Yes, having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit. Having had five qualifies me to write this book but not to give you any absolute rules because there are none. Screenwriter William Goldman has said that, in spite of all the experience that Hollywood people have in making movies, “Nobody knows anything.” I sometimes think the same statement is true of raising children. In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage because you’ll be spending many years in fear of your kids…
It seems to me that two people have a baby just to see what they can make, like a kind of erotic arts and crafts. And some people have several children because they know there are going to be failures. They figure that if they have a dozen, maybe one or two will work out, for having children is certainly defying the odds. The great sports writer Ring Lardner once said that all life is eight-to-five against. Well, trying to raise a child to come out right is like trying to hit the daily double—which my father used to do when he whacked my brother and me.
Raising children is an incredibly hard and risky business in which no cumulative wisdom is gained: each generation repeats the mistakes the previous one made. When England’s literary giant Dr. Samuel Johnson saw a dog walking on its hind legs, he said, “The wonder is not that it be done well but that it be done at all.” The same thing is true of raising children, who have trouble walking straight until they’re nineteen or twenty.
We parents so often blow the business of raising kids, but not because we violate any philosophy of child raising. I doubt there can be a philosophy about something so difficult, something so downright mystical, as raising kids. A baseball manager has learned a lot about his job from having played the game, but a parent has not learned a thing from having once been a child. What can you learn about a business in which the child’s favorite response is “I don’t know”?
A father enters his son’s room and sees that the boy is missing his hair.
“What happened to your head?” the father says, beholding his skin-headed son. “Did you get a haircut?”
“I don’t know,” the boy replies.
“You don’t know if you got a haircut? Well, tell me this: Was your head with you all day?”
“I don’t know,” says the boy.