Biggering and transposition: more thoughts on fatherhood

I was talking to a friend a friend about marriage, couples’ counseling, and parenting and she told me that her test for whether she’ll be on board with a friend’s relationship is whether or not the both parties become more or bigger than they were without each other. Her comment reminded me of a line in the Lorax, in which the Onceler rhymes:

I meant no harm,

I most truly did not,

But I had to get bigger,

So bigger I got.

In Seuss’s yarn, BIGGERING is bad. But I think that in the context of relationships and parenting, biggering is good. For instance, being a father tempts me to want to sleep in, watch more television, read less, and learn less new skills. Why? Because I’m tired all the time. But there’s a deeper more fully-human desire to “bigger” myself. It’s like Jack Donovan said, to be a dad you’ve got to be big. And so being a father has made me conscious of a truer, but still biological aspect of myself, to which I am spiritually accountable.

It’s a weird experience, but I think it is one to which all our biological impulses point if you interpret them with reason. For instance, sexual impulses lead us to pursue an experience that exacerbates how incomplete we are without another, but that only lasts for moments. And so sexuality causes us to seek transcend our finitude. Our biology can hide our spiritual nature from us or be ennobled by it. It’s as Paul says in Romans 6. At every moment you can choose to use your members (the components of the flesh) as instruments of righteousness or tools of sin and destruction. The process of eliciting transcendent supernatural value from mundane realities is what C.S. Lewis calls transposition or what I’ve called, in reckless abuse of Seuss’s own meaning, ‘biggering.’

I’ll need to reflect on it more, but being a spouse, a parent, a child, an employee, a manager, a friend, a cancer patient, or just a person is to have a wide field of opportunities for biggering that could just as easily be used as opportunities to give up on anything transcendent.

Youth Science Projects and American Aspirations

I came across an archived usenet post linked on social media:

How come the heros of our movies are no longer Micky Rooney or Spencer Tracy playing Thomas Edison, or Paul Muni playing Erlich or Pasteur, instead Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison and Woody Harrelson playing Larry Flint? And movies whose heros are lawyers.

 

Paperwork and lawyering. Fixing and improving and advancing society by talk-talk, not building. A lawyer president and his lawyer wife. Crises of power that don’t involve spy planes and sputniks, but incredibly complicated and desceptive word defintions and complicated tax frauds. You think we’re not preparing to go to Mars because SF is too optimistic? Sure. But it was optimistic about whether or not the can-do engineering of the 40’s and 50’s, done by the kids who’d grown up playing with radios and mechanics in the 20’s, was going to continue. Needless to say, it didn’t. I’ve seen a late 1950’s book of science fair projects for teenagers that include things like building your own X-ray machine and cyclotron (no, I’m not kidding– it can be done). There are rockets in there, and cloud chambers, and all kinds of wonderful electronics stuff. But we didn’t go that way. Instead, we turned our children into little Clintons, and our society into a bunch of people sitting at PCs, entering data about social  engineering, not mechanical engineering. So instead of going to Mars, we went instead to beaurocratic Hell. Enjoy, everybody. It really could have been different. Nature didn’t stop us– WE stopped us.

I’m not opposed to lawyers, we need them. I even that a few of them read this blog. But the idea that the aspirations of American culture were transformed by entertainment focusing on paperwork fields and the actual content of education are obvious. My wife and I intend to home school our children. And I suspect that we’ll be buying some of those old science books.

I think our young simply feel that the world handed to them is either good enough or impossible to bend toward their own success. So their aspirations end at “make enough money to chill.”

Parenting doesn’t matter?

Over at Quillette, Brian Boutwell has written an article on the unappreciated genetic factors in personality development and life outcomes. In it he claims:

Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think. Regarding the cross-validation that I mentioned, studies examining identical twins separated at birth and reared apart have repeatedly revealed (in shocking ways) the same thing: these individuals are remarkably similar when in fact they should be utterly different (they have completely different environments, but the same genes). Alternatively, non-biologically related adopted children (who have no genetic commonalities) raised together are utterly dissimilar to each other—despite in many cases having decades of exposure to the same parents and home environments.

Now, my first instinct is to think of the article as Theodore Dalrymple thinks of ideas held by academics who don’t spend time with those who absorb these ideas at fifth hand through public school teachers, poorly written periodicals, or bad entertainment. He explains some of the deleterious results of this process in his book Life at the Bottom: The Worldview of the Underclass:

The idea that one is not an agent but the helpless victim of circumstances, or of large occult sociological or economic forces, does not come naturally, as an inevitable concomitant of experience. On the contrary, only in extreme circumstances is helplessness directly experienced in the way the blueness of the sky is experienced. Agency, by contrast, is the common experience of us all. We know our will’s free, and there’s an end on’t….

In fact most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. Of nothing is this more true than the system of sexual relations that now prevails in the underclass, with the result that 70 percent of the births in my hospital are now illegitimate (a figure that would approach 100 percent if it were not for the presence in the area of a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent).

Dalrymple, Theodore. Life At The Bottom (Kindle Locations 169-172). Monday Books. Kindle Edition.

When I read an article like Boutwell’s that answers the question, “So why mount a frontal assault on parenting?” without denying that this is his intention, I’m easily unimpressed.

He’s written two similar articles here and here.

What’s funny is that I don’t doubt the science of genetic influences on behavior. But there’s a role for some epistemic humility. One cannot simply say, “We have reason to doubt correlational studies due to the absence of controlling for genetics, therefore parenting effects (being observational) are to be doubted and as a corollary, parenting efforts beyond basic care are pointless.” Well, one can say it, but one cannot simply say it and be correct. Here is one basic point, acknowledged by Boutwell in the article:

To put a finer point on what Harris argued, children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home. The socialization of children certainly matters (remember, neither personality nor temperament is 100 percent heritable), but it is not the parents who are the primary “socializers”, that honor goes to the child’s peer group (a fascinating topic, but one that merits its own separate discussion).

Parents can, with reason absolutely on their side, choose to be the primary socializers of their children. I would guess that these studies do very little to look at the potential effects made by radical parenting differences: home schooling, unschooling, limiting access to the infinite peer group of the internet (this only matters for recent studies), etc. I think that due to the almost universal similarity in parenting styles reflected by sending your children to a school in which their main influencers will be other adolescents and at which they will have very few in depth conversations with other adults is too large an environmental similarity of overlook.

Insofar as one might say that genetics determine a great deal or even most of what people do, it’s a mistake to say that at such a nascent stage in the science, we can dispense with parenting advice.

Any worldview that becomes deterministic tends toward metaphysical boredom and by necessity squelches aspirational values and encourages nihilism.

 

Philosophy, Psychology, and Parenting

To anybody who approaches parenting reflectively, the knowledge of personal imperfection should be obvious.

That being said, on ye olde Internet, many people become very offended by the parenting efforts, advice, or suggestions of others. I think I understand why.

We all know that we fall short as parents, but we desperately want to believe that we’re doing the best than can be done. Indeed, while it may or may not be true that our parenting is the best we can do, we certainly want to project as a fact (even to ourselves) that we’re doing the best that anybody could do. In other words, our own parenting is the ideal. Thus, we feign offense at any suggestion that we are not, as destrablizing our ideal implies that our very method of parenting and therefore our children are being attacked. It’s weird. I’ll try not to do it. My wife and I talked about the upcoming advice barrage. We’ll aim to learn what we can and ignore the rest. Being angry and resentful all the time is no way to live, parent, or enjoy yourself.

Sunday School: Career vs Calling

Christianese:

  • I’m not sure what I’m called to do.
  • I’m pretty sure God is calling me to become a chef.
  • God told me to change majors.
  • God called me to date so-and-so.
  • I’m feeling called to the [insert cause that allows for very little personal accountability here].

3 Aspects of Calling (in and out of the Bible)

  1. Being Addressed by God[1]
    This is God’s commissioning of a specific individual or group of people for a specific task. Such as when the Lord calls the prophets of the Old Testament or gives somebody a task through a prophet. This would also include the baptism of Jesus, the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples, as well as to Paul. In such circumstances, the idea is that the individual in question was addressed by name and given a specific task by God. Or, the group was addressed by God through such an individuals or group and given an identity and task by God, “Hear O Israel…”
  2. Being a Christian[2]
    In the Bible, calling is also used to refer to converting to follow Jesus Christ. The idea is that the gospel message is a summons from God himself. To become a Christian it to be called. Bible passages like Ephesians 4:1 show that every Christian, by virtue of being a Christian, has a calling. This is the calling of every single Christian: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in a community of Jesus’ people.
  3. Finally, in modern life, “calling” often refers your unique purpose in life.
    This is where the confusion sets in: When you ask, “what is the task to which I should devote my life that is unique to me and my circumstances?” The Bible does not say how to find a calling or that you “have to do it.” The idea that you must leave a unique mark on the world with your life is recent in history. The nature of your calling is tied up with your career, your family, the civilization in which you live, and your life circumstances. But many people assume, without much thought, that this particular aspect of calling is something that God will tell you to do if you only listen carefully. Therefore, many Christians never use wisdom, advice, or forethought in choosing their career or their calling because they confuse God’s calling of prophets in the Bible and his calling of all Christians to follow Jesus with the notion of discovering a life goal or life mission.

Gary North‘s Concepts for Discovering Careers and Callings:

  • Capacities– This is what you’re really good at, what you’re willing to spend thousands of hours upon, and what other people tell you you’re good at when they’re not being flattering. See Ecc 10:10 If the ax is blunt—the edge isn’t sharpened—then more strength will be needed. Putting wisdom to work will bring success.
  • Job Importance– This is what you can do that makes money for your family, the causes you’re interested in, for missions, for charity, etc. Not only that, but it is what you do that leaves a legacy, that changes people’s lives with what you build, what allows you to raise your children to lead godly lives, to spend time with your spouse, and to influence others for the gospel. See 1Ti 5:8 If anyone does not take care of his own relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
    Also see 1Co 12:18-23 But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. (19) Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? (20) So there are many parts, but one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, (23) and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive.
  • Replaceability – This is the concept of being replaced in your context. Are you doing a job wherein anybody with no training can replace you? Get out of it. Do something that you’re willing to be good enough to be irreplaceable in the region you live for the field of work you’re in. Pro_22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

Conclusion Questions for Finding Your Career and Calling

Questions for Career:

  1. What are my capacities?
  2. What is the most important job I can perform with my capacities?
  3. What is the most important job you can perform in which few men can replace you?
  4. What career will let me give to charity, pursue my calling, and leave wealth behind me?

Questions for Calling:

  1. What do I like to do?
  2. What kind of legacy can I leave behind for my children, my church, and the well-being of the world?
  3. What can I do that helps others to know God, find happiness, and become successful?

Footnotes

[1] This is the most common notion in Scripture. It can be seen in with individuals in Isaiah 6:1-5 and Ezekiel 1. It can be seen with the people Israel in Deuteronomy 28:10 where the Lord makes it known that the Israelites were called by him and for his purposes. In Romans 1:6-7 we see that Paul considers the church, as the community who faithfully obeys Jesus, to be called by God to be holy people.

[2] The second is like unto the first, as was noted. Here is some Biblical support for the idea: 1 Corinthians 1:26 and all through chapter 7 Paul refers to the Corinthians of their calling as the state in which they lived when they were converted to Christ. The idea is that their state of poverty, obscurity, and foolishness when the gospel came to them should always be a humility inducing matter in the face of their pride. But, a take away ancillary to Paul’s main argument is that Paul wants them to, on the basis of this calling, live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus, their calling, is not only their circumstances (which Paul wants them not to change unless it would improve their lot in life), but their entrance into a community whose main task is to “do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” and to “imitate me (Paul) as I imitate Christ.”

Parents as gods

Being a parent is hard work. Being a dad has its own unique challenges. I have no doubt that it will be one of my greatest challenges.

Two of my favorite quotes, one about being a mother and the other of being a father, come from quite unlikely sources, two different satires: Fight Club and Vanity Fair.

“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children…” – Vanity Fair 

He says, “What you have to understand, is your father was your model for God.”…The mechanic says, “If you’re male and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?” “What you end up doing,” the mechanic says, “is you spend your life searching for a father and God.” “What you have to consider,” he says, “is the possibility that God doesn’t like you. Could be, God hates us. This is not the worst thing that can happen.” How Tyler saw it was that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. Maybe because God’s hate better than His indifference. If you could be either God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose? – Fight Club 

For the Christian, the parents are the models for God. Many people spend their whole lives unlearning the image of God they constructed in their youth based on their parents.

I think Christians have to face the facts presented in the two fictional quotes above and recognize two things:

  1. Children, whether you want them to or not, see adults as godlike beings. So it’s important to model all the virtues appertaining to this de facto perception.
  2. Now, just because children perceive us this way does not mean that we should not be very clear to them that we are reasonable, fallible, sinful, and still in need of learning.

Obviously these two inferences can be applied at the same time and at other times one must be emphasized. Leonard Sax has argued that one of the biggest problems in modern parenting is treating children like adults too early. But children should see their parents as goals to which one might attain.

To be a dad: Be big

I’ve been reading a great deal about fatherhood, parenting, and so-on. It’s funny how long long step by step instructions, massive data sets, and extended philosophical discourses on fatherhood, despite their value, don’t stick in your head the way brief descriptions like this can:

A grown man, even a small or otherwise unremarkable man, can still be a god-like giant to a little boy.

You don’t have to be a dick. You don’t have to make the kid feel small.

All you have to do is be big.

Instead of leaning over, make him look up or pick him up. Instead of talking down to him, make him talk up to you.

Be big, expansive, benevolent. Be authoritative. You can be playful without being a little boy.

While not all of Jack Donovan’s is universally the case (stopping to speak to a child, can at times be valuable), in general children need magnificence to which to aspire. Parents both offer this. Father can offer it in a particular way. When I was a child, I always found my father, grand fathers, uncles, and their adult friends to be fascinating in their competence to fix, climb, destroy, or create things. Seeing an man bleed and not cry was astounding to me. Watching somebody lift a car with a jack or melt steel with a torch was endlessly engrossing. I remember being charged by a bull as a boy and just when I thought I would die, I looked back and saw my grandfather leap through the air, with a shovel (maybe this is my imagination filling in gaps), bashing the beast and frightening it enough to end it’s path toward my destruction.

I hope that my children will have many similar experiences.