On Obsolescence

As parents, we’re slowly coming round to the idea of obsolescence, aren’t we? By ‘we’, I mean of course those of us that are parents. And by ‘obsolescence’, I mean the process by which we do such a bang-up job that we render ourselves ever more useless to our progeny with every passing year; that they take on all our strengths and none of our faults (much like Wesley Snipes in Blade), to the extent that eventually they don’t need us at all. We become literally obsolete, beta versions of ourselves on the scrapheap of history, while our spawn stride out into the world to iterate new and better versions of themselves in turn.

It sounds utopian and a bit weird to put it in those terms, but isn’t that really what this is all about? The best we can legitimately hope for is that our kids are better versions of us, Nexus 7s, if you will, ‘upgrades‘.

I like to think that’s quite a modern take on parenting. I know that my own parents never really looked at it like that. There was too much ego back then. Perhaps the baby boomers assumed that it was their destiny to live forever, to be permanently young and attractive, even when measured against their own children. It wasn’t, of course, no more than it is ours. And, tempting as it is to take some kind of Olympian view of parenting, to believe that we will always be the Zeus and Hera to their Athena and Hermes, the truth is that we’ve already sown the seeds of our destruction.

My dad clung to the idea of his residual superiority, even well into his later years. ‘Even now’ was a phrase he repeated often during my adolescence, as in ‘even now, I’m stronger/faster/better/more skillful than you are’. But I think he missed the point. Because it was so often mere braggadocio, bluff and bluster, which I always felt compelled to massage, or at least appease.

Instead isn’t it better to acknowledge that your aim, really, is for them to usurp and outpace you? Isn’t the time when we realise that we’ve done ourselves out of a job the time when we appreciate what a bang-up job we’ve actually done?

Sure, it’s hard on the ego. We’d like to think that we’ll always be indispensable, but I’d like to make the case for dispensability. It’s a damn-fine machine that renders itself useless, an excellent worker that kills her own job. Isn’t the point of parenting to reach that golden moment when the subject of all your attention and decisions and care requires these things no longer? Is that not the basis of human survival? Is that not, in microcosm, the definition of progress?

2 thoughts on “On Obsolescence

  1. It’s great to see a post from you! It was worth the wait

    I’m definitely not a parent, and still very young, but do you think it’s possible to have children improve so much that not only do they surpass their parents, but end up returning some of the favour? When I think about it (in my naivety), it would quite useful to have children who are so good that they teach me something in return.

    Or is that something that will stop parents being parents? I feel like if my parents did that, I would get a massive ego boost, but then perhaps I wouldn’t feel able to rely on them as much as a child should.

    Maybe we should just pretend that the new generation is always just the worst. It’s the most fun way of thinking about it, and probably better than trusting kids who are this* unhelpful

    * https://danielwilkinsauthor.com/2017/03/10/illustrative-ad-verbatim-11/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have realised that, having just waved my eldest off to uni, that I spent 18 years planning my own obsolescence. And it’s a weird but wonderful feeling… For the person commenting above, I know that my eldest has taught me loads in return. We have been swapping views on social matters, to broaden my perspective, and recommending each other books, podcasts and music. Children teach you, if nothing else, how to be a parent and how to let go. Both of those are huge long-lasting effects!

    Liked by 2 people

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