex can reproduce parthenogenetically?), and if you come across it being used that way it's a fair bet you've encountered somebody pretentiously putting a "scientific", "theoretical" gloss on ideas that can easily be expressed in more straightforward terms. For all I know, academic psychology is rife with this sort of mis-usage, but it's still gibberish. If you squint real hard you can see some vague analogy between r/K selection theory and differing reproductive strategies between sexes, but you don't gain any understanding thereby.

Comment by: Moira Breen on August 11, 2003 07:10 PM
Post a comment