Dad Overboard: Confessions of a (Way Too) Protective Parent

One man wades through 18 years of home movies to realize that he probably guarded over his son just a bit too much.

Dad Overboard: Confessions of a (Way Too) Protective ParentIllustrated by Michael C. Witte
Just two days before my son’s 18th birthday, I did what most parents never do. I actually looked at the 8-millimeter videotapes — all 73 of them — that I’d dutifully created with my Sony camcorder at every single birthday and school recital of my son’s life. I looked at summer vacations and at the occasional dog washing.

Three observations:

I should have turned on the anti-jiggle feature.

My wife and I spent a fortune on birthday ponies.

Perhaps we had raised the “boy in the bubble” without an actual plastic bubble.

Did we go overboard in the protection department? It was one of those things you don’t realize you’re doing when you’re doing it, but when you have the benefit of time and distance, it’s easy to see some things.

Kathy and I took our jobs seriously and had insulated our son from all dangers, real and imagined. Now that he was on the verge of manhood, we wondered which things he would mention to the shrink that he’ll start seeing when he’s 30 to figure out “why my parents messed me up.”

Let’s examine the evidence.

Taboo Toys
As I watched 18 Christmas mornings back to back, I realized that despite the fact that we wanted our son to grow up to be a normal boy, we never gave him what he really wanted: a gun. Not a real gun, but a toy Uzi or an automatic pistol or something that he could aim at squirrels and neighbor kids and squeeze off a round from when he felt the urge.

He didn’t get one, because we’d read a few of those “how to be a perfect parent” articles that made it clear guns glorified warfare and violence. If kids played with toy guns, the research indicated, they’d wind up oblivious to the difference between good and evil, and one day we’d get a call from a college dean to inform us our son was in the bell tower blasting away at coeds.

So he never got a gun. Later we discovered that the urge to shoot things is programmed into boys at the factory, and by the time our son was three, he was shooting at squirrels in the trees and rabbits in the yard with his fingers locked in a pistol-like pose. Later he improvised a weapon from a bent stick and shot at the Good Humor truck.

On his 18th birthday, to make up for his ammo-free childhood, I toyed with the idea of giving him a set of brass knuckles and some napalm, but my black-market sources had dried up by then. He had to settle for luggage.

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