Can our kids ever be our friends?

Can you ever be your kid’s friend?  Is it a good thing to be true “friends” with your kid?

Kris – Massachusetts

Dear Kris,

Since you put it in quotes, let’s start with the word itself. And once we’ve honed in on a definition, we can figure out whether or not it’s “a good thing” (my quotes).

When pondering the meaning of things, it is always prudent to start with the Oxford. Etymologically, we can transport back to 900 when we were using the Old English word frēond, which is of Germanic origin, related to Dutch vriend and German Freund, from an Indo-European root meaning “to love.” We could have gotten that much without Oxford. Its definitions aren’t much more helpful.

  • A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. For me, mutual affection sounds a bit like monkeys picking gnats out of each other’s fur.
  • Used as a polite form of address or in ironic reference. This generally only comes in handy when making a political speech: Friends and fellow countrymen.
  • A person who supports a cause, organization, or country by giving financial or other help. Truth be told, for many of us, this rings true, especially since “the financial or other help” continues to be a line-item in our monthly budget.
  • A person who is not an enemy or opponent. This one shouldn’t be too hard.
  • A contact on a social networking website. Has this definition actually made it into Oxford, along with such wonderful English words like mellifluous, ethereal, and meatloaf? If we’re not friends on social media — the social media that they use — then we’re missing an opportunity to connect. Time to build your bitmoji and work on your snapchat strategy.
  • A member of the Religious Society of Friends. I like this one. We all should become Quakers. The world would be a much quieter, peaceful place, with well-made minimalist furniture.
  • A familiar or helpful thing. We’re not getting a whole lot of depth in any of these definitions. Which is why you can find about 3,000,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) via a Google search. Even those Google bots don’t know what they’re looking for.

Let’s make it three billion and one definitions. Going through the process of adding a personal definition will help us see that friendship is malleable, bending itself into a new shape with every relationship in our lives. Our friendship with high school band mates is different than our friendship with our neighbors. Our friendship with our neighbors is different than our friendship with our running buddies. And our friendship with our kids is going to be different than any of those.

We’re somewhere between two and four decades older than our children. Most likely, our interests aren’t going to mesh perfectly. Maybe some of us are lucky. We might get hip-hop, from a ethno-histo-cultural viewpoint. And our kids might know every word in every Journey song (even knowing that South Detroit is in fact Windsor, Ontario). Great! We’ve got some musical sympatico going on! If friendship means rapping along with Wu-Tang or airbanding to the solo in Separate Ways, then we’re good to go.

It’s easy to find any number of common bonds. Movies, art, classic cars, bowling, drum circles, axe throwing competitions. And be honest, after some years of rebellion, we kind of turned out like our parents. As will our kids. So we’ve got that in common, too.

Yet, none of those commonalities build meaningful friendships.

So if it’s not about commonalities, what then? Let’s go broader. Maybe by wondering about our friendship with our adult kids we get to have a middle-aged guy revelation: we are not as good a friend as we could be. We’ve spent decades focused on work, immediate family, and our own selfish natures. We hang out with other guys, raise a glass, complain about politics, wax nostalgic. When is the last time we admitted that life is hard, asked for directions, shared our fears, lamented? Women (in a broad, sweeping generality) nurture better friendships than we do. Why? Because they’re way more honest than we are.

What if in our middle years we took this as an opportunity to actually start being a friend? I’m convinced that if we start doing that, then we’ll understand what it means to be a friend with our adult children.

Back to your actual question, when you asked if this a good thing. Let’s go see Drake! Start surfing together! Shoot tequila and eat jalapenos! Agreeing to do any of those things with our kids is just weird. Being a friend doesn’t mean being a bro. If we can accept that friendship is about honesty and openness, if it’s about dropping the hierarchy of father knows best, kids need to obey — then the answer is yes.

Chop That Wood

Do I have to listen to my kid’s music?

Let me be honest. I hate the music my son listens to. I try to connect with him about other things, but music seems to be the biggest gulf between us. The last thing I want to do is listen to it. Do I need to?

Angus – Maryland

Hi, Angus,

You don’t have to, but I think that the best answer is yes, unless you want to be known as an old man, aka your father.

The first album I bought with my own money was Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus. What was I thinking? Well, it was 1978. My parents would have failed if they’d tried to dissuade me. But surely they could have given me some other options. I could have been listening to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, or Steely Dan’s Aja (released the year earlier). I’m hoping that I would have given up Boney M in a flash. Instead I played Ra Ra Rasputin nonstop.

This Boney M video and especially the cape-action is a must see.

My son listens to this weird video game-inspired EDM. I truly hate it. But instead of wasting too much energy criticizing, and in turn getting his teenage stubbornness to kick in, I keep my mouth shut. And subtly interject some options to broaden his horizons. Together we’re listening to Steely Dan and Bob Dylan, The War On Drugs and U2, Twenty One Pilots and Panic! at the Disco. Though I’ve requested that he listen to the video game EDM on his headphones, since it gives me involuntary Donkey Kong twitches. I’m trusting that over time, he’ll make educated music choices. And maybe even thank me for it. No one listens to video game electronica or Boney M forever, right?

So, you don’t have to listen to it. But don’t criticize it or spend too much effort trying to get him to appreciate the guitar solo at the end of Wish You Were Here, or it will take him another decade. Our goal should always be to come alongside, not criticize. They’ll like what they like, often in rebellion to what we are trying to push on them.

Chop That Wood