Monday, September 20, 2010

Thinking Free

Fatherhood looms. As I contemplate in this lull before a storm of chaos in my life, I have been considering what makes a good dad. One thing that troubles me is what I will expect from my little daughter as she grows into adulthood.

I've seen enough real-world examples of what having high expectations of children does. Parents grow disappointed when their children don't measure up. Children get low-self esteem because they feel aren't good enough. Relationships are strained and nobody benefits.

Yet I have to be honest with myself: no matter what I do to curb my expectations, they will still be present. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing. After all, it was the expectations of our parents that made us all into the people we are, whether we learned from them or fought against them. I suppose the problem is how hard I will fight for my expectations and how quickly I will relinquish them if I see they are hurting my little girl.

And what are these expectations? I can encapsulate them. Please, please, please, o ye powers of the heavens, let my little girl be a free-thinker. Let her always have curiosity about the world and never stop learning. Let her horizons be fluid and ever-expanding.

That's it. I don't care if she becomes the Prime Minister or prefers to live quietly. I don't care if she becomes the first Catholic female priest or if she becomes a pornstar. I don't care if she makes a hostile takeover of Microsoft or if she joins a hippie commune. Just let her become those things because she wants to do it and makes an informed decision. When fate points her in a different direction, let her see the proverbial compass and follow a path to her own happiness.

Free thinking has nothing to do with inborn intelligence. It is not the result of high IQ. Rather, free thinking raises IQ. All that is required of a free thinker is that she never closes her mind.

What is a closed minded-person? Based on what I've seen, this person believes that after their official education ends, so does learning. At some point this person decides that they have learned enough to survive. After that, they put responsibility for their decisions in somebody else's hands, whether it be a church, a political party, the television or a family member. Or they continue making decisions based on their limited worldview without doubting themselves. Either way, self-analysis is rare.

I firmly believe that free thinking is something that anybody can do. It is an awakening. Yet awakened minds can be put to sleep. That is truly what I fear for my child. I am sure that with an upbringing in my household, she will learn to think for herself. But I am terrified that others she meets in her life may teach her to shut off her brain.

What puts minds to sleep? Dogma. To be properly effective, dogma must be backed with emotion. Some dogma is enforced by communities who use guilt, anger or disappointment to control their members. Others create their own dogma through life experience and fear of losing control keeps them from examining it.

All of this makes me very wary of the role religion will play in the life of my child. Martin Luther said it best: "Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God." Refreshingly honest, isn't it? This attitude is present in all religions to some degree or another and in some cases it is a point of pride. It is incompatible with free thinking. It also scares the fuck out of me.

My instinct, which I must fight, is to try to shelter her from religion. It's not that I don't want her to have religion. I just want her to come by religion because it was her own decision, not because of somebody else's tradition or negative emotions. If she converts, I want her to convert in such a way that we can discuss religion without her getting upset because she hates to look inward.

Such a small and earnest wish: let her be a free thinker. Yet also so potentially devisive and destructive. It scares me. I must never stop loving her, no matter who she becomes. But I also must never stop challenging her. From the moment her little fingers wrap around my thumb and her muscles flex against it, to the childish moment she asks me about God, to the teenager-moment she says she hates me and my heart breaks, to the moment I she visits me with her own children, to our last moment when we say goodbye forever, I will never stop loving her and challenging her. As blog is my witness, her old man will never stop nudging her toward enlightenment, nor holding her when she needs it, as long as he has elbows.