Narcissistic Rationalization Of The Week
Yes, yes, Dalton Conley knows that divorce is supposed to be bad for kids, but that’s almost certainly not true in the case of his children, who, he is pretty sure benefited from his divorce from their mother. Excerpt:
But once he was born at full term, I couldn’t stand living in and out of car seats and felt increasingly isolated with two young babies and a wife who worked late at the lab. So when NYU offered me a big raise and sweetened the pot with tenure, I took the opportunity to return to my hometown, where I had lots of support in the form of family and lifelong friends. Natalie, on the other hand, stayed on at Yale, commuting to Connecticut from New York for chunks of the week.
I suppose the silver lining was my own research that showed that when moms worked outside the home, there was more gender equality among the offspring. That is, in so-called traditional families, daughters lagged behind sons. But in working-mother households, the girls achieved just as much as the boys. As a father of a daughter, this was heartening. Though I cringed when she later asked her mother to be “normal” and stay home to bake cookies.
Our commuting arrangement certainly put a strain on us—and not merely because she often had to be away at Yale for three days a week to teach in addition to whatever travel we both had for conferences, lectures, and other work projects; it also took me a good three years to accept our respective roles in our non- traditional marriage. I was the “mom” who was home with the kids, doing dishes and pediatrician appointments, and she was the 1950s “dad”—the fun one who made them laugh and did entertaining activities with them on weekends. Gender psychology aside, it felt like juggling kitchen knives and diapers.
Well, most parents have been there. But most parents, one would think, but the needs of their children ahead of their own. Not Dalton Conley, who began to think about divorce:
There is so much cultural heat surrounding the issue of divorce that even academic studies can get a bit singed. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies showing that kids from divorced families do worse on scores of outcomes. The problem with all of those research papers is that we can never know the counterfactual: What if those particularparents who divorced had actually stayed together? This is an entirely different sample of folks from the parents in the data who did in fact stay together—hearkening back to Tolstoy’s famous dictum.
No, we must confine our inquiry to the ones who did divorce in our sliver of the quantum universe. Would their kids really be better off if they had stayed together in some other quantum state—fighting and yelling and tiptoeing around?
You know where this is headed. The appalling thing is that Conley, a leading social scientist, uses science to justify what he wanted to do in the first place: get out of his marriage, and to convince himself that he’s doing it for the sake of improving the lives of his children. I’d say this essay is a pretty good argument against taking anything he has to say about parenting in his new book (from which it was adapted) seriously.
Incidentally, Dalton Conley is a crazy person. From a 2003 article in The New York Times:
Under the grayish fluorescent lights of the Civil Court clerk’s office on Centre Street, Dalton Conley made his request: if no one objected, he wanted to change his 4-year-old son’s name to Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley.
It is the longest name in the city’s files, at least according to the unofficial tally kept by clerks at the office, where any New Yorker can go to legally change his or her name. (Each borough has an office providing the service.)
The boy’s name — which technically was just lengthened, not changed — was the talk of the office for a few days this summer after Mr. Conley made the application. But by the time he returned, several weeks later, to pick up the judge’s order of approval, the clerks had accepted it as just another of the weird, intimate fragments that surface when one tinkers with a name, that most basic measure of identity, in a city famous as a place to remake oneself.
As for Mr. Conley, the father of Yo Xing Heyno Augustus, etc., his son’s names all have specific intentions, from honoring deceased ancestors to upsetting common expectations.
”I had wanted to do ethnic disassimilation,” said Mr. Conley, who is a sociologist at New York University. ”So getting this white kid and giving him a name, Yo Xing, that belongs to this ethnicity that’s really not his, it evens the score for the Howard and Robert Chins.”
Mr. Conley and his wife, Natalie Jeremijenko, originally gave their son, who is called Yo for short, four middle names, and waited until now to append the three others. The son suggested two of them, including the name of his father’s childhood dog, Knuckles. ”I have my limits,” Mr. Conley said. ”I wouldn’t name my kid after a dog.” Still, he named his 5-year-old daughter E, after the letter, so she could complete the name when she got older.
Again and again I say unto you: do not take parenting advice from this man! Some kinds of crazy are reserved only for Ph.D.s.