I am in the midst of proofreading my book, How To Dad, so maybe I’m a bit sensitive to this. But since Sesame Street was such a part of my childhood, it matters to me. And I think it does point to a cultural misstep that my own father participated in and I think many, if not a majority, of fathers do to this day.
That misstep is not having a good reason “Why.”
I go into this at length in my book so bear with me while I paraphrase: Always have a reason for what you tell your children to do. Never answer, “Because I said so,” “Because,” or the way my father always answered when we asked “why;” “Do as I said and don’t you dare defy me!”
If your children ask you, “Why,” give them an answer that is logical, reasonable, and well thought out.
Now, this is paraphrasing a huge chunk of my book, so trust me that there is more to it than just that; but it is important.
Saying “because” just doesn’t cut it.
Not only is it not a reason, our kids see right through it. They know if we say that then we really don’t have a reason, let alone a good one. And since we are always demanding of them the reasons why they do things, and we do not accept “I don’t know” or “because” as legitimate reasons, then we need to give them that respect, too.
It’s simply a measure of being a Dad to lead by example and be willing to do what we expect of our children.
When I post a sample chapter of the book on the site, you’ll probably get to read more about the “Why.” It’s a whole chapter at the beginning and the entire premise of the book, frankly. And since you will lose interest in this blog post in a couple hundred more words, I have to leave it at that.
So, as I’ve been looking at culture and how it has changed while doing background on my book, I’ve come across things that sometimes just baffle me. To wit: The death of Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper and how it was handled by the show’s producers, writers, and actors.
Now I am a big fan of the old Sesame Street – which I classify as “pre-Elmo.” We can debate that some other time… Needless to say, I grew up with Sesame Street and its entire cast, including Will Lee, the kind old man who played Mr. Hooper, the grocer whose name Big Bird was always mispronouncing as “Looper.” Sesame Street is as old as I am – in fact I am 198 days older than Sesame Street. I was 13 when Will Lee died, but was 14 when his death was revealed on Sesame Street, due to the delay caused by broadcasting what has already been produced. Sesame Street chose to air the episode on Thanksgiving Day, 1983, almost a full year after Lee died on Pearl Harbor Day, 1982.
We can see the producers’ reasoning for that air date as well as all the careful planning that went into it at this link. It was a big deal – Mr. Hooper wasn’t around anymore and the kids needed to know why.
Well, before The Little Red Monster, Big Bird was the “kid” on the Street. He had his “imaginary” friend Mr. Snuffaluppagus and was generally portrayed with childlike mannerisms. This episode was no different, and Big Bird was the one to whom the human cast had to explain Mr. Hooper’s permanent, not-coming-back status.
They did really well explaining death, and kudos for actually using the words “dead,” “death,” and similar. They didn’t use euphemisms, and in the above linked article they explain why. I really hope you click on that link and read that article before you go further…because I think everything they tried to do wound up as an epic fail with the final words of the scene.
Keeping in mind what I mentioned at the beginning of this post about answering the “Why,” watch the scene and listen to the parting reasoning and logic Gordon gives to Big Bird as the scene ends:
Two generations of kids since, and millions on that air date all got told by someone (Sesame Street) whom they respected and learned from that the appropriate answer to a serious question “Why” was, “Because.” And since Big Bird handled it with, “Ok,” that means that any good boy or girl should handle it the same way.
And now we wonder why people can’t behave properly in public or aren’t raising their children properly? “Because” we have no reason to. We don’t have to have a reason for what we do or do not do – “Because” is good enough.
I’m not naïve enough to think that this one episode caused such a great calamity – but it is a little scary that it is recognized as “one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.” In fact, I think it was a symptom of the time which is why it felt right to present it in that way. Now, if we watch the whole episode, we see earlier that Big Bird is walking funny and when asked “Why,” he answers, “Because. Just because,” as many children who have no reason for something will do, especially at a young age. And that’s been given as Gordon’s reason for saying it later – because that is all Big Bird will understand, at least at this age.
Horse apples! Even if the child does not understand, that does not mean we make believe there is no real answer. It inures the child to our answers and it habituates us into answering that way as they grow older and more able to reason.
Makes me wonder if the proliferation of use that Ritalin saw starting in the 1990s after forty years if reasoned, minimal use really is because a new generation of parents was emerging where “Because” was a good enough reason for anything, instead of logically deducing a need or none-need for it, or just accepting the first doctor or teacher’s diagnosis of their child’s “problem.”
Am I making a leap here? Yeah, maybe. And I’m no conspiracy theorist, so just know that I am raising the question as a general thought on where does the easy answer “because” lead us, when our kids want to know something? How often do we take the easy way out with off-the-cuff explanations or non-verbally telling our kids to stuff it?
It’s easier to say, “Because I said so,” or “Just because it is,” or “Because,” than it is to provide thought out answers to a child – especially when we’re more interested in posting selfies on facebook and Instagram.
Well, every time you say, “Because” or some other derivative, remember that you just lost a moment that you will never get back while at the same time your child is banking that as another clue that you don’t care and that the answer doesn’t matter so they can do what they want when they want.
So in the future when you wonder why they don’t visit you, or take care of you later in life or why they act like idiots in public and with their own children, ask them why.
Chances are you’ll get your favorite answer. And the one you deserve.