When I'm in our local Safeway shopping for nutritious food items such as double-stuffed Oreo cookies, I will frequently be approached by anxious new parents demanding to know the secret to raising children without having them turn into serial killers.
Typically, what I do is smile a benign smile, fold my arms together thoughtfully, then, with a knowing twinkle in my eye, sprint away as fast as I can and spend the rest of the day hiding out in the frozen-food section.
I do this because modern parenting is extremely hard. It is much harder than the sort of parenting my parents were expected to do in the pre-social-media generation.
Take helmets, for instance. Back in the day, we kids didn't have to wear fancy helmets when we rode our bikes. Our parents, comforted by the knowledge they had no clue where we were or what we were doing, let us ride around with our craniums exposed to whatever dangers existed in the 1960s, such as telephone poles, which were something we needed to support telephone wires, which carried our voices vast distances, because no one was smart enough back then to invent cellphones.
So we kids happily rode along without helmets, crashing randomly into solid objects because we couldn't see a thing in front of us due to the fact we were all sporting Beatles-era haircuts. We also ate our own weight in refined sugar every day and some of us smoked cigarettes, because, back then, a lot of people thought they were good for you and would, at worst, turn you into a rugged-looking cowboy with a voice that sounded as if you had just eaten several cups of hot gravel.
The scientific point I am trying to make is parents were a lot more relaxed back then. As a result, kids of my era dropped like (bad word) flies. Today, however, we monitor our children around the clock via the standard parental safety technique of hiding cameras inside their teddy bears and school backpacks.
I started thinking about this today because I am stuck in the house all by myself, due to the fact my wife has gone to IKEA to buy light bulbs, which means they will cost thousands of dollars and, as a special bonus, we will have to put them together ourselves.
So I know precisely where my wife is, but my university-age daughter is just out there in some random mysterious location. My daughter, accompanied by one of our cars, had a sleepover with friends from her soccer team. Telling us where she was going would have violated her right to be obnoxious.
Still, as nurturing, modern parents, we asked several probing questions designed to show how much we care.
Me: "So, sweetheart, where are you going?"
My daughter: "Out."
Me: "Oh, that should be fun. WHERE would that be?"
My daughter (head spinning like in The Exorcist): "I SAID OUT!"
My laid-back wife seems fairly comfortable with our daughter spending the night somewhere other than her room, just as long as she remembers to plug in the car.
Being a modern dad, I am more aware of the dangers that lurk in today's social environment, by which I mean guys, of which I am one, meaning I know from experience that persons of our gender are not to be trusted.
I am not the only one who feels this way. The dogs are also deeply concerned, a fact they demonstrate by wandering down to my daughter's room and bumping her door with their heads to indicate they want to physically inspect her room and smell whatever is inside.
My daughter doesn't want the dogs in her room because one of them -- this would be the small, white dog I refer to as "Mr. X" -- has a tendency to pee on anything he finds on the floor. (This is true. As I write this, there is a puddle of dried pee under my chair.)
Most of the time, I'll let the dogs inside. It is difficult to communicate with our dogs via their ears, so they need to see first-hand that the girl who lives here, the girl who, for safety reasons, stores all of her personal belongings -- clothing, magazines, makeup, art supplies, stale pizza -- on the floor, is not home in her bed.
I am not sure what emotional impact this moment has on the dogs, but it makes me feel wistful, because I can remember a time before my daughter could drive, a time when she was a bunny for Halloween, a time when she spent her nights tucked up safely in her Little Mermaid pyjamas.
So the dogs sniff and I get nostalgic, and we do this in the darkness of my daughter's cluttered room. We will stay in the dark until our daughter returns. Or until my wife figures out how to put those IKEA light bulbs together.