Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Infancy to Adulthood

In a recent article, Forbes columnist Peter Robinson describes the scene of driving with his wife to take their daughter to the airport to go to college. It's an OK article, but what has stayed with me since I read it last week is the list of accomplishments Robinson assigns his 18 year-old daughter:
This product, our daughter, could bake a remarkably satisfying peach crumble, speak intelligently about Hamlet and Macbeth, play a shrewd, persistent game of tennis, perform a Chopin nocturne with only half a dozen mistakes, make her friends laugh out loud and braid her little sister's hair three different ways. No election to high office, no commercial undertaking, no literary or artistic attainment – none could equal the deed of nurturing a human being from infancy to adulthood to produce a product like this.
What a list, hey? As an 18 year-old, I would have liked to have made my folks proud with any one of those achievements. But something about this list has not sat right with me and I haven't known why.

We are going away on Thursday and this morning, as I added to our list of what to take, it occurred to me that Robinson's list is merely an inventory of skills that his daughter has learned and perhaps even mastered. As a list of feats, it's rather impressive. But it reads like a report card of competencies, and to me, lacks any kind of meaning.

Is she thoughtful? Does she hold the door open for people behind her? Is she kind? Is she polite and respectful? Is she concerned about her peers and the planet?

Am I expecting an unreasonable intimacy from a writer I've never met? Am I expecting him to value the same qualities in a person that I esteem? Or at 18, is one still too unformed by the world to have any real connection to it?


Toni Brockliss said...

My very first two thoughts when I read what he wrote about his daughter was "he doesn't sound like he really knows her at all" and "I think he's pompous".
Chopin and tennis don't keep you warm at night.
Good conversation, empathy, laughter, listening, friendship - that is what I look for in a person.

Umatji said...

hmm. can make her friends laugh - but with what technique we ask? A solidly wonderful amusing girl or a malicious and sadistic one!

WriterBee said...

This is such a thought provoking post, Meg. I suppose taking your child to college is a rite of passage for Americans, so it would be a time when a parent would take some stock and feel sentimental.
I, like Robinson, also feel that the deed of nurturing a human being to successful adulthood - however you wish to measure success - is worth honouring.
It'd be interesting to see what attributes your readers would see as being worth celebrating in a grown son or daughter.

Alexi said...

LOL...... This sounds like the kind of list my Dad would write, about my skills not what kind of person I am. I think your right about the age, at 18 I had no real conection to the world. That didnt come until my late twenties.

Anonymous said...

WOW..... the measure of success is a really personal thing ..... one that makes parenthood even more daunting for me. What will I think the day I send my boys off into the world... will I have given them the skills they need to survive and thrive in the environment they choose. Will I be proud of the men they grow into?? Like you I value kindness, honesty, respect and social/global awareness....
Thanx for expanding my thoughts. with this post.

Margaret aka: Fact Woman said...

The part that gets me is that he's listing her abilities but then he adds, "none could equal the deed of nurturing a human being from infancy to adulthood to produce a product like this." So he's saying that nothing she can do equals what he has supposedly done in raising her. It's not about her or her accomplishments, it's about his. He's a self-centered egotist and as such he sees his daughter not for who she is but only for the things that she can do because, he's never taken the time to get to know her. So sad.

Permapoesis said...

yes, i agree margaret; daughter as extension of his accumulated wealth, daughter as property (ego) et al...

perhaps he cld have reflected on her natural inclination to free-range and be of the world. these are such lovely things common to those who are not over-parented and molded by privatising values.

(word verification: merri)

Feronia said...

You're absolutely spot on, Meg. Hamlet and Chopin aren't really going to cut it if they've raised an unpleasant person.

Enjoy your break! :)

Glen Dunn said...

Hmmm. How about another list (Liszt?)

One’s daughter plays some mean Chopin, doesn’t one. And one’s daughter can cook! There’s a good girl.


Anonymous said...

I Agree with all the above


He didnt say ' I have failed as a farther.'

Which is what my dad said to me at 18.

Anonymous said...

Good god I typed 'Father' in incorrectly above-
perhaps he was right !!!!!

Kim said...

I felt the same way when I read that paragraph. It was a weird list. Even though my children are not adults yet, my proudest moments with them are when I see one of them being a loving sister, sharing with someone, or when they try to make me laugh. Those are the "skills" I hope they'll always have.