A proposed variation on the theme of the workaholic dad who doesn’t understand the true spirit of Christmas

Over my visit home for Christmas, I saw snippets of several movies focusing on the theme of the workaholic dad who doesn’t understand the true spirit of Christmas. One widely-known example is Jingle All the Way, in which the former governor or California [sic] stars as a father seeking to find the hottest toy of the season on Christmas Eve, having shirked his duty to buy it earlier. The movie opens with him making sales calls and missing his son’s karate event as a result — simply part of a broader pattern, we are meant to understand. I didn’t wind up seeing the ending, but I assume that Arnold was ultimately made to submit to the totalitarian demands of Christmas.

What I’d like to see is a movie in which workaholic dad sits his son down and says, “You know what? I’m not really interested in your karate thing or what specific toy you’ve decided you want for Christmas. What I am interested in is my work, and coincidentally my work finances all that crap for you. I am giving you enough money that you can do basically whatever you want — so just go do it already and stop trying to force me into a role I’m obviously never going to fulfill.”

It may be physically impossible for such a movie to be made in America, though. If that was the end point, the moral of the story — if all the family members “did their own thing” without stressing out about whether they felt the appropriate emotions about each other, etc. — then this whole “America” thing may literally collapse in on itself.

As I discuss in Why We Love Sociopaths, anyone who openly embraces the workaholism that is so obviously the central value of American society must ultimately be either converted to the cause of Authentic Family Values or else punished for his lack of true humanity. This is a law of pop culture physics, perhaps the most fundamental law of all: as soon as a woman makes a demand on our charming rogue, as soon as he is even minamally paired with a female person, the force is irresistible.

This trend reaches its most absurd point in Up in the Air, where George Clooney’s light-travelling character has a crisis of faith as a result of travelling briefly with a female colleague who makes reference to a couple hackneyed cliches that dictate that his regular hook-up partner must secretly be wanting “more.” The joke is of course that she already has “more” and that he’s her side dish — but why did this scenario have to arise at all? Why couldn’t we have a movie that was the exploration of his unique lifestyle? If a romantic subplot was absolutely necessary, why couldn’t it be the story of two people who are perfectly content to be semi-regular hook-up partners and nothing more?

Surely such people exist, right? Surely there are people for whom the demands of family and home are so suffocating that they can’t imagine submitting to them. Surely there are people who, left to themselves, would never have had kids and would never have been filled with regret at their failure to reproduce — or people who could take kids or leave them and are happy to go along with what their spouse wants, and who obviously shouldn’t be expected to be deeply involved parents. And just as surely, there exist people out there somewhere in the world whose fathers were distant or uninvolved and don’t harbor deep scars of resentment — indeed, who don’t really care at all.

We never hear those people’s stories in themselves. What they believed to be a durable lifestyle choice is always only a temporary abberation along the way to their full submission to Authentic Family Values. They thought their work was important and meaningful — it turns out that being a slave to every whim of a young child is actually the only meaningful path. They thought they enjoyed their freedom — it turns out that thorough domestication is the only genuine freedom. If they don’t actually achieve the august status of a Family Man, they must feel their lack as a kind of living death.

There is no life or meaning outside the family. We must all submit or be doomed to utter emptiness. That is the true spirit of Christmas.

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56 Responses to “A proposed variation on the theme of the workaholic dad who doesn’t understand the true spirit of Christmas”

  1. Paul Says:

    Indeed, although I also admit to being a little shocked at how many academics, who might know family is bullshit, nonetheless go along with much of this (marriage, kids, etc.) I do understand that the reason is usually based around compromise i.e. one has a partner with a less bleak outlook.

    I think perhaps the most awkward moment in my life was explaining to my mother that I do not want children. Not in a jokey, ‘Paul is being a weird philosophy guy again’ way, but that it is not going to happen. Further, that I am trying my best to systematically exclude myself from these values. One possible quirk here is that coming from a big family I can be given a pass here. There are already grandchildren, people will get married, and so on. Tougher I suspect for those in small families.

    The crux does seem to be that those who go the family route assume that absence from it is precisely ‘a kind of living death.’ There is also a little fear. One of the most common retorts I get is ‘but what will happen when you are old?’ Hinting, I sometimes feel, that what family means to a lot of people is insurance (‘they will pay me back when I am old and infirm’).

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Another alternative: adult son confesses, “You were always there, at every event, in the front row — and it was fucking pathetic. I mean, you were an adult. You had friends, right? You had books you wanted to read, movies you wanted to see — but all you did was hang out at my rinky-dink little events? Would it have killed you to get a beer and talk to some actual adults instead of going to every damn practice and rehersal? It’s great that you could ‘support’ me so much, but maybe I also could’ve used some idea of what an actual adult life looks like!”

  3. mattintoledo Says:

    I’ve spoken with a few people this Christmas season who talk about how their family does only gifts they can make because it makes the season more special and lessens the commercialism. In the past, when I’ve heard this, I’ve grinned and nodded and said that’s very nice. This year, I broke out some truth. I told one of the guys relaying this that it sounded horrifying. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a nice idea. But for me, personally, it would cause a good two or three months of nagging stress which would only succumb when I did some lame ass crafty piece of crap that I was embarrassed to be giving as a gift.

    If, as a married man with no children whose theism is hanging by a thread and whatever is left by no means resembles Christianity, I still have to “do” Christmas, at least allow me the courtesy of allowing me to show my love by getting you exactly what you said you wanted with my credit card.

  4. mattintoledo Says:

    What about a movie where there is a montage at the beginning that shows a dad year after year being snapped back to the true spirit of Christmas. The actual body of the movie, though, is him realizing this keeps happening because his natural inclination is to drift away from his family over the course of the year.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Or even just one cycle: it starts with him experiencing true Christmas joy and then shows him falling away from it. The triumphant end is when he pulls off the big business deal while his son is starring in the school play — the son looks out in the audience, sees the empty seat next to mom, and smiles knowingly.

  6. Tyler Bickford Says:

    sees the empty seat next to mom

    I’m all for this critique of family values/reproductive futurism, but can we get some acknowledgement of the gendering of care work versus “adult” work in this hierarchy of values?

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Of course — every aspect of these narratives is horrific, especially the gender issues.

  8. MikeWC Says:

    Adam, the son’s reaction sounds like something out of an Ayn Rand novel.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To say more about the gender issue: part of what I’m trying to get at in this post and the comments is the bad faith of American ideology, its refusal to “own” its own terms. The gender division of “adult” work vs. care work is a case in point: at this late date, simply asserting that division of labor seems monstrous — yet the basic structure remains firmly in place. It’s just that dad is supposed to take part in the care work and the care work is increasingly a full-time “career” with high stakes (getting the kid into college, etc.).

    Of course, the truly unthinkable thing would be to reverse the genders and have the same outright “division of labor” — the high-powered career woman who outsources the child care to her more sensitive husband would make the movie theater literally burst into flames. But that unthinkability leaves room for satire — for instance, that movie where Charlize Theron goes back to her home town to try to win back her high school boyfriend and winds up embracing her shallow lifestyle in the end would’ve been more or less impossible if the lead character had been male.

  10. Rex Styzens Says:

    To be a parent (and I have been one now for 50 years) is to never be able to give your child everything it needs. If you cannot handle the ‘guilt’ then do not be a parent. If knowing such erring goes both ways helps, the rewards of parenting are well worth it.

  11. Jeremy Says:

    This is a great post.

    The more I work with children and their parents in a community mental health setting the more I’ve come to realize that often children are created to provide meaning to adults whose existence is utterly meaningless. It’s not only that Authentic Family Values basically rob adults of their autonomy and independence and demands they take care of children (recall that Freud called children – “his majesty the baby”), but it’s also an incredibly high expectation to place on children, as they are burdened with the responsibility of making the lives of their parents worthwhile.

  12. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I find this utterly horrific and agree with it. Oh dear.

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    America is a fucked-up place.

  14. mattintoledo Says:

    This post keeps pulling back to the movie, Elf. In that movie, James Caan plays a dad who’s hard at work at a children’s book publisher. He’s obviously very successful in his career, but is portrayed as an absentee father to his son who’s probably 12 or 13. Near the end of the movie (SPOILER!), he tells his boss to stick it so he can go fulfill fatherly duties. Pretty typical family or Christmas story stuff, right? But (I think) it gets at the dishonesty Adam is talking about perfectly.

    If a man did this, how soon would we turn on him? I’d wager if it weren’t Christmas season (and maybe even then), immediately. Even if we thought it was a noble deed, he would soon transform from a good father to a fool. When we read real stories of real people in real labor disputes, people who desire less time at work (or just full time actually) and a stable job are told to grow up and wake up to reality.

    Here’s the thing, though. The Christmas movies themselves don’t even allow the characters to make these tough choices. In every instance I can think of, the character’s career is improved by their bold decision. Look at that. He chose his family over his career, started his own publishing company and is now more successful than ever in every way. No wonder we buy the Santa Claus story! And why do they have to make this aspect clear? Because if they left the dad’s career situation hanging out there, we would feel anxious about the movie’s ending! “Geez, Christmas is saved but what about the dad’s career?”

    Christmas. When we celebrate values we spend 11 months obliterating.

  15. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Or what about the structure of A Christmas Carol, where the reward for turning away from selfishness is that he gets to be the center of attention?

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11

  17. Neil Says:

    This might be the exception that proves the rule, but what does one make of the December 21 release date (and relatively successful box-office) of “Jack Reacher,” a film that seems quite self-consciously to be about what the A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson critically calls “a certain kind of narrow alpha fantasy” – a “noble loneliness” that has no place at all for “human connection,” especially with women? (I assume that the successful novels are similar.)

  18. Jesse Says:

    Fuck christmas and its atonement theory focused materialistic daze. I may be the father of two that could be the lead in the Dark Days holiday movie special. I have not ever bought either of my children a christmas present. This in no ways means that we have ever had enough room in our car or the kids rooms to fit all the stupid shit that gets dumped upon us. I would much rather store up happy memories that don’t have xtian shit-slime background/undertones. Keep the negative darkness dark and negative! If the cycle is unavoidable, so is my attitude!

    I have tried to find a good angle on the holidays to present to my children and share with the folks who get seething rage when I say I probably won’t be at holiday event 8 & 1/4 because I am still nauseous from last years 27-part holiday swamp.

    I mean, I love material goods, I love blowing money, I love just barely survivng excess metabolism, loans, intoxication, weather, and social situtations, but fuck the religious gloss! And I love religious gloss! Just not the distilled, homogenized, overdone, autopilot goop we get.

    Its fun to survive Dark Days, but its only fun if there is no salvific storyline to deal with. Fuck Jesus! He got his birthday, he was the chosen child, survived the slaughter, got his own astrological turning, etc. BUT HE doesnt have to deal with idiocy that has risen millenia later.

    Fuck the holiday overreach! It is foreign and functional and mystical to the same spirit and level as the shit running in the sewers. Its a great system as long as we don’t make it out to be something its not and pool it and let it explode because its real great we are all so connected, but your shit still stinks, and a mild daily flow is the only act you will get me to celebrate.

  19. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    I use my son’s sports events as a time to read the books I want, uninterrupted by the demands of everything else going on in pastoral work. And sometimes to write. One time I guy looked at the book I was reading–Science of Logic–and said, “You’re a preacher, right? You should read this, instead!” He handed me a copy of “Heaven is for Real.” I never saw that dude at karate again.

  20. Displacement? – Beau T. Jarvis Says:

    [...] often read the blog at An und für sich.  Adam Kot­sko posted this today and I had to [...]

  21. Beau Thomas Jarvis Says:

    I think there are at least two separate issues at stake here. Something that has bothered me, more this year than in the past, is the recurring idea that we all need to get back to the “true spirit of Christmas.” Isn’t this more of the same rhetoric from those who wish to propagate the overbearing sentimentality which accompanies the holiday season? In the United States and to some extent other parts of the Western world, the “totalitarian demands of Christmas” are a burden felt viscerally. One has only to walk the aisles of any department store during this month and observe the haggard faces of shoppers clutching their voluminous lists to see the evidence. This menacing aspect of a Holiday season whose main impetus comes from year-end corporate profiteering is unnecessary and I think it is patently ludicrous. Those perennial calls for a return to the “true meaning of Christmas” are ostensibly combating rampant consumerism; however, the whole celebration, from Rudolph to Baby Jesus is a farce. This seasonal celebration is an age old response to natural phenomena. The fact is, these are dark days—literally; sunshine is at a premium during this time of year and arguably the smartest move is to take a lesson from the bears and go to sleep. Jesus is not the reason for the season. A particular arrangement of celestial orbits, which at this time of year causes cold darkness to envelope much of our lives, is the real reason for the season. Before you conclude that my heart is simply two sizes too small you must know that I enjoy reveling in sentiment and nostalgia as much as the next person, but when it comes to Christmas I prefer to live a life disabused of false pretense. Christmas is a big trope, the ultimate contrafacta, a Christianized response to the actual reason for the season: winter solstice.
    On the idea of Tratidional Family Values the message from Kotsko’s fictional father figure is great, and I am rolling right along on this antithetical, counter-culture jaunt—until he takes it too far. It seems to me that such an honest communication between father and child is entirely appropriate. The father should be able to say, “You know what? I’m not really interested in your karate thing or what specific toy you’ve decided you want for Christmas,” and I really don’t disagree with the end of that statement either, the where he tells the son to, “…stop trying to force me into a role I’m obviously never going to fulfill.” However, Adam obviously does not have children. For one, these demands, such as attending karate practice or recitals or baseball games are more likely to come from the father or the mother and not from the child (here I’m sure Hegel vis a vis Zizek would have something interesting and no doubt brilliantly deviant to say.) It is not hard to imagine a child who really couldn’t care less whether or not the father shows up to all of his or her activities, kids are often just as self-involved as the rest of us (they are us after all); however, the truth is that these types of interactions, as played out in mainstream films, are substitutes for real-world problems and they function in Hollywood story-telling as a sort of stand-in for more realistic and complex familial interactions. Fundamentally what is being conveyed is a lack of interest on a profound level by the parent; this is not just a simple understanding between child and adult that, “dad has a lot of things to do and can’t go to your games,” or even stronger, “dad isn’t interested in your games because he wants time for himself,” but instead evidences a profound lack of involvement by the parent. Essentially Kotsko is displacing his distaste for the idea of having children onto his unborn children. I offer a caveat: I think it is admirable that an intelligent and lucid individual makes the decision not to have children. There is quite a lot of evidence that says the planet is already overpopulated, and even if that argument fails, there are millions of starving children all over the world–why not simply send some money to Africa. To bring more hungry mouths into the equation doesn’t make a lot of sense when you stop to think about it; however, the issue here for many of us has progressed far past the choice of whether or not to have kids (mine are 1-yr and 3-yrs old), the issue is how to raise them once the deed is done, so-to-speak. The idea that one person in the relationship would complacently go along with having kids, but remain ambivalent about raising them may be a fact of life, but I think it is important to make it clear that this is far from ideal. One shouldn’t take on that type of work in a half-assed way, it is work, perhaps not exactly like any other type of work, but no less important. There are few things more humbling and more time consuming than raising kids. If one person in the relationship is not crazy about having kids, then by all means: don’t have them. In the past three years I have had so many rich life experiences that simply would not have occurred without children that I cannot deny the benefits for myself, but I would go so far as to say the benefits are universal. If nothing else, children pull their parents by force, out of themselves! That can be a healthy thing in a society that so reveres narcissism.

  22. Beau Thomas Jarvis Says:

    I’m not advocating universal benefits of having children, I’m only asserting that there are benefits–La Palice!

  23. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I would’ve liked your comment better if you left out the speculations about my personal psychology. As I hoped I made clear in comments, I’m not presenting this as a model of real-life parenting — I’m saying that in the context of Christmas pop culture, the kind of scene I’m laying out would be satisfyingly subversive.

  24. Beau Thomas Jarvis Says:

    My comments about your personal psychology are not based on any substantial knowledge and are therefore uncalled for. I sometimes take a broadsword approach when all that is required is a nerf bat! Thanks for the post nonetheless!

  25. Mike Says:

    “It may be physically impossible for such a movie to be made in America, though.”

    Well, there is the cliche of the hero who rejects his duty to go into the family business, and wants to follow his passion instead. It’s usually the son talking to his dad rather than the other way around, but you’ve only repeated the cliche for a contemporary context, especially the part where you have the dad beg the son to stop forcing him into a role he can’t live up to. The child is a kind of authority for today’s post-oedipal, post-ideological times.

    Maybe the real purpose of these “workaholic dad learns that family is what really matters” is to reframe fatherhood and family so it is on the side of enjoyment rather than duty. These dads always have boring jobs – Arnold plays a mattress salesman. It’s as if the movies are rehearsing the 1950s-era critique of alienation and meaninglessness of the business world, offering the family as the warm alternative. One non-Christmas variation is Stranger than Fiction, where Will Ferrell plays a bureaucratic IRS agent who learns to loosen up and enjoy himself with the aid of his love interest Maggie Gyllenhall, a free-spirited small business owner who owns a bakery.

    Feel-good family values films exist more as lip service to the ideal than any real attachment to them. Compared to other countries and cultures, middle class white Americans are not known for their tight-knit families. And in my personal experience, liberal childless-and-proud people often have the most conservative attitudes about how to raise children. They are turn out to be very judgmental about any deviations, and it seems almost fetishistic. They are very cynical about family and children and how they ruin your life, but then they are scandalized by parents who don’t fit the contemporary mold of showing up for every soccer practice, i.e. whose lives are not ruined by having children. So you find outward cynicism, but with a disavowed belief.

    This was made very clear to me when I went to Burning Man with my daughter a few years ago. A small daily newspaper is published and distributed throughout Black Rock City, and in one issue, there was a lengthy editorial arguing that children shouldn’t be allowed on the playa because seeing children makes people feel inhibited, want to censor themselves and put their pants back on and so on. This was of course not in response to parents complaining and demanding censorship, it was the writer’s spontaneous feeling of self-censorship when seeing children there.

    Here again the child is the authority, and the demand is for a space where the child doesn’t see what naughty things we adults are getting up to, as if the child is the parent and the adults are the children.

  26. Ruth Marshall Says:

    I was going to leave a thoughtful response, but my 11 year old is in the kitchen making sugar cookies and keeps yelling ‘Mom! I need help!’ every 2 minutes. I can feel my impatience and aggravation rising like a tide, so before I yell at her, I’ll say my take- away point from adam’s example is the gendered nature of the stereotype. The reality is men don’t have to give a shit because we do! Which is why your example isn’t that subversive, because kids know and integrate such paternal attitudes even before language. Try being a Mom and secretly trying to read a book when your kid is playing soccer… When I occasionally point out the unfairness of this to my three daughters, who I’m desperately trying to raise as feminists in a post-feminist age, they just say, yeah, but you’re a mom… Ok, there’s now wailing coming from the kitchen, and as much as I want (I mean really want!) to say ‘figure it out! I don’t give a shit about sugar cookies’ I gotta go.

  27. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This comment, in combination with the Ayn Rand one, makes me think this whole post was ill-conceived.

  28. Jesse Says:

    In response to Ruth’s comment: BULLSHIT. Dad’s usually don’t get a chance to use and develop their more nuturing of parenting skills for reasons twain: women/moms post-femminism have to be super-mom explicitly if they are also working and conversely if not working, then they “work in the home, doing the worlds most important work.” Try reimagining your gender role while not vacating your old one while competing with women who are spectral industrial/family complex pillars who are ‘obviously naturally superior care givers and capable of any career trajectroy of a man’. Not that I am lacking sympathy for modern moms, but feminism has issued a choice of being domestically inequal either voluntarily or after the super-moms show you up. I have experinced this in all millieus, church, post-grad education, workplace, play groups, neighborhood circles. Society really only cares about dads symbolically. Its not hard to see why most men don’t try to upend expectations and convention and the order of the household just so they can pretend to pay attention at soccer practice, cookie making, social role inculturation etc.

    For me the key is in being explicitly nonsymbolic and adressing the kids early, like before they talk, as Ruth pointed out they pick up attitudes way early
    “Im not your mom, role or gender-wise, and I can’t be some stereotype, so kiddo, lets get real out here in this desert. We are not in magical Santa Land, I am the only magical bearded folk around, and we are on some sort of crazy journey, the journey is what holds us together, cuz we are just some random souls, and I have no higher ethical duty to you than anyone, I just have you at a vulnerable stage where I can act out my deep and thick ethics without to much hindrance, at least for a couple of years.”

    i am sure there is an approriate passage from McCarthy’s “the road”, but I couldn’t finish the book and have swept away all I could of the text I did read.

  29. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Wow, can we dial it back a pinch?

  30. Jesse Says:

    So I pretty much agree with Ruth’s comment, but see that she could accept responsibilty for trying to fit the “natural” mold, but have nothing but encouragement for her to live fully into any role wether predefined, sterotyped, and confining or conversely liberated, creative, dangerous, careless and difficult.

  31. Jesse Says:

    The internet can’t be dialed back!

  32. Jesse Says:

    Is christmas over yet? I still have 5 family events left to come up with excuses for not attending. Shits getting old.

  33. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I think AUFS is literally the last place on the internet anyone would’ve expected a debate about parenting to erupt.

    I wonder what we might make of the recent pop-culture interest in “French-style” parenting (to be brief, you supposedly mostly ignore them and they turn out fine anyway).

  34. Jesse Says:

    The French Style is too hip for me and delineated, for me, but Iwas raised in a strange and ideologically charged situation. So I like deranged agendas for the children but, following the path of love. I like setting up arbitrary challenges, and making it clear that I am wielding authority in a careless manner to prepare them for the real world. Parenting war games, its great fun.

  35. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    …. Gonna speak with my doctor about getting fixed after this thread.

  36. Jesse Says:

    Yeah I regret not having that done right after graduation, not becuase of the kids, just for the sake of doing the autonomous instead of cowing to family preference.

  37. nydwracu Says:

    That’s all definitely somewhat Randian, but is there a point in trying to preserve the American family when it’s lost its power as an institution, when a movie about rejection of it would likely resonate more than the movies we always see about embracing it in its hellish consumeristic-managerial form of Christmas presents and soccer games and the illusion of participation in pointless activities?

    As for what should be done, there’s your solution, of doing away with the thing altogether and furthering the rending of social ties and the atomization and so on, and there’s the solution of trying to recover the thing in a form that actually works, returning the family to its status as a real social thing containing ties deeper than those of mere social obligation, but that would require at least a drastic reduction in the roles of state and media in culture formation and probably the end of liberalism altogether. The radical solution furthers the agenda of neoliberalism and further drives people into hellish alienation; the reactionary solution likely requires the death of the American form of government and the characteristic Western project. I suspect the radical solution will be the one that occurs, and I suspect that it will begin within my lifetime unless collapse happens before progress progresses far enough to let it. But I’m not optimistic about its effects.

    If you want a solution: there will be none at a societal level, not until the apocalypse, the end of the age. Society is a series of hellish spectral beasts that one must always defeat alone. Cavalcare la tigre!

  38. Jesse Says:

    http://katorgaworks.bigcartel.com/product/merchandise-children-of-desire-lp

    Album of the year by a long shot. Available as a free download. Punk Jazz Pop at its finest.

  39. Jesse Says:

    Totally available as a second press at reckless on vinyl. Sounds like Pedro the Lion-Stoner-New Wave-bliss!

  40. ben Says:

    The pendant to the sort of trope discussed in the post is the career girl in the city who goes back to her small town of origin and is swept into a married idyll.

  41. Craig McFarlane Says:

    Adam’s comment (the second one in the thread) reminds me of Chandler Bing and his father. Readers will recall that Chandler is estranged from his father until he (Chandler) gets married. The reason for the estrangement seems twofold: (1) Chandler is embarrassed by his father who is a cross-dressing gay Las Vegas show-guy and (2) his father lives in Las Vegas and the Friends rarely, if ever, leave New York. Monica, Chandler’s wife-to-be, is horrified that Chandler hasn’t invited his father to the wedding and insists they go to Las Vegas to invite him personally. Among the reasons she gives that Chandler should invite the father is that he went to every swim meet, was a “Den Mother” in some scouting organization, etc, etc. In other words, if not for being a cross-dressing gay man, he’d be the ideal father.

  42. John Holbo Says:

    “Eternal Sunshine” meets “A Christmas Carol”. After the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and come and gone, and Christmas, Tiny Tim, have been saved, the ghost of eternally recurrent Christmas comes to tell Scrooge that he’s going to be a jerk again, starting next week. It’s in his nature. But next Christmas he’ll stop being a jerk for a day, just like every year. Now, the question is: can Scrooge still affirm the Christmas spirit now – can he say ‘ho, ho, ho’ to fate – knowing that next week he will be his bad old self again?

    On a more serious note, I think that Adam should deflect Ruth’s critique by admitting that Beau Thomas Jarvis’ critique cannot be deflected in the manner Adam attempts, i.e. by passing off the post as screenwriting contrarianism, not parenting advice. Adam really is conflating something like 1) parenting is not necessarily good (maybe some people aren’t cut out for it and that’s ok) with 2) good parenting is not necessary and, falling between these stools, is resting on something like 3) somewhat neglectful parenting is acceptable. 3) may be true, but the evidence is not the ease with which 1) and 2) can be conflated.

    It seems to me that quite a few films involve reconciliation themes of adult children/family members coming to understand why their parents/other family members were less than ideal at the whole child-raising/being family thing. Typically: when you are an adult, you finally get it that adults have their own problems and issues – maybe because, for better or worse, you’ve grown up to be your dad, so now you understand your dad’s problems being a dad to you. You can forgive and at least better understand things that you couldn’t forgive or understand before. The problem with Adam’s proposed speech – “so just go do it already and stop trying to force me into a role I’m obviously never going to fulfill” – is that no young child would understand it. Give the kid 20 years and try again. (This would make the scene funny, but not in the way Adam intends. It would only reinforce our sense of the dad being a bad parent.)

    Maybe make “The Fighter” into a Christmas movie. The mom, instead of being a crap boxing manager for Mark Wahlberg’s character, is a crap Christmas organizer, but Mark Wahlberg isn’t allowed to have Christmas at his girlfriend’s house instead. And don’t even get me started on the brother and sisters.

  43. ben Says:

    Now, the question is: can Scrooge still affirm the Christmas spirit now – can he say ‘ho, ho, ho’ to fate – knowing that next week he will be his bad old self again?

    Verweile doch, heilige Nikolaus, du bist so schön!

  44. Adam Kotsko Says:

    John, Why would I want to deflect Ruth’s comment, though? And why do you understand me to be “deflecting” Beau’s in a misleading way? Could it be that I really was talking on the level of contrarian screenwriting and thus responded appropriately to Beau and also found Ruth’s critique of my post on the level of contrarian screenwriting (not all that contrarian after all!) convincing? Could it be that I am actually capable of keeping track of my own intentions?

    Of course, there is a whole debate about what constitutes “good parenting.” The dystopia of the resume-building childhood is certainly labor-intensive and involved — but is it “good”?

  45. John Holbo Says:

    “The dystopia of the resume-building childhood is certainly labor-intensive and involved — but is it “good”?”

    I don’t think anyone is defending the resume-building childhood, if by that you mean what I think you mean. (Christmas movies never say the thing you have to do is buy the toy, after all. They always say the real meaning of Christmas is caring, right?) I thought you were defending the right of parents to say they are going to write the checks to pay for the food and medicine and college and all that but draw the line at too much time-intensive, emotionally-draining involvement beyond that point. Some parents are distant and not very involved with their kids’ lives. That’s not the worst crime, and it’s something that a lot of people who have done great things are probably guilty of. I thought you were suggesting that someone make a movie saying as much.

    As to why you should want to deflect Ruth’s comment but not Beau’s: I think Beau’s critique is spot-on, whereas Ruth’s is somewhat overstated in the following sense. In making the mistakes Beau diagnoses, you basically wandered into a position you didn’t want to be in, leaving you open to Ruth’s critique, i.e. seeming like you were saying something you actually didn’t mean to say. But you are free to change your plea to guilty to suit your own conscience by all means.

  46. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Why do you insist on knowing what I was trying to say better than I myself do? What does that add to the conversation other than making me frustrated?

  47. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Seriously, just go away if you’re going to insist on doing arm-chair psychology and implicitly accusing me of lying about my intentions and trying to misleadingly worm my way out of certain criticisms.

  48. John Holbo Says:

    “Why do you insist on knowing what I was trying to say better than I myself do?”

    I don’t, obviously. (Why would I?) Saying things of the general form ‘I don’t really think you said what you meant, and that got you off track, and the result was that you seemed to imply some things you really didn’t mean to’ is not a shockingly extreme or especially psychologically insinuating form of criticism. It isn’t any bizarre claim to mind-reading omniscience. If someone says ‘I don’t think you meant that’ but you really did mean that, the proper thing to do is say ‘no, I really meant that’, not ‘how outrageous that you would presume to tell me what I mean!’

  49. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I don’t understand what you think you’re contributing here or how you think I should be responding. It’s already obvious that I left myself open to misunderstanding. We hashed that out long before you arrived, and I clarified what I meant to say. It’s not helpful for you to enter into the conversation at this point and say, “But you left yourself open to misunderstanding.” I know. We’ve talked about that already. Now please go do something else.

  50. John Holbo Says:

    “I don’t understand what you think you’re contributing here or how you think I should be responding.”

    There’s no trick to it. Mine was a standard template for a critical contribution. ‘You dismissed X’s criticism as mistaken, but I think X had it basically right.’ As to the way you should respond: again, there’s no trick. IRather than feigning outrage in the absence of anything resembling an appropriate occasion for it, you could do … well, I leave it up to you, but surely you can come up with a more constructive mode of engagement. It may simply be that you wouldn’t take it from me that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. If so, then by coming here and pushing less evident propositions, I am wasting my time and yours. But if that’s the way of it, it’s misleading to suggest some provoking feature of my criticism is causing your reaction.

    Pardons to all whose sensibilities have been bruised by the spectacle of me, lured in by the sweet prospect of making a joke about eternal recurrence, letting it get a bit top-heavy, critically. (That’s how Nietzsche wrote “Zarathustra”. Still, not a sure-fire strategy.)

  51. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I responded negatively to Beau’s criticism, or at least one aspect of it. He agreed that aspect was wrong and retracted it, as far as I understand. Now you think Beau was right after all? Okay, duly noted. You also think that if I’d admitted Beau was right, I could’ve responded differently to Ruth? Um…. okay? I guess?

    Again: what did you think was going to happen? Was I going to rejoin your alternative timeline of how the conversation should’ve gone in your opinion? Why would I do that? Why would I accept a criticism that the criticizer himself retracted just because you came along a day later and said, “Yes-huh”? And why would I respond positively to a reiteration of a criticism that I believed to be based on inappropriate psychologizing?

    I mean, Jesus Christ, man. It’s like you live in a Bizarro world where the rules of what a productive and helpful conversation looks like are totally inverted. Max out passive-aggression! Make sure to revisit moot points as much as possible! Never take the hint when it’s clear someone doesn’t enjoy dialoguing with you!

  52. John Holbo Says:

    Do you actually want answers to these questions?

  53. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This post can’t be about actual parenting because I have no theory of how one should do parenting. There are some obviously wrong ways to do it, but it seems to me that the “right” ways are all just less, or differently, wrong. If dad is distant, for instance, the kid might resent it — if dad is too present, the kid might come to view him as pathetic and disappointing. I doubt there’s a “just right” balance that leads straight to happiness. And the issues facing a mother are obviously even more complicated, for a lot of reasons.

    But whatever you do, the kid is going to react in some unpredictable way, and the answer isn’t, “Oh God, I wish I’d done that other thing,” because the kid who wishes you’d done the other thing is precisely the kid who’s irrevocably formed by what you did in fact do.

    Now it is the case that I don’t want kids — the idea has never seriously occurred to me. I don’t know why that is, and I’m sure I’m missing out on important aspects of life. I don’t think everyone should be like me, though. If I were to venture an opinion, I’d say people who think they’d be predisposed to respond to their children like I propose in the hypothetical film just… shouldn’t have children. Kind of like how people who don’t want to be monogamous shouldn’t get married to someone who expects that, etc., etc. What do you do when it’s too late for that? I don’t know — and I don’t think it’s fair to assume my hypothetical script for a damn Christmas movie is my answer.

  54. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The questions you refer to were in fact intended to be rhetorical. I apologize if I was unclear and they seemed like sincere questions — but what I intended was for them to be taken as rhetorical.

  55. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Probably the solution is for us not to have such a narrow ideal endlessly drilled into us by the culture at large, so that people with different preferences won’t enter and then irrevocably fuck up relationships and situations that don’t suit them! That is seriously the level that I intended to be working at the entire time.

  56. John Holbo Says:

    I understand that you think you already know the answers, but I don’t think it really follows that they are rhetorical questions. As to sincerity: no worries, man.


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