When it comes to embracing new technology, I'm what marketers refer to as the "Last Adopter." I'm still on AOL, and not because I lost a bet. Facebook hit a billion followers before I was one. If there's a new app, odds are it's been championed by you, your grandmother, her Mahjong foursome, their deceased husbands and their husbands' ghost buddies from the Navy before ever trickling down to me.
So, imagine how proud of myself I was last year, when I announced to my two teenage kids, that I'd taken the plunge into 2008 and signed up for Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. Like most parenting moves, the high of being the cool, with-it, socially-connected dad lasted about all of no seconds. Or the time it took my daughter to say, "Oh God, why did you join Tumblr? Didn't you know it's just for 12-year-old girls to complain about their thigh gap?" In my head, I heard all the records everywhere scratch at once. Sadly, my only defense to her was "At least it's not as embarrassing as Pinterest." Which, I then sheepishly admitted, I had also just joined.
This exchange occurred to me recently while writing a speech for my son's bar mitzvah. Naturally, I want to express meaning, poignancy and not violently butcher the pronunciation of "Nebuchadnezzar." But mostly, I just want to avoid doing or saying something that will embarrass my children. Which is followed by the inevitable corollary: I will do or say something that embarrasses my children. In the words of the great sage, Geico, " We're parents. It's what we do."
It's true. No matter how much we try to be our kids' friends, no matter how many ironic Waaaasuup t-shirts we own, we're still old people doing old people stuff, that they'll laugh about. And while technically I'm not a child psychologist, and by "technically" I mean "I have no training whatsoever," I contend our children being embarrassed by us is a healthy thing.
One of the beauties of parenting is that you never know which landmine of dorkiness you'll step on that will cause your kids to erupt in an embarrassed explosion of laughter or revulsion. Just that you will. It can arise from something as horrific as tagging them in a photo. Or kissing their mother in public. Or saying hello to one of their friends (even if said friend has initiated the exchange by saying "hello" first). Apparently, you shouldn't pick up your kids from school with your car windows open. Nor you should finish all your texts with the emojis of a face with sunglasses, a Canadian flag and a birthday cake (I was trying to suggest a mood of joviality, people!). And God forbid, I wear a wet suit at the beach. Or not wear a wet suit at the beach. Pretty much anything involving being a dad at the beach, you're kinda asking for trouble. As was the mere suggestion I join them on Snapchat, which practically sparked a riot in our living room.
But apparently, there's nothing I do that's more embarrassing than crying at movies. Especially if it's a Y.A. drama I have no business seeing. Both my kids insist I cried at the first Twilight. I personally have no recollection of this. But then again, I may have blacked out from my incessant wailing. Or been under the Cullens' dreamy spell.
I don't blame my kids. They aren't stereotypical eye-rolling teens we see in public service announcements against teen eye-rolling. They aren't especially critical or judgmental. And I'd even say they mostly enjoy me -- at least when I'm not trying to get a laugh from a woman behind the bakery counter. What they are doing is naturally following their generational imperative. And that imperative dictates the next generation is always a little creeped out by whatever the previous generation is doing, wearing, dancing to, or joking about with the woman behind the bakery counter.
Here's an example. My son is more than happy to talk to me about '90s alternative bands like Green Day and Weezer. Sure he considers it classic rock, while I think of it as "new music" because it's post-Bad Company. But whenever I try to switch Sirius to the Springsteen or Grateful Dead channels, I'm mocked by everyone for my "dad rock." True, this came after a summer of making them listen to a show where two AARP charter members debated the relative sound qualities of different mixing board recordings of the Dead's 1977 East Coast swing. Heck, I'm the one who made them listen and even I kind of hate me for doing it.
My first reaction is to dig in and use phrases like "American icons" or "icons of America." But think about how we'd have reacted when we were 12, if our parents turned off Casey Kasem and made us drive to the beach listening to piano rags from 1918 and expected us to think it was cool. "You know, this song was a particular favorite of the Kaiser." I hate to say it, but when it comes to force feeding our musical tastes on our kids, we're so much worse than our parents. At least, they had the dignity to not care what we thought about them.
Similarly, while I continue to commit the greatest cultural taboo, still occasionally watching television on a television, my son rarely spends a free moment where he isn't watching videos of Afro-English guys eating Nandos and opening FiFA packs. Don't worry, I don't know what any of those words mean either. Nor should I. It's not like my parents were standing over my shoulder demanding to know why Fonzie just crashed his bike into Arnold's chicken stand. It was our own. Just like YouTube is to them. Guys eating take out chicken while playing video futbol are their Sweathogs.
I definitely feel like we know our kids to an extent the previous generation didn't. But the truth is: our kids should be embarrassed by us. We're their parents. Lately, there's been a blurring of the lines between being a parent and being a friend to your kid. Having empathy, validating their feelings -- it's all great. Obviously. But the flipside is denying kids the experiences and memories that they can remember as distinctly their own. Isn't it possible that knowing everything about our kids to the smallest minutia, let alone wearing the same brand of skinny jeans, is precluding them from establishing their own identities distinct from us.
One of my fondest memories of my own dad, in the years before he passed away was how hard he'd laugh, watching us laugh at Super 8 movies of what he called his "Acapulco disco wear" -- a melange of sideburns and ascots, ranging from very tacky to incredibly tacky. We loved the clothes and that he had specific resort-wear, because we never saw him wear anything remotely like it around the mean streets of Encino. And we loved that we'd never heard him laugh louder or longer.
If I have a point, it's this. My kids should think my Gap baggy jeans are old-fashioned. My old man music should be seen as old man music. And I want them to laugh uproariously when they see pictures of me with an enormous, Bruno Martelli-sized Jewfro. Frankly, what's the point of growing a Jewfro if it isn't to hear your kids laughter? In fact, isn't that the reason to do just about everything?