Drew Magary's new parenting memoir, Someone Could Get Hurt, is wickedly funny. But the Deadspin and GQ writer's humor is balanced with honest expressions of frustration, anxiety, self-doubt and intense introspection. In the following adapted excerpt, Magary asks himself a question many moms and dads will find familiar: When will I finally feel like I'm doing this right?
When I was single and saw parents losing it with their kids, I used to frown at them. I’ll never be like that, I promised myself. But single people are pathetically naive. They don’t know what it’s like to spend fourteen consecutive hours with a child. They don’t understand how that massive span of time allows for every single possible human emotion to be bared: anger, fear, jealousy, love... all of it. More to the point, they don’t realize what little assholes kids can be. They have no idea. When I was in middle school, they brought in a lady who had traveled to the South Pole to speak to us. She told us that, at one point during the trip, she became so cold and so desperate for food that she ate an entire stick of butter. We all were disgusted. But she was like, “Yeah, well, if you had been at the South Pole, you would have had butter for dinner too.” Parenting is similar in that you end up acting in ways that your younger self would have found repellent because the circumstances overwhelm you. What I’m basically saying is that having kids is like being stuck in Antarctica.
I’m not sure any group of parents has ever been subjected to as much widespread derision as the current generation of American parents. We are told, constantly, how badly we are f*cking our kids up. There are scores of books being sold every day that demonstrate how much better parents are in China, and in France, and in the Amazon River Basin. I keep waiting for a New York Times article about how leaders of the Cali drug cartel excel at teaching their children self-reliance.
And it’s not just books shitting on us. We hear it from our own parents, who go to pathological lengths to remind us that we hover too much, or that we let the kids watch too much TV, or that we’re letting our kids eat too much processed dogshit. We’re SOFT. That’s the stereotype. We’re soft parents, and our kids will grow up to be free-range terrorists because of it. We see the stereotype in movies and ads and TV shows and on the news, in study after study that says our kids are getting dumber and fatter and angrier. We’ve ruined everything. Collectively, all this empirical evidence of our shittiness is destroying our confidence, our ability to handle our kids with any measure of assuredness.
The funny thing is that I think the evidence is probably wrong. Fifty years ago, spanking and other forms of corporal punishment were far more widespread. Fathers were distant and uncommunicative. Everyone smoked in front of their kids. Seat belts were for pussies. And if parents had any kind of problem with their child, they didn’t have the Internet on hand to help find a solution, or at least a sympathetic ear. We have that now, and it makes us better. No parents I know suffer a kid’s shitty eating habits for long. They’re willing to look for help right away, and they can find it, and that matters. That counts for something. We’re not that bad, I swear. But the stereotype shrouds all of that.
We even hear the stereotype from fellow parents. We’re constantly judging and grading other parents, just to make sure that they aren’t any better than us. I’m as guilty as anyone. I see some lady hand her kid a Nintendo DS at the supermarket and I instantly downgrade that lady to Shitty Parent status. I feel pressure to live up to a parental ideal that no one probably has ever achieved. I feel pressure to raise a group of human beings that will help America kick the shit out of Finland and South Korea in the world math rankings. I feel pressure to shield my kids from the trillion pages of hentai donkey porn out there on the Internet. I feel pressure to make the insane amounts of money needed for a supposedly "middle-class" upbringing for the kids, an upbringing that includes a house and college tuition and health care and so many other expenses that you have to be a multimillionaire to afford it. PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE.
And the worst part is that none of those external forces can begin to match the pressure I bring to bear on myself.
Every time I have a fight with my kids, I feel like I have to start from scratch. I feel like I’ve tumbled back down the mountain, as if all the good effort I’ve put in before has gone to waste and I’ve f*cked everything up permanently. All I want are streaks -- little runs of good parenting days. I have a vision in my head of a never-ending streak -- a time when I have a perfect relationship with my children that involves mutual respect and lots of outward affection. I don’t know if that’s a real thing or just some pipe dream that only adds to the pressure.
After a particularly difficult incident, I composed myself and swore I would never again throw gas on the fire to escalate the conflict. All I had to do was walk away from my daughter and the fight would have been over before all this horrible shit happened, but I didn’t. My wife came through the door and I shuddered to tell her everything that had happened. I didn’t want her to know any of it. But I have a big mouth. Nothing stays inside this vault for very long.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“She hit her brother and I lost my shit,” I said.
“It’s all right.”
“I spanked her. I’m so f*cking sorry.”
“It’s all right. It’s all right. I’ve spanked her too.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It does nothing.”
“Why doesn’t it do anything? I want it to WORK.”
“I know! I wish it would.”
“Why don’t they listen to us?”
“I dunno. Just don’t spank her again. It makes everything worse.”
“I made it so much worse, you have no idea.”
“It’s all right.”
My daughter came down the stairs and there was no more screaming or evil laughter. She had been replaced with an actual girl, the one I’d kill for. She didn’t seem to have any hard feelings about our power struggle. Kids affect a kind of multiple personality disorder -- they become entirely different people for a bit and then have no recollection of that identity once the storm has passed.
“Can I get you something to eat?” I asked her.
“Shells and cheese,” she said.
A sincere answer. That is all I ever want. Plain, mature sincerity. I hugged her and told her I loved her and she pushed me away with a laugh. A nice laugh.
She went to go draw a picture and I began climbing the mountain all over again, hoping to string together enough good days of parenting until I got to the point where there were no more bad days, until the day when I could stand proud in front of stern newscasters and judgmental foreigners and overbearing grandparents and anyone else who thought I sucked at this and tell them that I was a good father and have them believe it.
Excerpted from SOMEONE COULD GET HURT by Drew Magary. Copyright (c) 2013 by Drew Magary. Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
This excerpt appears in Issue 53 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, June 14.