Did John Hughes Teach Us Nothing?

by | Oct 5, 2011 | Fatherhood & Parenting

One constant in many John Hughes movies is the out-of-touch parent or adult. Authority figures are often presented as being clueless to the world around them, either blissfully unaware of what it’s like to be a teenager or outright hostile towards the situation. Think of Ferris Bueller’s cheerful yet dim parents. Think of the scolding or neglectful parents at the outset of The Breakfast Club, or the principal in the same movie.

Watching John Hughes films, I always wondered, “At what point does someone go from being an emotional, confused and hormonal teen to an apathetic, boring adult with no memory of their own past?” Now that I am (technically) an adult I see it happening among some of my peers, but am still confused as to what process they go through that allows it to occur.

I received a text from a friend, “I’m looking for a place to unload my used heavy metal albums.”

I was a little confused, and responded, “Unload? Your kids get those.”

My friend not only has kids, but sons. As I have boy parts between my legs and lived a boy’s life, I was fairly certain that they of all people would be especially interested in the albums he was trying to do away with.

I think my friend agreed with that scenario, because his response was, “You want them for your kids? Slayer, Overkill, Venom… lots of offensive and satanic stuff.”

That pretty much ended it for me. I stared at my phone in utter confusion, my head tilted like a dog.

In high school, this was the music my friend and I listened to. It got us through the silly moments of teen angst every youth feels at some point or another. We attended numerous Slayer concerts—saw upside down crosses and pentagrams aplenty—and turned out just fine. Neither of us ever worshiped the devil and the music didn’t cause us to fail as adults; my friend exists in an upper middle class world, owns his own home, has a wife and (obviously) kids… So why did he suddenly feel the need to protect his kids from music that did no damage to him?

Adult self-created amnesia bothers me, and I’m offended it’s still so prevalent. You would think having lived through the confusion of watching out-of-touch parents/adults meander cluelessly through life would instill a determination not to let it happen to you, but that is apparently not the case.

I remember when Steven Spielberg revamped his biggest movie, E.T., editing it to be more politically correct and changing the word “terrorist” to “hippie” and digitally removing shotguns and replacing them with walkie-talkies. I also think of George Lucas feeling remorseful he made Han Solo so very violent and going back and having Greedo shoot first.

Their press releases said silly things, like “It’s a different world we live in today” and other such meaningless noise; Spielberg believed that a child hearing the word “terrorist” post 9/11 would curl into the fetal position and weep for days on end, unable to leave the house and (possibly) support newer Spielberg movies (War Horse!).

Personally, and I could be wrong, but I believe these are the situations that create disenfranchised, angry teens. It’s because we lie to and coddle them as children that when they get old enough to realize they’ve been spoon-fed a pile of shit, they lash out in response. I cite Jenna and Barbara Bush as examples.

Right before Farce 2000, it was uncovered that G.W. had a drinking and driving violation in his past. When asked about it, he said he “didn’t want his kids to see their father in such a poor light.”  Instead of being honest with his family, he tried to place himself on a pedestal to be idolized and emulated. Unfortunately, the example he presented was a lie, and the Bush twins were—possibly in response to having been lied to—notorious party girls; stories of the Secret Service monitoring their drinking and pot-smoking ways were legendary during his presidency. If leading by example was supposed to work, it damn well didn’t.

But here’s the thing: after getting it out of their system, the twins both turned out OK. Today both are mature women, Barbara having worked with AIDS patients in Africa and for LBGT equality in New York, and Jenna spent time with UNICEF. Yes, they had powerful family connections handing them whatever they needed, but the point is they both turned out fine, even after OMG, drinking (a lot) in their early twenties.

Bristol Palin is another example of what happens when you lie to your kids. “Slam your legs shut” has never been an appropriate response to teen curiosity, something proven by Bristol when she became an unwed teen mother. Sadly, instead of learning from the experience, she is now carrying on the lie; Bristol has become an immediate example of the clueless parent. Instead of talking protection and birth control, she is carrying on the legacy of  “It’s so much better to wait.” Yeah, right. Sex is wondrously dull. I can’t understand why it’s survived as a hobby across thousands of generations.

The attempt at a point rolling around my empty head is this: life is about mistakes. You make them, and then learn from them. (Or, in Bristol’s case, not learn.)

If you want to lead by example, you must do so with unmasked honesty: “This is my life, these are the places I stumbled, and these are the consequences I faced. If you want, I can help you avoid certain pitfalls, but I’ll be here with a non-judgmental helping hand should you become mired along the way.”

This brings me full-circle to my friend; if people attempt to cover their “actual” mistakes from family, what chance do kids have when non-mistakes (like musical choices) are hidden away? The idea “This was OK for me, but I must protect my children from it” probably causes a larger disconnect between child and parent than anything else. Kids are not stupid; they can sense a cover up or half-truth. They may not be able to articulate their feelings well, but they do know sullen resentment, and they damn well know how to carry a chip on their shoulder.

As I personally approach the concept of parenthood, my hope is to remain as indifferent to the stupidity of my own youth as I always have. John Hughes remembered what it was like to be a confused teenager, and I appreciated the help his movies offered me when navigating the minefield of teen life. As I look back from this vantage point, I realize that anything I did got me here: happily married, a home owner, someone with two kitties and one (goddamn) dog… and guess what? I still own the Slayer records from my youth. They’re in a milk crate in the basement, and when I am cursed with child, should my baby be born with a penis? I plan to bust those puppies out for him as soon as I think he’s mature enough.

Better Slayer than Justin Bieber, after all.

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