Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cruelty and Parenting

"Cruelty to children is the thing I can least bear in the world." - Juliet Stevenson

"Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel." - Mark Twain

...and yet, sometimes it's a good thing to be cruel when parenting.

No, I'm not talking about beating your kids, nor am I referring to causing humiliation or pain or anything else long-lasting to befall them.

But sometimes, it's good to at least have them to the point of calling you cruel.

No, no, no--send the lynch mob back, and lemme 'splain.

I've always been the mechanic of the family. I started when I was young; my dad put himself through college as a mechanic, and as a poor schoolteacher he usually had to do all the work on our cars himself.  It fascinated me, and it also gave me time to spend by his side.  Later, as a young adult, I too didn't have the money to take the vehicle to the mechanic every time it hiccuped, so I did my own oil changes, brake work (those who say it should always be done by a mechanic--hey, it ain't rocket science), complete overhauls on the VW Beetle (which isn't as rough as it sounds) and even bigger repairs like replacing the radiator on my Dodge Dakota.

Okay, technically, I didn't replace it till way after I should have, after I'd driven the entirety of the Alaska-Canada Highway with a leaky factory-installed radiator.  In the meanwhile, I held it together with Ultimate Copper Silicon gel, JB Weld, and yes, bailing frickin' wire.

No, I'm not kidding. 

Hey, it worked.  And it got me through the summer, thus leaving me free to replace the radiator once we had more income coming in, in the nice chilly December weather in Alaska.  You haven't lived till you've had radiator fluid gush all over you while you're laying on a snow-covered parking lot under an engine compartment.

I had wheel bearings fail on me once in a 70's model pickup.  Boy, was that rough.  When the wheel bearings go, you get the entire weight of that side of the vehicle rubbing the metal into the spinny part, thus making it pure hell to get the broken pieces out in order to replace them.  Took me till somewhere around daybreak to finish it, with an angry apartment manager glaring over my shoulder the entire time.

It can be very, very tough, but it ain't rocket science.

So what's cruel about all that?  Apparently it's cruel to sit on my tuckass upstairs in the air conditioning, playing computer games, while the young man in the family is left adrift to fix his own car's CV shaft.  As usually happens in such instances, the main nut that had to be removed had been crimped on wrong, either on purpose or in one of the many jolts the wheel/axle tends to take, and it was proving impossible for the young man to remove.  Except, of course, that the old man upstairs told him that nothing is impossible, that he needed to keep working at it.

Could I have done it quicker?  Um, yeah.  I've done a lot of his mechanicking work in the past, in fact.  But if I keep doing it for him, he'll never learn to do it himself.

Like I said, it ain't rocket science.  But it does, often, require a certain attitude and patience that can only be attained through practice.  My daddy taught me that early on--if you get angry at the parts, you've already lost, and you're likely to break more than what is already broken.

Case in point: I was helping some buddies take out a transmission once.  They were big, BIG buddies, by the way.  Professional fighter, one of them was.  He bent a titanium wrench--no, again, I'm not kidding.  They all got angry/impatient because a bolt wouldn't come out, and he bent the wrench by cranking on it as hard as he could, and then they all went in for a beer.

All except me. 

I came in a few minutes after and handed him the bolt before cracking open a beer of my own.  Had he taken the time to investigate rather than attempting to muscle through in his frustration, he'd've noticed as I did that it was a left-handed thread.

Big, overarching lesson: when performing mechanical work, you need to keep attacking the problem rather than getting frustrated or marching upstairs to ask someone else to do it. 

Sometimes appearing cruel, then, is the best thing we can do for our offspring.  We have to be like the young bird's parents--the whole thing about shoving the chick out of the nest might be an urban legend, but the mamma and daddy birds actually do work really hard to coax/cajole/pressure the young bird into practicing its wing use. 

Cruel?  Perhaps.  But it's good parenting, because sometimes it's the only way to teach what needs to be taught.


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