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Importance of parent earnestness

Photo by Joshua Huston

Dad Next Door: The Importance of Being Earnest

Eventually a parent tires of lugging around that armor

Our 13-year-old Pippa has officially entered full-blown adolescence now, and we find that we’re always a little off balance with her–constantly adjusting on the fly. It’s like shooting at a moving target. From a moving boat. In rough seas. Standing on one leg. 

I try my best to remember that, as disorienting as this time is for us, it’s orders of magnitude more so for her. My middle school days were a long time ago, so I have to remind myself how profoundly unstable life felt back then. Pippa’s day-to-day existence is a confusing soup of raging hormones, remodeling neurons, expectations, anxieties and experiences–all of it new and none of it under anything close to control. Some day, a fully formed adult will crawl forth from that murky swamp, but for now we’re all going to have to live with a certain amount of chaos.

As she develops her new identity and ventures out into the world with it, there’s been much to appreciate and admire, and plenty to be annoyed at, but there have also been moments of sadness. For me, one of the hardest has been watching her strap on her emotional armor everyday.

Gone are the days when Pippa was an open book. She used to prattle on about whatever came into her head: ideas, emotions, fantasies, dreams. She used to share her inner world with us with an unquestioned faith that we would protect it and care for it. I don’t think we realized what a gift that was until she took it back.

Nowadays, her inner world is hidden behind an impenetrable layer of snark and steel. She hoards it jealously, as if it’s under attack, and we’re the marauders ready to snatch it away. When we ask what she’s thinking about, she grunts. When we ask what she’s feeling, she scowls. When we ask her to join us, she withdraws. When we ask her to do something, she refuses.

One way that she polishes her armor is to slather it with cynicism and buff it until it shines. She’s acquired an air of jaded world-weariness that, on someone so young, is both comical and disheartening. Long gone is that excited little girl who used to bubble with delight at every new experience. Instead, we get a steady stream of blasé detachment and cultivated boredom.  

“Yeah, I’ve seen that.”

“No, I’m good.”

“If you say so.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”

“And I should care—why?”

I’ve been trying to understand why this bothers me so much, aside from the fact that it’s just kind of tedious. I think it’s because, right before my eyes, she’s losing something that I’m currently fighting tooth and nail to reclaim: my sense of wonder. 

We live in a world where it feels risky to be earnest. Earnestness is seen as a sign of naivete and self-delusion–or maybe just foolishness. The world is in crisis, after all, so the only appropriate stance is a cool, sardonic remove.  Serious, hip adults see life as it truly is: a black comedy of dashed hopes and human failings. They watch Breaking Bad and Succession, not Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross.

The thing is, now that I’m too old to be cool or hip, I’ve grown weary of lugging around that armor all the time. I’m not even sure what I thought it was protecting me from. From believing that things could be better? From taking joy in something even though it might go away? From believing in trite, unoriginal truths? From admitting that something is important to me, even if someone else doesn’t care?

These days, I’m still trying to regain the earnestness I let slip away when I was twelve. It’s not easy. It would be so much safer to avoid saying what I feel, or admitting what I want, or walking around with my heart exposed, flapping in the breeze. On the other hand, it’s really nice to take off some of that steel.

I get why Pippa has to armor up these days. Adolescence is fierce combat, and she’s wading into the thick of it. I just hope she figures out how to take it off when the battle is done.

Jeff Lee offers pre-owned, lightly distressed armor in Seattle, WA.

Read more:

New Year’s resolution: Live and love every day as if it’s the last

Teaching our kids when not to take something on faith

We need to choose — or create — a culture of civility for our kids

Let’s fight the mass-market snarking of childhood

About the Author

Jeff Lee, MD

Jeff Lee, a family physician, lives, works and writes in Seattle.