(Some language as always will be a little salty and slightly NSFW. Just so you know.)
(Also, to kinda protect my kids, I've changed their names. The oldest I'll just randomly call Han and the youngest Luke.)
“Baby, we’ll be fine...
All we gotta do is be brave and be kind.”
– The National “Baby, We’ll Be Fine”
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. It probably stemmed from the fact that we started watching the Harry Potter films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even though we tried Harry Potter with the oldest a couple years ago, this is the first real time for both boys, which is pretty damn huge for me. I love the Potter books. (The proof being they once made me get all teary-eyed about an elf.) In fact, I consider the Potter story to be second only to the Star Wars Trilogy, which is pretty impressive as I don’t even like fantasy stuff as a rule.
Now, Lord of the Rings – and this might be semi-controversial – doesn’t hold much purchase for me. I don’t hate it, but I sure don’t love it with the unbridled ring-busting enthusiasm that most have for it. They’re well made films, but I don’t really care so much about the characters as I do with Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Star Wars or dozens of other stories.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of fantasy and that’s the fantasy gold standard. (Or would that be fairy-mythril standard?) Maybe it’s because there are no female characters who are really integrated into the LOTR story. Maybe it’s just because I like my swords all laser-y and not covered in moss, wood, and metal.
But watching both sets of films with my sons, I’m struck with how much each is built around the importance of kindness. Stories teach us a great deal and also help form each of us in profound ways. Star Wars clearly infused me with a sense of humor and the importance of friendship. (And that creating any romantic relationship is based in banter. Banter, I tells ya!) But what’s really lovely with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings is how the main characters are so terribly kind. You wouldn’t say that about Luke Skywalker or Batman or those dinosaurs in the Jurassic World. But here, some of the most important characters in all of storydom are all kinds of kind.
Chiefly with Frodo in LOTR, he shows a sympathy and tenderness towards Gollum that no one else does. Gollum is clearly a wounded creature, but one that acts out in horrifically selfish ways due to his ring addiction. And where almost every other character who comes in contact with Gollum beats him up, tortures him, or otherwise ridicules this broken person, Frodo doesn’t. He even calls Gollum by his original name of Sméagol, giving the guy a sense of humanity that others frequently take away from him. (Yes, Frodo gets a finger bitten off for all his kindness, but without Gollum it could be said Frodo never would have finished his task and given in to the temptations of the ring instead of destroying it for the sake of humanity.)
Now, Harry Potter’s a whole ‘nother beast. I didn’t care much for it when I saw the first movie, but after the Prisoner of Azkaban, things changed. And once I started reading the books and my love of Snape continued throughout (RIP to the glorious, mellifluous Alan Rickman), I found myself terribly grateful to have these stories to share with my kids. And yes, Harry’s kindness to his friends and others is something to behold and he gets his fair share of attention, but it’s Snape’s that always brings tears to me. Because in this overarching tale of kindness, Harry’s dad is not kind. Harry’s dad is a massive bullying dick and it’s a feat of Ms. Rowling’s extraordinary storytelling that this is an integral part of these characters’ history. Where Harry’s dad’s the dick, Harry’s mom’s kindness changes and alters Snape in such a way that Harry’s heroism would never have had a chance without the snide Snape watching over him, even with a dismissive brow.
What also makes this kindness so revelatory and so extraordinary is that the kindness of Snape – and his sacrifice – is not some goody-goody-I’m-a-lovely-huggy-unicorn-of-love-and-sunshine character. That would be someone none of us could stomach. No, Snape’s wrapped in a dark cloak of a man who appears to be a massive jerk of the first order. He’s an unrelenting asshole who time after time has his loyalty questioned by Harry and the reader. Yet at each stage, this condescending fellow owned who he was and did what he did without worrying about how it may look. He only cared about doing right by the kindness that was shown him and even though he didn’t show it to the world in the same more palatable way, he showed it none-the-less, making the world a kinder, less Voldermorty one.
“You are unfailingly kind: a trait people never fail to undervalue, I'm afraid.”
- ALBUS DUMBLEDORE, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Now, I think about how kind my kids are often. Hell, my kid’s in kindergarten, which is a whole garden to train kids to be kinder. (Surprisingly, this isn’t necessarily the case as one day when volunteering in my son’s class, a girl called me “fat”. I shrugged that off until her mom sent me an email to apologize which somehow only seemed to cement how fat I really must be and made me feel like Slimer’s fatter brother.)
Each day, I try to teach my kids the importance of kindness. My basic parenting motto for them is: Don’t Be a Dick.
(For them though, I do temper it slightly to: Don’t Be a Jerk.)
Because I want them not to add to the suffering of the world. I want them to help out those that need it. To be particularly sensitive to others going through things they’re fortunate not to have to deal with. To know that I was the weird kid that got picked on and that they have been to and that no one should suffer that unnecessary pain.
That being said, I know that I don’t have two little selfless Mother Theresa’s washing and caring for their school brethren in their times of need. And, to be honest, I’m not sure I could deal with having two Mother Theresa’s as that seems like it would involve a lot of travelling and tons of Purell.
What I do have is two boys who are fairly sensitive to others. Not the most selfless kids ever, but certainly not the most selfish. Ones that try to help out their friends when they’re hurt. Ones that don’t bully others, which is quite nice considering they’re both rather tall little dudes. But despite them not being complete monsters, I also don’t want them to be so sensitive and giving and kind that they themselves are taken advantage of or hurt.
Because in this world, I’m in a weird position of having to worry about the negative ramifications of teaching my kids to think of others. I worry about them being too kind. Or even just a decent amount of kind in an unkind society. Because I see the world and it’s full of such selfish bags of such douche that it boggles the mind. If you look at almost anyone running for any political office, any head of any large corporation, entitled young actors or rock stars, all seem to have the world at their beck and call, all fueled with a level of selfishness and absence of consideration for others that it would even make the Grinch stand back and say, “Wow, that’s a whole casserole of assholes!”
(As a side note, there’s a great song at the end of Children of Men where Jarvis Cocker more aptly and terribly offensively puts it in regards to those who rule our world.)
And, let’s be Crystal Pepsi Clear, I’m not Atticus Finch. I’m not some sitcom parental paragon of virtue. I’m not the best dad on the planet. Not by many parsecs. Especially in the realm of modeling. In today’s parenting world, it’s all about modeling great behavior to your kids and I’m not a model.
Just like I would not be the guy you’d go to to model clothes in your fancy JC Penney’s and Montgomery Ward catalogues, I’m sometimes not the best model for my kids. I’m snarky, passive-aggressive, and filled with a self-loathing that stops just short of punching myself in the nards.
Of course, occasionally, I’ll step into a situation and volunteer to help someone pay for their groceries or carry something for someone needing some extra help. But does this offset all the times I’m the turdiest turd in Turdtown? Probably not. Not with my Irish Catholic guilt occupying 83% of my soul.
A lot of times I don’t do as much as I can. Either out of being self-absorbed or in a hurry or scared or lazy or not wanting to get dirty or deal with people, I just don’t. But I do the best I can and hope that my kids will do the same. That they can be a part of humanity in a society where we reach out to others needing a hand, not just in the hope that a hand will be there when we’re hanging off a cliff ourselves. Because life is a Grand Canyon of cliffhangers that we must survive with the help of others. And hopefully my kids will be the kind who choose kindness.
“It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
- The Smiths “I Know It’s Over”
Thank you so much for taking time and reading this. You are terribly kind and I hope you have a brilliantly extraordinary week with a side of awesome!
The T stands for kindness