Embarrassing My Kids

Roger Mummert - Syosset, New York
Entered on May 12, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood
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“Dad, you dress like a geek!” “Everything you say is annoying!” “I can’t stand to be seen with you!” “You’re a total loser!”

Music to my ears! If I’m embarrassing my kids, I’m doing the right thing. In this age, being a parent and being cool simply aren’t compatible. Rather, I believe that embarrassing my children is an inevitability—and rightfully so. I say, revel in it! It’s what distinguishes us . . . from them.

Today, there is a blur in the line between children and parents. Kids are way overprogrammed. They’re unable to meet the commitments they make (or we make for them) to school, religion, sports, and social events. As a beleaguered parent, I have printed out spreadsheets of their activities and shuttled them around, a half-hour late and a birthday present short. There isn’t even time to discipline them when they act up. Deny them an activity, and they’re happy for the break.

This blur worsens when we parents idealize the enriched lives we provide for our children (c’mon, what parent doesn’t secretly want to stow away to sleep-away camp?). At the same time, kids suffer the confusion of being grown up far beyond their years: witness girls in heels and cocktail dresses at a bat mitzvah or Sweet 16 party.

Lost in this blur, I’ve seen other parents stop being parents and morph into junior career facilitators for their kids. Their children, fawned over and catered to, can fall into the trap of thinking they’re our peers.

We never can be part of our kids’ worlds, of course. And when we invade their domain—moms who dress like teen tarts, dads who sing along to Z-100—we dilute their experience and embarrass ourselves. Better to embarrass our kids than to try and pass for our kids. Our ability to mortify them empowers us!

In my case, embarrassment comes easy. I dress like a hippie who wandered into an L.L. Bean showroom. I actually talk to my daughters’ friends when they call. If I really want to stick it to my brand-conscious, ever-exasperated sixteen-year-old, I’ll pick her up at school with cowboy yodeling on the radio full blast.

I pay for my cloddish behavior in verbal abuse, naturally, but I’ve never stopped being around my kids and I’ve never stopped being me. I won’t toss them the car keys or, like some “cool parents,” buy them a keg of beer for an open house. Believe me, when I’m a warts’n’all embarrassment, there’s no question that I’m a dad.

Lots of parents wither in the tough years when our once-adoring kids find us repugnant. I hope that my daughters and I can reconnect sometime in the future, but for now memories sustain me.

I think back to a Father’s Day card that one of my daughters gave me years ago. I can’t recall her age at the time, but I remember a backwards “D” in how she wrote: “Daddy, I love you because you stay with me.” And stay with my children—even as an embarrassment—I always will.

Roger Mummert is a writer and lecturer. He is a contributor to the New York Times, where for several years he authored a monthly column on suburban life. Each year, he dons an apron to host the Latke Festival, a celebration of multiculturalism that has been profiled on CNN and NPR. A lover of cooking and culture, he has appeared many times on the Food Network, and he hosted a radio show, Gastronomic Gossip.