Every rational person knows that the conversational environment on the internet is powerfully influenced — “dominated” might be slightly too strong a word — by mean-spirited, small-minded people whose highest hope is to anger or wound a stranger. And so every rational person makes an internal resolution to starve the trolls of attention — and never, ever let them get to you.
But sometimes they get to you anyway. It’s funny how a thousand arrows can bounce harmlessly off and then one will inexplicably sneak through. This happened recently to Austin Kleon, a writer, artist, and all-round good guy of the internet. The arrow that snuck through his defenses came from a Twitter follower who gleefully predicted that when he became a father he’d not have the time or energy to write anymore. For a while after his son’s birth — a bleary, sleep-deprived while — he wondered whether the troll might not be right. But now he has recovered his balance:
Now I’m on the other side of it all, and it hasn’t been easy getting back into the swing of The Thing — in fact, it’s been way harder than I expected. But I’d like to tell all would-be parents (and especially dads!) out there:
Don’t listen to these parents. They are using the precedent of their failures to predict your own.
For every tired, overworked, bitter parent who tells you how much you won’t get done when you have kids, there’s a parent like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, who talks about cradling his son in one arm, and picking out melodies on the piano with the other. Or George Saunders, who stole time from his office job for seven years to write the stories that would become CivilWarLand In Bad Decline. Or any number of moms and dads who make it work and make the work. They are out there. Find them. Hang out with them. Ask them how they do it. Let them be your role models.
Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence … on their children than the unlived life of the parents.”
You owe your kid food, safety, and love, but you also owe him your example. You give up on The Thing, and then when the kid grows up, he might give up on His Thing, too.
So don’t give up on The Thing.
Amen, and good for you, Austin.
When my son Wesley was born, I didn’t make nearly enough money for us to be able to survive on one income, so as soon as she could my wife Teri went back to work — though at 25 rather than 40 hours a week. My department chair graciously helped me arrange a schedule that would cram my classes and office hours before 1 p.m., at which point I would come home to take care of Wes while Teri went to work.
This wasn’t easy. For the next four or five years, I had to try to get my grading done, and maybe even some writing accomplished, during Wes’s nap times and in the evenings and on weekends. I was often very tired.
But there are two other points to be made. First, I had far more time with my child than most fathers get, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the universe. I have so many wonderful memories of those years — and Wes himself even has a few. I don’t know when I’ve ever been happier.
And second: in those years I learned the habits of focused work that have served me very well ever since. I simply had to take full advantage of the time available to me because there was so little of it, and it came in such small chunks. If I am a productive writer today, that’s largely due to what I learned during those busy, exhausting, wonderful years in which a substantial portion of my time was devoted to child care.