I’m a dad. I have the most awesome son in the world. He’s two and a half years old. Throughout his life I’ve noticed him having quite an effect on people. It started on Facebook when I’d post pictures of him. He always generated more likes than anything else I’d post. He even got the attention of an artist friend of mine in London who asked if he could be part of her latest work (art below). As he got older and had better control of his body and words, I’d take him to the park or to the store and people would ask how old he was and say how mature he was for his age. Lately he’s been creating some incredible effects and I was lucky to film one of them and post it on YouTube. Some of my friends expressed interest in reading what I had to say about parenting and raising such a super kid, so I decided to finally tackle the subject. It also gives me a chance to tell the story behind the YouTube video I just uploaded. I’m sure everyone will love and be amazed by it. So here goes my viewpoint as a parent.
Parenting is something I never thought much about but when the time came to be a parent I suddenly realized no one had ever clearly explained how all of this would be. Sure, people that have kids will laugh and say things like “Good luck waking up in the middle of the night,” or “There goes your free time,” but too many details were missing. Having gone through the whole waking up in the middle of the night thing, changing diapers, rocking my son to sleep in about a million different ways, I can understand why people don’t elaborate on the experience. It’s because everyone is faced with the most difficult task they will ever have to do and no matter what happens, the job has to get done and by the end of it you’re at a loss for words as to what exactly happened; it becomes a big blur. Well, I learned a few things that helped me get through the blur and they helped give me the happiest kid you’ll ever see.
My son’s name is Sage. Sage basically means an old wise man. I was flipping through a book about seven years ago when I saw the word and thought how it would be an awesome name for a boy. I should also mention his middle name is Kal-El which is Superman’s real name. I wanted my son to be smart, strong, able, caring, dynamic and help people. I wanted him to have a different kind of name because I thought of him as an individual. I didn’t want him to be me. I wanted him to be himself. I didn’t talk to him like he was a baby. No goo goo’s and ga ga’s. I talked to him like he was my friend, like an adult. I gave him space and independence but always stayed close enough to prevent him from hurting himself. When he did get hurt I didn’t baby him or show him sympathy; I just put his attention on the next thing. I didn’t invalidate him. I didn’t make him wrong or make him feel like he’d done something bad. I validated him. All the time I told him things like, “Good job!” or “Alright!” or “You did it!”
I knew he was watching and learning from my example so I tried my best to be the best person I could be around him. I wasn’t perfect and I didn’t expect him to be. We both did our best to not be too serious and have fun with what we did. I got excited when we were going to do something and he’d get excited too. It wasn’t easy and there were times I felt like throwing in the towel but I knew my worst was someone else’s best and tried to keep things in perspective. Overall, it took patience, good communication, good control, no punishment and lots of encouragement.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took Sage hiking and towards the end of our walk a family was walking towards us. Without saying a word, Sage walked up to the son and hugged him. Then he walked up to the daughter and hugged her too. The family and the kids were dumbfounded. I had to break the silence and told Sage, “Say, good to meet you.” He extended his hand out with tremendous purpose and said “Good to meet you,” to each person one by one. It was the most beautifully moving thing I’d ever seen in my life. When we walked away I told my wife, “My god, I wanted to cry,” she said, “Me too.”
Recently, we took a trip into Manhattan and came across a couple of street performers in Union Square. We stopped to watch a man playing a piano and another doing an interpretational dance to the music playing. The man dancing had big bushy hair, only wore underwear and tennis shoes, and had a fairly large audience watching him. I noticed Sage was excited to see him dancing and I could tell he wanted to get into the act. He did and I was able to film him as he made his way into the circle and it was a proud moment for me to watch him performing on the streets of New York City at 2 years old. Here's the YouTube video of him dancing:
I try to approach things as an artist. Parenting is definitely an art and you either become the starving artist parent, pointing at all of the barriers, or you become the master or genius artist parent, pointing at all of the freedoms. Watching my son running through the park with other kids, giving voices to the toys he plays with at home, saying thank you to the clerk at Trader Joe’s, or dancing in front of a crowd of people, makes me think I helped to give my son a little more freedom than most. I used to think he was my greatest masterpiece but now I realize he’s really his own. I just gave him a brush or two, he supplied the paint.
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For those not familiar with the term "higher toned" it refers to the Emotional Tone Scale that plots human emotion on a scale from Body Death at the bottom of the scale, up to Enthusiasm at the top of the scale, with all of the various emotions in between. The higher up the scale, the more likely you'll survive, the lower down the scale, the more likely you'll succumb. It has been my observation, being a comic book and superhero fan, that Superman has experienced a decline in popularity in society while Batman has experienced an increase in popularity over the last two decades. Why is this important? I believe it tells a tremendous amount about us and I want to explain why it is all tied up in emotional tone level.
Superman was the first real comic book superhero and his popularity spawned an entire boom in comic books across the world. Kids looked up to him and he symbolized what was best in people, a real hero that did what he did because it was right and no one had anything to fear because Superman would save the day. His emotional tone level was high, right around cheerful or higher, if he ever came down the tone scale it was when he was disguised as Clark Kent, but even then his tone level was conservative. He was popular decades ago because his tone matched the tone of society. Superman's first years were spent in an America convinced it could do anything. It was a productive country where you felt you could work hard and build a good life for yourself and your family regardless of where you came from, and Superman was an immigrant too. Something happened to society after a few more decades. No longer was there the cheerful George Reeves version of Superman or TV shows like Happy Days. Things got a little more serious right around the late 1970's and a big shift occurred in the 1980's which saw society exchange one hero for another.
Batman used to be a colorful personality in the Adam West TV show version of the character. When Batman and Robin punched someone it looked animated like a cartoon and a big "Kapow!" showed on screen. But when the 1980's happened people were phasing out of a Christopher Reeve Superman and headed into a Tim Burton Batman, much darker and inspired somewhat by the graphic novel "The Dark Knight" by Frank Miller. Soon Batman got darker and darker, taking us to the most recent Batman films, "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." By the time we get to "The Dark Knight" Batman has become way more serious in tone. He goes from a cheerful/conservative guy in Adam West's version to an angry, resentful hero. More alarmingly is the fact that the last Batman film won more fans for the villain of the movie rather than Batman, Heath Ledger's Joker being the real star of the film and the one kids sport on t-shirts everywhere.
We've gone from a higher toned society of people looking up to a cheerful Superman to a society connecting with the dark, brooding, anger of Batman, to now one that idolizes the Joker, a psychotic villain that paints his face like a clown and wields a knife: a classic, covertly hostile character. Forget the tone level of current television with it's Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, Nip/Tuck and Gossip Girl, and cast aside popular music like Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga and Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, what does the tone level of our superheroes tell us? When we see Superman tossed aside for Batman and Batman tossed aside for the Joker, we should be concerned. The hero is no longer the guy in the white hat, he's now the guy in the black hat. And you may argue that it's more fun to root for the bad guy and say what's wrong with liking Al Pacino's Scarface character? There isn't anything wrong looking at and confronting evil, but there is something wrong when our society as a whole starts wanting to be more like it.
I have hope in mankind. I know that tone levels can be raised. I know that it doesn't happen overnight. I know that I am not alone in my observations and that some of you may relate to and understand what I am saying enough to do something about it. I know my course of action: to create higher toned entertainment and art and try my best not to support lower toned entertainment, especially low tone superheroes. For the record I enjoy Batman. I know a criminal killed his parents and he's out for revenge because of it but an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I'd rather have Batman working to rehabilitate criminals so they never commit another crime because if you just lock them up they come back worse. I look forward to the future and I hope it takes a turn up the tone scale instead of further down it. I know it'll be an adventure either way and maybe someday we'll get as high toned as Erol Flynn's Robin Hood. I really hope we all hit that target.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.